Why branding? In a tough job market, differentiating yourself from others with skills and backgrounds similar to yours is a necessity. For those of you just entering the job market after obtaining your library and information degree, how do you build a compelling story and effective résumé? For those of you in a second (third or fourth) career, how do you tie in your past job skills to your new career path? For those who want to move ahead professionally, how do you enhance your credentials and name recognition? The key is understanding how to brand yourself – becoming a more polished and professional version of you. Developing your brand helps you focus on how to best present your skills and talents, how to establish your professional credibility, and how to effectively network on a personal and professional level.
Developing your brand
Before you begin, ask yourself: What am I passionate about? What are my strengths and weaknesses? Am I an introvert[i] or an extrovert? What jobs and situations do I like and dislike? What is my ideal job? How prepared am I to make changes in order to move ahead in my career? By honestly addressing these questions, you’ll get a better idea of where to focus your efforts. If you’ve taken the Myers-Briggs type indicator assessment, or a similar personality test, look at the career options suggested for you. You can also ask family, friends, and work colleagues for their insights on where your skills and talents are best suited personally and professionally. Now let’s get to some of the building blocks of creating your brand.
Your résumé and cover letter
Your résumé and cover letter are your one chance to introduce yourself to potential employers, so carefully crafting both of these documents is a must. I have been on several search committees and the number one thing that makes me skip over résumé s and cover letters is that they are not specifically targeted to the job description. Make sure you read and understand what is being asked for and don’t apply for a job if your qualifications don’t fit the criteria listed for the position. It’s also imperative that you research the company or organization. Your cover letter should convey how your skills will help and enhance the organization, and your résumé should list your qualifications in depth to back it up. (If you are applying for several jobs and using the same basic cover letter, make sure you change the name of the company to which you’re submitting your résumé.) Please make sure to proofread your résumé and cover letter or have someone else look them over. Typos are never a good thing.
Always keep your résumé updated, even if you have been working in the same job for a long time or are just starting out. Also, in the event that you lose your job or decide to pursue another one quickly, having an updated résumé really comes in handy. If you have done presentations, are active in professional organizations, hold leadership roles in your organization or others, have taken continuing education courses, or have other achievements, add them to your résumé as soon as you can. Also include links, if you have them, to your blog and/or website, LibGuides, articles, or other electronic resources and make sure the links are still live. Most potential employers these days ask that résumés be submitted online, so having electronic resources ready to view is very important. To avoid losing your résumé and cover letter files, make sure you back them up using software such as Dropbox or Google Docs or put them on a flash drive. This is important stuff!
Submitting a video résumé is a growing trend in some professions, in particular for Web services, online technology, and graphic design careers. If a prospective employer asks for this type of résumé, find someone who can help you put it together and see what kind of online tips are available.[ii] As with a face-to-face interview, you still need to be polished and professional.
Hone your presentation skills
You may think you can’t possibly get up in front of people and do presentations, but like anything else, it takes practice and preparation to achieve success. Most audiences are friendly and want you to succeed. They also want to learn something from you, so if you know your stuff and can convey it enthusiastically and succinctly, they will leave happy. Here are some tips on how to do that:
- Join Toastmasters International[iii] or a similar organization to help you learn to speak and present more clearly – it’s not very expensive. If you can’t afford it, try videotaping yourself or have someone else do it. You may be surprised to find that you have vocal tics (“um,” “er,” “so,” “well,” “like,” upward inflection at the end of sentences, etc.) or that your voice projection isn’t very strong. Once you’re aware of what you need to work on, it will be easy to fix with practice.
- Learn how to own the room. Body language helps convey your message as much as your oral presentation. Time your presentation and practice it until you can do it as much as possible without notes. Connecting to your audience through eye contact is very powerful, and it encourages your audience to interact with you, especially during the question and answer period. If you can, try out your presentation in the room prior to your actual session. You’ll be able to test out the equipment, too.
- Create compelling PowerPoint presentations. How many times have we all sat through face-to-face and webinars sessions, where the presenter is reading what’s on the slides, with no graphics or visual interest of any kind? Don’t let this be you! Look at presentations that you’ve found compelling and use those ideas to jazz up your own. There are a lot of places to get free images – clip art and stock photography through Microsoft, Flickr, Creative Commons, and more. You can also organize and edit your images using Picasa and Picnik software. There are books and online resources available to help you, too. I recommend Lee Hilyer’s Presentations for Librarians.[iv]
A good way to get more comfortable with presenting is to do it as part of a group, such as a panel discussion at a local conference. Good presentations lead to good word-of-mouth and more opportunities to build your reputation as a leader in your field.
Create a professional image
This is a tough topic because you may think that your appearance doesn’t matter if you’re smart and well-spoken, but you can be sure that potential employers, work colleagues, and anyone you happen to meet in the course of your professional life do notice what you wear and how you present yourself overall. Creating a professional appearance doesn’t mean you have to become someone you’re not, it just means presenting a more polished and professional you. Trust me, you will feel much more confident and powerful during interviews and presentations when you know you look sharp. Investing in a basic suit, coordinated separates, nice shoes, and versatile accessories doesn’t have to cost a fortune. To get the most professional look, get your clothes altered to fit and make sure everything is clean and pressed (many department stores and dry cleaners offer low-cost alterations). If you have a friend or relative who’s style you like, ask if they can go shopping with you or find a personal shopper to help you (this service is free at many department stores). There are lots of books and online guides to help you, too. As with anything, practice and be patient!
Personal grooming says a lot about you, too, so find a hairstyle and makeup (if you use it) that conveys your individuality but looks polished. Once you achieve the look you want, have a professional photographer (or talented friend) do some head shots, either in color or black and white. Make sure they are scalable for use with a variety of print and online resources.
Word to the wise, keep your tattoos and piercings out of sight during the interview process. Once you get the job, find out if the organization is fine with them or not and proceed accordingly.[v]
Networking enhances your brand, connects you with others in your field, and gets your name out as an expert in your field. I highly recommend the following:
- Join professional organizations and be an active participant in them. Promoting your organization also promotes you, so take leadership roles on committees and find opportunities to do presentations on the local, state, and national level.
- Carry your business cards at all times but especially at professional meetings and conferences. You never know when you’ll meet someone who wants to know more about you and what you do. Contacts often come after you’ve done presentations, leading to more opportunities. Make sure you update your contact information, including blog and website addresses if you have them.
- Set up separate personal and professional social networking accounts if you are using Twitter, Facebook, etc., and even with your professional accounts, always be mindful about what you comment on and link to – prospective employers and others can and do check to see what you’ve posted. A social networking account such as LinkedIn is a great way to reach out to other professionals, so make sure you keep it updated, the same way you would with your résumé. Use Hoot Suite or other software to put all of your accounts in one place, and use Twitter Counter to find out who’s following you if you use Twitter.
- Maintain a professional blog or website using free blogging software, such as Blogger or WordPress. The caveat here is that you need to keep it updated. If you started a blog in 2009 and the last entry was in 2010, don’t put the web address on your résumé or business cards.
- Be positive and passionate! You are your own best advocate, and if you are enthusiastic, your target audience, whether it’s one person or a group, will be too.
- Keep your skills fresh, no matter what your age or stage of your career. If you can’t afford to go back for more formal education, programs are often available online and through libraries, community, and professional organizations.
- Keep your eyes and ears open for new opportunities to market your expertise and ideas. Collaborating and networking with colleagues can really expand your horizons.
- Build a “resource bank” of books and online resources you can refer to when putting together your résumé, presentations, and professional image. Get RSS feeds from sites you use frequently.
Most of all have fun! Seriously.
By Alexandra Simons. Alex is the history/political science/government documents librarian at the M.D. Anderson Library at the University of Houston’s central campus.
I (Petrelli, 2012)
II (Elliott, 2011)
III (Toastmasters, 2012)
IV (Hilyer, 2007)
V (de Stricker & Hurst-Wall, 2011)
de Stricker, U., & Hurst-Wall, J. (2011). The information and knowledge professional’s career handbook: Define and create your success. Oxford: Chandos.
Elliott, A. (2011, 1/17). Top 5 tips for creating impressive video résumé s. Message posted to http://mashable.com/2011/01/17/tips-video-résumé s/
Hilyer, L. A. (2007). Presentations for librarians: A complete guide to creating effective, learner-centered presentations. Oxford: Chandos.
Petrelli, L. (2012, 1/25). An introvert’s guide to networking. Message posted to http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/01/the_introverts_guide_to_networ.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter#.TyvgXa44NaA.email