This is a story about how a personal brand revived Joe’s hopes of a meaningful career.
Last spring, Joe had just graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a B.S. in English literature. He had visions of following in his mother’s footsteps. She was a high school English teacher.
In fact, he wanted to go even further than his mom – maybe like a professor of English at a small college some day, even though a mild case of cerebral palsy (CP) at birth affected his gait. His speech was only slightly slurred, largely because he was deaf in one ear.
Joe enjoyed good writing, and he liked crafting a good piece of writing. English was definitely his field, one he had been targeting since junior high.
But, he soon was in for a shock, the realization that his mother had been dreading for years but never really fully addressed when they would talk about his future plans. She just didn’t want to discourage him, even though he needed a good dose of reality from a third party.
He found his final grade point average was not high enough to qualify for grad school. The truth is Joe had spent more time down at the Disability Resource Center, helping deaf students with a range of adaptive technologies, than studying during his five years in Madison.
By June, Joe was in a panic. What was he going to do? He never anticipated that he would be at such a crossroads. He assumed he would have a straight shot at his Ph.D. in English lit.
His mother introduced him to a private career counselor, who, over the summer, coached Joe into identifying three things about himself: his strengths, his passion and his weaknesses. And, he learned how to build a job marketing campaign around them.
In a nutshell, Joe discovered his uniqueness and how to leverage it within the current job market. He knew how to write well. He enjoyed helping others learn. He knew adaptive technology (AT) for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. And, he had experience as an AT volunteer at a large university’s disability services center.
He was vulnerable, however, on two fronts: his disabilities and his grade point average. But, both, he discovered could be neutralized or turned into advantages, if he framed them appropriately.
Being hard of hearing became an advantage, he found, when he decided to target companies which developed hardware and software for hard-of-hearing people. His grade point average became less important when he emphasized his AT volunteer work while in college. In fact, his volunteering gave him work experience, knowledge about the needs of future AT customers and a network of contacts that outweighed his mediocre grades.
Within a year of his graduation (a year of intense networking and company research), Joe landed a job as an assistant brand manager for a company which specializes in hardware and software for deaf and hard-of-hearing people.
He’s now traveling to schools and colleges across the U.S., demonstrating the company’s latest product offerings. And, he has started writing a blog and a forum for the company’s web site about those products.
Notice how the demands of Joe's new job match the attributes only he can offer. That match doesn’t always happen, but, when it does, take a closer look at the job seeker. Chances are that he or she has had some coaching in creating a personal brand.
I think a personal brand is especially important for job seekers with CP because it helps them and their potential employers to realistically answer these three questions:
Developing a personal brand is a strategy for taking ownership of one’s uniqueness in a world that is too often glitzy but bland. Finding the best opportunities for reaching one’s full potential is usually a gradual journey.
The concept started with executives in the 1960s but became popular in the late 1990s when business author and speaker Tom Peters became one of its most famous evangelists.
Susan Chritton, author of “Personal Branding for DUMMIES,” writes that branding oneself is no longer an option (it’s a necessity) for individuals who are serious about managing their careers.
In this new economy, she points out, companies are developing more project-based work (within and outside of the work site), assigning full-time employees to work with temporary workers.
That means your college student is entering a workplace where there’s more employee turnover and needs to be known by what he or she can do (not by a job title). That calls for a personal brand which is portable, constant and recognizable wherever work carries an individual.
I believe just-out-of-school job seekers need to register their
personal names as a dot com domain and build a simple web site where they
explain who they are and what they offer prospective employers. That's the beginning of creating a personal brand.
Encourage the young son or daughter you’re coaching to take these three simple steps.
First, do a whois.com search to see if the version of your name (full name, nickname first initials with last name etc.) you use most often to identify yourself is available as a domain name for your site.
Second, once you have settled on a domain name that includes some form of your proper name, always use that proper name version in identifying yourself on anything you write for publication, in your social media profiles, on your resumes, in your portfolio, e-mail sig etc. Branding consistency is the key.
For an example, see my personal web site at jimhasse.com. JRH.com (my initials) had already been taken when I launched my personal web site in 2010.
Third, you can use a domain hosting service such as godaddy.com to register your domain name and build a simple, not-costly web site like I did. Your site can display your offering statement, your resume, your portfolio etc., and you can set up an e-mail address that is unique to your web site.
Notice I brand myself as a “disability employment expert who helps individuals put disability to work as a competitive edge in today’s job market.” That’s my 15-second elevator pitch, a reply I can use when I’m asked, “What do you do?”
My statement often leads to question in reply: “How do you do that?”
My standard response: “I walk the people I coach through a series of career builders so they can gain the confidence they need to deal effectively with disability employment issues.”
For those who are really interested in my services, my two simple personal brand statements set the stage for exchanging contact information and for further discussion within a more appropriate venue.
Of course, discovering what I was all about and putting it into two simple sentences did not happen overnight. I’ve had career coaches and mentors help me in that discovery over many years.
But, now’s the time (while your son or daughter with CP is sill making the school- to-work transition) to put in writing answers to these questions: What is your passion? In what situations do you find yourself most comfortable, authentic and likable?
I wish your son or daughter the best in this journey toward building a personal brand. Remember, it takes time.