The following is part 1 of the three-part "Make it Personal" Leadership Series for PR and marketing professionals.
On April 3, I had the opportunity to present at the annual Distinguished Leaders Conference for juniors and seniors of Baldwin-Wallace College, a private, liberal arts school in Northeast Ohio (and my alma mater).
While my presentation was tailored to those looking to develop leadership skills as they make the transition from student to professional, we felt that many of the key lessons translate to PR and marketing professionals looking to make their mark, and organizations seeking to attract them as future leaders.
It's All Personal
When a situation becomes challenging, or a difficult decision is being made, many of us will turn to the saying: “it’s just business, nothing personal.” In today’s world, with the lines between professional and personal life blurred, every interaction is a chance to build or destroy a personal brand.
Professionals can shape this perception through online activity, such as blogs, forums, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and other social networks.
From first impressions, to long-term connections, emerging leaders need to take control of their online personal brands, and project the images they want to share with the world, including colleagues, companies and community groups.
Organizations are not looking to just hire a set of skills and achievements; they are looking to hire the real person behind the resume, and their potential to become a leader.
It starts by acknowledging the person you are today, and discovering the steps to take to shape a new future.
The Real You – Personal Branding
Who are you online? Who do you want to be?
Perceptions about you are shaped long before you apply to a job, or show up for an interview. While we know that hiring managers are conducting online searches and viewing social networking profiles as part of the recruiting process, we often look to this as a negative.
Rather, we should focus on the opportunities we have to be our own publisher on behalf of our personal brand, and make sure the search results associated with our name tell the full story and dimensions of our lives (photos, videos, blog posts, who we’re connected with, etc.).
It’s easy to slip into the mentality of not caring what people think, such as when posting personal opinions, unflattering photos and polarizing statements. Or also to believe that people truly don’t care about what you are posting.
But when it comes to the audiences you intend to influence, you need to care about what they think, and consider the things that matter to them.
Social Media for Professionals
To many, especially in younger generations, social media is a personal activity for friends, family and maybe new acquaintances. In fact, of the students in our session at the event, only one had a LinkedIn profile, and of the several Twitter users, none had professional connections.
A transition happens when you start looking at social media in a professional light, and discover the opportunities to leverage your presence.
I related it to students as a 24/7 networking event. When attending a networking night or career fair, you dress the part, speak the language and work to make new connections. The same should be applied when networking online.
Think about things like sharing resources you find interesting and relevant, and adding to the conversations and engaging with others. Your boss may friend you on Facebook, and your uncle may add you as a connection on LinkedIn. Both offer an opportunity to connect on new and different levels that can lead to new opportunities.
If nothing else, make sure to claim yourself on social networks. If you have a longer or common name, make sure your version is professional and recognizable (ex. not a cute nickname, or series of numbers and characters). Include a headshot photo that is a natural representation of you, and add a blend of your professional background and personal interests. This helps to bridge common connections with a variety of people.
Stand Out in The Crowd
Living in a crowded online world, it may seem difficult to rise above others. If you want to stand out for the right reasons, think about the following ways to make your mark:
- Have a presence in social media, and take a strategic, professional approach.
- Demonstrate expertise and collaboration; add to the conversation.
- Build a niche (ex. a blog about studying abroad experiences, personal interests).
- Get a mentor; be a mentor; help extend the reach of your networks.
- Showcase your passions and talents.
And the things to avoid. Don’t:
- Be too self-promotional.
- Overshare (too much information, too private, too often).
- Publicize your interview plans and activities; HR personnel do not look kindly on those that infringe on the privacy of the recruiting process, and it can create awkward situations.
- Be non-human.
- Be offensive (see writer/recruiter Joy Chen’s article about a UCLA Student Case Study on HuffingtonPost.com).
There’s not a secret formula for success. But you have to decide for yourself when the time is right to stop being just a follower of top influencers, and to build a career on your personal strengths and original ideas.
Stay tuned for part 2 - Make it Personal: Opportunities, Interviews and Team Skills
Christina is vice president of PR 20/20, a Cleveland-based inbound marketing agency and PR firm. On Twitter: @ChristinaCS