Crafting Your Signature Brand in Today's Job Market TXT

Transcript for "Crafting Your Signature Brand in Today's Job Market" episode.

text/plain crafting-your-signature-brand-in-todays-job-market.txt — 19 KB

File contents

Thank you for tuning in to our second podcast series featuring Smeal Alumni Career Services coaches supporting lifelong learning and business career development for alumni and friends of the Smeal College of Business. This series showcases the expertise of our career coaches as leaders in developing resources and services for strategizing careers. Follow our next three episodes releasing in mid-June, July, and August. 

Then on September 11 at noon Eastern Daylight Savings Time, tune in for "Nail the Authentic Interview-- Advice From Smeal Alumni Career Coaches." Like the podcast episode, Smeal Lifelong Learning Webinars are free. I am your host Cindy Satterfield, Senior Programs Manager for Smeal Alumni Career Services. And I'm very excited to be working with my colleagues on these episodes. 

Today, I am talking with Dr. Jennifer Nicholas, who along with being a career coach is also our assistant director. It was exciting to bring Jennifer onto the team about one year ago as she brings a fresh perspective on career coaching through her PhD from Penn State in workforce education and development. She is an excellent researcher and writer and has a passion for helping people develop and succeed in their careers. 

Welcome, Jennifer. We're so lucky to have someone of your caliber working to bring career resources and professional development to Smeal alumni and guiding them in their career journey. So please, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your experience? 

Thank you, Cindy. I'm really pleased to be here today. My journey at Penn State began several years ago when I moved to State College with my family and decided to pursue my PhD. I wanted to gain credentials in career counseling. But having recently finished my master's in adult education and training at Seattle University, I felt like I was ready for a greater challenge than a second master's degree could offer. 

I was very fortunate that the workforce education and development program hired me as a professional development instructor. So I balanced five good years taking classes, including in career counseling, conducting research, and coaching teachers in career and technical education throughout the central region of Pennsylvania. 

I have a lot of respect, of course, for people who make their living doing hands-on work. And I really enjoy coaching them on their career transition into the classroom, especially helping them teach their trade. So now, I'm honored to be supporting business professionals in their career transitions. I love hearing people's career stories and bringing out the best elements for what I feel like is a strong value proposition to employers. 

Well, we're so happy to have you on our team, Jennifer. Today, we're discussing the importance of branding in a job search. So to start off, can you explain the phrase "signature brand" in today's market and why this is important? 

Sure. In our globalized job market, I feel like employers are inundated with applicants because it's so easy now to apply with just a click of the button. For job seekers in this circumstance, it's especially important to position yourself well with a signature brand that meets the needs of your target audience and stands out from the competition. A signature brand is the image that you put out there of yourself, that first digital first impression. 

But it's also how you consistently behave on a day-to-day basis, your reputation. And it's important that these two components are well-aligned. So if you describe yourself as team-oriented and inclusive online, are you living that on a daily basis? 

What does your target audience really need to know about you? What are you known for in your network? And when your name comes up in conversation, what do people associate you with? So I feel like all of these questions relate to your signature brand, which is critical because employers want to hire people who are competent and trustworthy. 

That's a lot to consider. What are some tools you should use to assist you with branding? And are there any costs associated with these tools? 

Well, the best and easiest thing you can do for yourself is develop an awesome LinkedIn profile that is perfectly aligned with a job and industry you're targeting. And that doesn't cost any money. I'm sure we'll talk more about LinkedIn in our conversation today. 

There's also a free tool called TagCrowd. Just go to where you can copy and paste text from your digital presence, like your LinkedIn page, and visualize it with a word cloud. So this is an easy tool to give you immediate feedback on what your digital brand currently emphasizes. Most people are surprised by what comes across strongly. And then they choose to make some adjustments. 

TagCrowd, I hope everyone writes that down. How do Smeal Alumni Career Services coaches help in this branding process? 

So there are two main ways in which we help. One is ensuring consistency because it's so important that all marketing materials project a unified image of you as a working professional. You don't want someone to be confused about who you are because your LinkedIn profile contradicts your resume, for example. 

I think the second piece is actually authenticity. It's important to first be clear about your own values, motivations, strengths, and past working accomplishments. When you're clear about who you are and you've conducted market research, you've got a very powerful brand message to communicate. I think of brand as, really, synonymous with reputation. And for your own integrity, as I mentioned before, it's important to live your brand on a daily basis. 

Authenticity, that is a really great word to remember. All right, how important is it to have a branded online presence in today's job market? 

I think it's vitally important. I have a lot of respect for people who avoid or limit their use of social media on principle. But in today's job market, having a LinkedIn profile is a necessity. Employers and recruiters have a lot of choices in the talent they pursue online. And if they can't even find you online, you're often dismissed. 

They will also dismiss candidates who have a bare bones profile, so watch out for that too. It's important to be open, transparent, and put your best professional self forward, especially in ways that are well-aligned with your aspiration. 

It's wonderful that Smeal provides alumni with these free coaching services. When onboarding a new client, what are some of the branding tips that you provide for alumni? 

I would say that the top third of your resume and the top third of your LinkedIn profile are prime real estate for the casual eye of the employer or recruiter. It's so important to establish a strong, positive brand by clarifying your personal value proposition here. So I help clients think about their unique combination of accomplishments, skills, and attributes for what is essentially a sales pitch to employers. 

I also help people reframe their thinking about resumes so that they're no longer focused on composing an entire career summary, which can be long and tedious, but instead crafting a tactical marketing document designed to persuade a specific employer. 

OK, let's talk about branding differences in industries. For instance, finance is our biggest major. So there's a difference between how you market yourself in the finance industry as opposed to, say, the marketing or entrepreneurial industries. 

Well, this is a great question. First, I would say that there are more similarities than differences. The principal of show don't tell applies across industries. Don't tell your reader that you have a proven track record, instead show it by listing your quantified accomplishments. 

Similarly, anyone can claim that they have outstanding communication skills. But it's more important to show it through eloquent writing and people-oriented accomplishments. In the finance industry, I think it's especially important to present a highly professional brand and list technical skills and quantifiable accomplishments. 

Now in marketing, there is more flexibility to display your creative professional self. But there's also some higher stakes involved. Employers are going to expect that you excel at marketing yourself. So you need to apply your knowledge of marketing to establish a strong personal sales pitch and platform. The same would go for entrepreneurs. 

I encourage everyone to study the LinkedIn profiles of the people making hiring decisions at their target company and in their target industry. This will cue you in to cultural considerations when choosing how to best present yourself on LinkedIn. 

To add another layer, how might someone who is just starting out brand themselves in the job search as opposed to someone who is more experienced? 

I would say that recent graduates don't yet have a strong brand or reputation. So there's less pressure on them to produce a winning series of accomplishments to persuade employers. Still, it's especially important that they have a comprehensive LinkedIn presence. 

I did see a study recently that suggests employers actually pay more attention to LinkedIn profiles of recent graduates compared to those in middle to higher level managerial positions. So this is a wonderful opportunity, really, for recent graduates to compose a strong personal value proposition for employers. It may be more aspirational than reality about what they can do because they haven't had the experience yet to fully realize their working potential. But aspirational statements are very powerful and can become self-fulfilling prophecies. 

Branding is a challenge because there are so many things to consider. And as you've mentioned, it's critical to success. Can you provide one branding tip that you feel is most important for the different levels of experience. So from 0 to 5, 5 to 10, 10 to 15, and 15 and above. 

Yes, so for people with 0 to 5 years of experience, I would say, invest in a professional headshot and shift from emphasizing your school accomplishments to highlighting your working accomplishments. There's not much difference between people at 5 to 10 years of experience and 10 to 15 years. But these people should all engage regularly in career management, even if they're not seeking out a new position. 

It's so important to remain aware of your brand or reputation and cultivate meaningful, long-lasting relationships at work. Then when it comes time to switch jobs, your brand will be based more on who you know than what you know. That's the common phrase these days. 

I would say that for people with more than 15 years of experience, seeking out professional learning opportunities is important. At that point in your career, you've already amassed many working accomplishments, I'm sure, but it's still important that you demonstrate a dedication to continual learning and improvement to avoid tainting your brand with a perception of complacency. 

OK. If you have a very targeted strategy and have a company or two in mind, where would you find resources to best position yourself to be an attractive employee to that company? 

Well, if you have a very targeted strategy, my first response is that's great because that's what we would recommend. It's like a game of darts. You'll be more successful if you know what you're aiming for. 

The best resources would be found within that company. I know our colleague Doreen Glenning did a fabulous podcast with you recently related to business resources. So I would refer listeners to that. My other recommendations would be, first, join the Penn State Alumni Association because you'll get complimentary access to business resources on our library website. 

Also, focus on trying to get connected to people at the companies you're targeting. Many people acquire their next position through employee referral systems. So you're doing yourself a favor by networking because you're also increasing your chances of benefiting from the system. So the best resources in any job search are always going to be human resources. 

I agree. You know, I am a big believer in networking. Another concern-- are there resources that would give you a clue as to what to avoid when trying to brand yourself as a candidate for your targeted company? 

Yes. I would pay close attention to aspirational language on the company's website that is articulating vision, mission, values, or strategic plan. Once you've done a thorough job of company research with close attention to these areas, I would then recommend reviewing your digital brand identity, like we talked about earlier with TagCrowd. 

Is there anything about your digital brand that could possibly conflict with the target company's brand and values? If so, you've got to do some adjusting. It's very important to curate the image that comes across to people when they look you up online. 

Well, to me, the hardest task would be branding yourself to fit with a company you want to work for while staying authentic. There's that important word again. So how important is it to target the right companies and positions? And how do our career coaches help with that process? 

Well, I think it's very important. We talk a lot with our clients about organizational culture because it's not just about getting the job. It's about being happy once you're in it. This goes back to being clear about your values and motivations, and finding an organization or company that shares those values. There doesn't need to be 100% alignment because you'll still most likely have some differences. But it's important to focus on what you do share in common and the great opportunity that exists in shared vision. 

I'm also a big believer in the power of positive energy. I think that your brand is going to shine when you're able to genuinely be positive about the opportunity. If it's hard to muster the positive energy, then it's probably not the right job for you. 

Let's talk about branding strategies in the current job market of low unemployment as opposed to, say, back in 2008, when we had a recession. 

Branding is in constant flux because social media and our shared construction of reality is also in constant flux. It certainly wouldn't hurt anyone listening to this podcast to go out and find career coaches on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram and begin following them to get the latest advice. Because, just like fashion and apparel, you can expect that the advice on branding is going to change from time to time. 

And I know I've already made a point here of talking about LinkedIn and the importance of establishing a strong brand in your profile. But remember that LinkedIn is even more important than it was in 2008 because it's steadily grown in popularity since then. 

We see a lot of people changing career paths. So I wanted to talk some about strategies for transitioners. So can you provide some branding tips for people who have years of experience in one industry but are looking to move into another industry, even though they are considering a similar role? 

Yes. We would call these people career switchers. And we'd highly recommend that they read the book Switchers-- How Professionals Change Careers and Seize Success by Dawn Graham. She's the director of career management for the MBA executive program at Wharton. Dawn recommends, and I would agree, that you need to go all in on your plan A. If you're an accountant wanting to be a project manager, make sure that you cast project management skills and experience as the defining focus. 

This is the hardest challenge for career switchers because they have to shed a past role and identity in order to become something new. And in the process, sometimes, they have to learn a new language and practice in order to convince people that they are truly capable and competitive. It's a delicate process. And branding, I believe, is at the heart of it. 

Next, what about branding tips for those looking to transition into a totally new role within the same industry? 

Well, in this circumstance, at least you have established a professional network within one industry. I would recommend leveraging the power of that network. Look for ways to take on special projects that stretch you to adopt skills and expertise needed for the role that you're targeting. You can probably find people within your industry who are willing and able to assist you in acquiring this-- we would call it-- stretch work. 

I'd recommend conducting informational interviews to learn from people within the industry who have gone through similar transitions. What lessons have they learned in the process? Also, talk to people in human resources and try to establish a good rapport with them. They are critical for helping you understand both the challenges and the opportunities in pivoting to a different functional area within the same industry. 

OK, for older job seekers who face an additional challenge in the job market, how can they brand themselves to attract companies, especially when too much experience can be seen as not attractive and costlier to companies? 

This is a great question because, unfortunately, age discrimination does exist. And it is rampant. For starters, as I mentioned earlier, I'd recommend getting a professional headshot. I think, before, I was talking about it in the context of recent graduates. But it would certainly be true for our older clients as well. 

In this case, get a professional headshot with lighting that flatters your face because visuals matter so much. Be active on social media. And try to stay up to date with the latest job trends, so that you can come across as well-informed and modernized in your job search. Include your customized LinkedIn url on your resume and business card. 

And finally, I would say, be sneaky about the information that you share and what you withhold from sharing on your marketing materials. So for example, you don't need to include the date that you graduated from college or your early internship experiences. I would say, there is a lot to this discussion. And I encourage all clients to be open about sharing their fears and concerns with a career coach because we can do our best to help you skillfully navigate the entire transition process. 

Lastly, let's talk about gender. What branding tips would you provide for a female that might not be best for a male and vice versa? Or when branding, are the strategies similar for gender? 

I would give everyone the same branding advice, regardless of gender identity, because I still believe that ultimately, you'll be successful when you come across authentically. And you're the expert on your own authentic self. I see gender more as a spectrum than as a dichotomy. And I would hate for anyone to feel like they have to downplay this aspect of their working identity if it's important to them. 

I do think it's important to be aware of implicit bias and the obstacles that come with entering a homogeneous workplace. Fortunately, there has been a lot of dialogue and consciousness raising about implicit bias, discrimination, and the importance of diversity in the workforce. Also, although artificial intelligence is still technology in its infancy, I think we're starting to see a shift towards reducing implicit bias in algorithmic software. 

So we've got a long way to go. And it's complicated. But I'm hopeful-- and research supports this-- that we're continually moving towards a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce. I believe that by embracing authenticity, which has become a bit of a buzz word in recent years, we're part of this process. 

Well, that was great. Thank you. That's all the questions we have today. Jennifer, I really appreciate your sharing your expertise. Smeal Alumni Career Services produces these online resources to promote lifelong learning, professional development, and help keep up on future business trends. 

All lifelong learning webinar and podcast recordings, along with more information about Smeal Alumni Career Services, coaching, and programs can be found by visiting, and clicking on the Alumni tab to find our website. Or you can email us at