By Cathy Converse (Bailey)
I spent over 20 years working in marketing for a major corporation. So you’d think I’d make marketing myself a priority, and that I’d be good at it.
However, when I needed to make a major career transition a few years ago, I realized that I was not at all prepared. I’d been so busy marketing other things—products, services, even people—that I hadn’t thought much about marketing myself. When I most needed it, I was unprepared to put my professional skills to work on my own behalf.
Fortunately I had a couple months to pull everything together and launch my own marketing campaign. But if I could do it over again, I’d make sure that I gave more thought to how I marketed myself, and I’d start long before I needed to.
Most people, even those in marketing, are uncomfortable with the idea of promoting themselves. It seems self-serving. But the truth is nobody is as invested in your career or your success as you are. As the composer Jean Sebelius said, “If you just put a small value upon yourself, rest assured that the world will not raise your price.”
If you aren’t keeping track of your accomplishments and informing others about them, then nobody is. Whether you are looking for a new job, positioning yourself for a promotion, trying to get the plum assignments in your current position, or just keeping your options open, you need to be able to articulate the value you can provide to an employer, a team, or the world.
That’s why it’s necessary to market yourself. Here are some suggestions on how to go about it.
- Think about what you want. Before you start marketing yourself, it’s important to consider what you really want to do. Virtually every career path has many forks. Which one excites you the most? What do you really love to do? As I reflected on my career, I realized that the times when I was most excited and engaged were when I was launching new initiatives. I thrived on taking an idea and creating something real and functional from it. So as I started thinking about what I wanted to do next, I looked for opportunities that would allow me to work on start-up projects.
What really excites you? Think back on the work you’ve done, both on the job and in other facets of your life. What gave you great satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment? What types of activities put you “in the zone”—that feeling of intense, energetic concentration when time just flies by? Perhaps you’re a nurse in a clinical setting, and you’ve realized that your favorite part of the job is teaching others. Consider a career in nursing education. Or maybe you’re in sales, but find that you prefer analyzing sales data to calling on customers. Consider a move to sales operations.
Once you have an idea of the direction you want your career to take, you’ll be able to present yourself in a way that highlights your experiences and qualifications that are most relevant to the type of work you really want to do. It will also direct you towards the people or organizations who are looking for this expertise. In marketing this is known as positioning.
- Collect and organize the highlights of your career. As busy as everyone is, people (even your boss) are unlikely to remember your accomplishments. It’s up to you to be able to communicate them clearly. Keep a running list of your accomplishments that are related to the kind of work you want to do. If you haven’t done this for a while (or ever), it’s not too late. When I was switching careers, I hadn’t updated my resume in over 10 years. By going over old performance appraisals, emails, and documents, I was able to piece together the highlights of my career much more quickly than I thought I could.
If at all possible, back up your claims with data. Did attrition rates decrease after you joined the committee tasked with lowering them? Do you have a record of the number of presentations you did or the number of people who attended them? Were you involved in the successful effort to increase client satisfaction rates? Including these numbers in your resume, CV, or list of accomplishments demonstrates the magnitude of your impact.
Another effective technique that lends credibility to your story is having quotes from colleagues. Over the years I saved emails from clients, managers, and co-workers who praised my work or thanked me for my help. I also pulled quotes from my performance appraisals. When communicating with prospective employers or clients, I was able to show them how others valued my work. (Be sure you have permission from the writer to use his/her quote.)
- Stay connected. We’ve all heard this but it bears repeating: networking is perhaps the most important component of marketing yourself. Current and former co-workers, friends from school, and people you know from the activities in your personal life are all great contacts. Take a few moments to say hi, ask them what they’re up to, and share a bit about what you’ve been working on. Networking doesn’t have to mean “formal” meetings in coffee shops. The more you can weave it into your everyday life, the easier it will be.
I’m not a natural networker, so when I was switching careers, I read up on networking best practices. Some of the ones I found most effective for more formal networking meetings included:
- Keep it short. Everyone is busy, so be prepared to wrap it up after about 20 minutes. If they signal that they want to continue the conversation longer, that’s fine.
- Ask for a referral. “Do you know anyone I should talk to?” will expand your network and potentially put you in touch with people who can help you advance your career.
- Pay it forward. At the end of the encounter always ask if there is something that you can do for them. You may have a connection that could really benefit them!
- Keep your audience in mind. I can recall several times when I was interviewing job candidates who were very focused on what getting this job would do for them. It would further their career, it aligned with their interests, and would help them get where they wanted to be in five years (which was often someplace else). It seems that these (unsuccessful) candidates hadn’t considered what I, as the hiring manager, needed, which was someone who could help my team meet our goals and provide value to the company for which we worked.
The successful candidates, on the other hand, asked questions such as, “What are the greatest needs of your department that you are looking to fulfill with this position?” and then were able to articulate how they could help us meet those needs. By doing this they also demonstrated that they would be team players who were interested in working collaboratively to achieve success.
- Take the right risks. It’s harder to get ahead if you don’t stick your neck out. We’ve all heard the old saying, “no risk, no reward. But when contemplating when to take risks, it’s important be strategic.
Identifying key people at the next level in your organization to talk to, sharing your ideas in meetings, and volunteering for assignments that are important to the organization and relevant to your interests can help you gain new skills and experience while increasing your visibility.
- Prepare to sell yourself. Many people blanch at the very idea of marketing or “selling” themselves. It feels like bragging or showing off and seems like it would turn others off, rather than impress them. Done the wrong way, this can be true. But if you don’t market yourself, nobody else will either. Preparing to sell yourself requires you to believe that you are worthy of good opportunities and that your hard work and accomplishments can be valuable to someone else.
It may help to imagine your best friend or favorite co-worker telling someone about you. What would they say? What adjectives would they use? What attributes would they extol? What examples would they give as proof? If you’re not sure what they’d say, ask! Then incorporate these ideas—and enthusiasm—into your marketing efforts.
- Be your best, authentic self. When we market something, we want to present it in the best light possible, highlighting the great advantages it has and the ways it can help someone solve a problem or fill a need. And we serve that up with a little sizzle to make it sound appealing. But as consumers, we expect the product or services we buy to deliver on the promises made by the seller.
Marketing yourself is no different. As you think about how to present yourself to the world, consider how you can find the balance between putting your best foot forward while still being honest about what you have to offer and authentic to your true self. Nobody, including you, will be happy if you’ve misrepresented yourself. But it’s equally true that you can’t offer your talents and energies to an organization if people don’t know what you are capable of doing. Don’t shy away from articulating your value.
- Be discoverable. We live in a digital world, and we expect to find what we’re looking for online. If you’re active in a variety of social media platforms you probably know how you can use them to market yourself. For those of you who aren’t savvy with social media, I’d suggest you try just one platform: LinkedIn. LinkedIn is the largest and most active social media site devoted to professional activities. If you’re not already on LinkedIn, join (it’s free) and put up a basic profile. (If you’re not sure what to include, view the profiles of colleagues.) Then invite your friends and colleagues to “connect” with you. LinkedIn can be a great way to extend your network into the internet. If you already have a profile, take the time to update it and ask a few people to “recommend” you on the site.
I hope these ideas will help get you started on showing the world all you have to offer. And keep in mind that these suggestions work in all aspects of your life—not just your career!
Perez, A. and Ballinger, M. (2016). The 20-Minute Networking Meeting, Professional Edition. Career Innovation Press.