Now Hiring: Brand Manager … for You

by Nancy Ordman

Should a professional engineer develop a personal brand? Twenty years ago Tom Peters, the author of the highly-influential 1982 book, “In Search of Excellence,” answered that question with a definitive yes. His article, “The Brand Called You,” asserted that “we are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc.” For those readers who disagree with Peters’ pronouncement, Kali Raoul, known as the Brand Engineer, points out that “you will have a brand, regardless of whether or not you intentionally define it …

brand by design, not by default.”

The purpose of branding any product, from breakfast cereal to legal services, is to clarify for a potential buyer what to expect from that box of Cheerios or that personal-injury law firm with the relentless TV ads. A consumer’s knowledge of different cereal brands helps the consumer make a choice between alternatives. The same should hold true for personal brands.

Where to Start

Kali Raoul stresses that one’s personal values form the basis for a personal brand. Values persist throughout a career and do not change to match market conditions or job-market fluctuations. Knowing what kind of work is challenging and fulfilling, understanding one’s talents and abilities and crafting a career to match these qualities results, ultimately, in job satisfaction. It is equally important to know what is not interesting or challenging or consonant with one’s set of values.

Within this bundle of values, talents, and life experiences, individuals should elucidate what makes them unique and use these areas of uniqueness as the core of a brand. For example, a person who can translate complicated technical ideas to a non-technical audience and relay non-technical feedback in a way techies can understand could map this talent onto work situations that would benefit: negotiating requirements for a new accounting system between staff who will use it and the programmers and software engineers who design the system. Some talents will surface along the course of a career, providing more strengths to include in a personal brand.

Business speaker Kaplan Mobray encourages individuals to decide which attributes to put in the forefront of their brands. Speaking at ASCE’s 2017 annual convention, Mobray reinforced Raoul’s message that individuals should control the message about the strengths for which they want to be known rather than leaving the choice to chance. The author remembers an assistant professor who gained fame as the author of what he thought would be a novelty article about the way people used answering machines. He became the answering-machine expert rather than an expert in the areas where he did serious research. Never assume that others will recognize the right expertise.

The takeaway from the values-defining exercise? As Alexander Pope put it, know then thyself. And stick to that knowledge.

What Comes Next?

Developing a brand takes time and requires consistent, thoughtful attention to the process. The process encompasses far more than blogging or speaking at conferences or accruing experience on the job, although all of these activities can play a role. The advice that follows is a distillation of ideas from a number of branding experts. 

  • Understand your value proposition and characteristics that distinguish you from others in your field. Consistently demonstrate and deliver your value not only at work but in professional, civic and volunteer activities and in your online presence.
  • Seek feedback from work colleagues, family and friends. Ask how these people perceive you: does your perception of yourself line up with others’ perceptions?
  • Make yourself known to people in your industry. Participate in professional societies locally and nationally. Establish a LinkedIn presence where you comment on industry posts and share articles that show your interests.
  • Write about what you know, what you have accomplished, what you expect to accomplish. Publish articles in professional journals as sole author or in collaboration with established industry experts.
  • Ensure that your social media presence is consonant with your persona. Keep your information up to date. Avoid social media pitfalls by checking this article on the IEEE Job Site.
  • Create and maintain a blog; use social media tools to publicize it. Write about topics that interest and excite you. Provide several ways for readers to stay in touch with you — an email address or a subscription to your blog.
  • Keep learning. Stay abreast with changes in your areas of expertise and in your industry as a whole.
  • Be your authentic self. Remember that every interpersonal interaction you have — with professional colleagues, with fellow community volunteers, with friends — is an opportunity to demonstrate that you are the same person whether working with one colleague on a project or interviewing for a new position. 

Resources

Personal Branding for Engineers, Ruth P. Stevens

Creating a Personal Brand and Building Your Network, Stanford University Electrical Engineering Department