Page Turner: Dorie Clark
How to brand yourself to meet today’s career challenges.
Being professionally relevant and moving forward in one’s career isn’t, as they say, what it used to be. It’s rare to find anyone today who stays at one company for 40 years and retires with a pension. Few of us would even consider staying at the same place (or in the same role) for 20 years! The fact is, professional life is no longer linear.
Companies downsize, go out of business, change course, or simply no longer suit our personal aspirations. To survive, being flexible is a given. To thrive, you need to be a brand and to control it. You need to master the art of professional reinvention.
Dorie Clark, a brand expert and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future, doesn’t just talk the talk; she’s a prime example of repositioning. Clark is intimately familiar with the art of the personal pivot and what it takes to successfully re-create, build, broadcast, and maintain a professional brand.
Currently advising clients such as Google, Fidelity, Yale University, Morgan Stanley, and the Ford Foundation, as well as touring the world as a speaker—from London to Aspen to Thailand—the out lesbian has a methodology that is resonating with Fortune 500 companies and with thought leaders across the globe.
Reinventing You is laid out in a digestible and workable step-by-step format; and while professional reinvention does take focus and dedication, its key components have never been more accessible, thanks to the pervasive connectivity and reach of social media and the Internet.
Over a fabulous lunch at the Harvard Club in N.Y.C., Clark and I discussed her book and what it takes to craft a new professional persona, in order to extend your career longevity, success, and happiness.
When is it important to begin to refine my personal brand?
If you’re planning to change careers—because you’re pursuing a new passion, you’ve gotten laid off, or your industry is changing dramatically—it’s important to think about redefining your personal brand. Also, if you feel like your skills aren’t being properly valued at your current company, even if you’d like to stay there, it’s worth thinking hard about how to modify your brand.
What if I’m not happy in my current job?
If you’re planning to make a professional move in the near future, it’s critically important to start taking charge of your brand. A strong personal brand will help you land the kind of job you truly want.
What if I don’t have a brand to begin with?
Actually, everyone already has a personal brand—it’s just another name for your reputation. The real question is, what is that reputation—and is it what you want it to be?
What is the biggest career reinvention you have ever been through?
Starting my own marketing consultancy seven years ago. But I’ve been through a variety of reinventions—from journalist to presidential campaign spokesperson, from nonprofit executive director to documentary filmmaker. That experience fueled Reinventing You, along with the dozens of interviews I conducted with other professionals who have reinvented themselves.
How can I accurately understand how others perceive my current “brand”?
One quick tip is to ask a number of your trusted friends to describe you in only three words. Their answers will be illuminating, and the patterns in what they say—and what they don’t—can teach you a lot about how others see you.
If I’m considering a change, what’s the best way to develop a sense of what my new career path would entail?
I always suggest that people “test drive” a new career before they fully commit. Read as much as you can, do informational interviews, and—especially—spend a day or two shadowing someone in the new profession. You can do this through your own professional network or through a company called Vocation Vacations.
If I lack experience, how can I get a foot in the door and start acquiring some hands-on learning about my new career?
An often-overlooked opportunity is to join nonprofit boards. Most boards are hungry for professionals who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get active, and it can be a terrific way to learn about an industry you’re interested in [healthcare, education, LGBT issues] or to sharpen specific skill sets [social media, fundraising].
How can I engage with someone who has experience in my new field, to show me the ropes and act as a mentor?
Most older, successful professionals are very busy, and their time is heavily in demand. Thus, I often advise people to broaden their horizons and think instead about creating their own “advisory board.” What people—experienced professionals, peers, or even junior colleagues—do you admire for the specific skills they possess? Perhaps you can tap all of them for their wisdom. If you are lucky enough to find one mentor, or a group of mentors, think carefully about how you can give back: It shouldn’t be a one-way street. Whether it’s offering them your perspective, or simply commenting on their blog posts, your help may mean a lot to them.
How can I identify and use what is unique about my background to stand out from others as I move in a new direction?
I believe we’re emerging from an era where what mattered the most was how you were similar to others—do you look like them? did you go to the same schools? do you think the same way?—and entering an era where what truly matters is how you’re different. Can you see problems in new ways? Do you have new perspectives or solutions? If you’re switching fields, for instance, you can never compete on experience with someone who has had that job since they got out of college. But you can compete on other grounds, because your past experience has taught you to see things in a new way, and that can lead to breakthroughs for your company.
Why is being a storyteller and building a narrative a key part of a reinvention?
We often assume that other people are following our career transitions closely and understand why we’re doing things. But they’re wrapped up in their own lives, so we have to make it crystal clear why we’re making a shift. That means creating a narrative to explain how we’ve gotten from here to there, and why it adds value to our new company or field. Otherwise, it’s likely that they won’t fully grasp our potential.
Do I need to be active in social media to move the needle on my new brand?
These days, it’s mandatory to have at least some social media presence. For starters, you need to have a robust LinkedIn profile, and a general familiarity with how to use Facebook—though its professional value is probably limited, it has become a cultural touchstone. If you’re able to commit the time, blogging and using Twitter are terrific ways to build a robust professional brand and clearly demonstrate your professional value.
Once I’ve accomplished my reinvention, how do I maintain it without letting that become too time-consuming?
Reinvention, in some ways, is a continuous process. But if you’ve made a dramatic shift, you’ve done the heavy lifting— now that people think of you in your new career, you simply want to maintain that perception, to make sure you stay top-of-mind, in case someone wants to refer business to you, or tell you about a new job opportunity. This is where having a social media presence, such as a blog or a Twitter account, can be extremely useful, so people are periodically “pinged” with your messages and are prompted to think about you.
Dorie’s Top 5 Branding Tips
- Google yourself. Look over what’s been written about you and ask yourself one question: If this were the only information someone had about me, what would they think?
- Read up. On your next vacation, read several nonfiction books about the jobs or professions that interest you most. Are they still appealing—or even more compelling—after you’ve learned more?
- Write down your “war stories.” Are there stories you often tell about your professional life? They can lead you to the issues or themes that matter to you most, and form the core of the narrative for your personal brand.
- Get a wingman. Research in psychology shows that no one likes a braggart—but if a friend talks you up, people will think you’re great. Make a pact with a trusted colleague to sing each other’s praises.
- Schedule your social media time. It’s easy for Facebook or Twitter to take over your life. Use a tool like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to schedule your messages for the week, and then spend only a few minutes a day answering queries or making quick updates.