Why Your Personal Brand Matters More Than Ever, with Sarah Friedell O’Connell

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 257:

Why Your Personal Brand Matters More Than Ever, with Sarah Friedell O’Connell

Air Date: August 18, 2020

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

Find Your Dream Job is brought to you by Top Resume. Top Resume has helped more than 400,000 professionals land more interviews and get hired faster.

Get a free review of your resume today from one of Top Resume’s expert writers.

Go to macslist.org/topresume.

We’re seeing record unemployment rates in the United States and many other countries. Companies are still hiring, but managers are getting record numbers of applications.

Today’s guest says, in this economy, your personal brand matters more than ever. Here to talk about why this is so and what you can do about it is Sarah Friedell O’Connell.

Sarah is an executive coach and the owner of ChangePoint Advisors. It’s a firm that helps senior executives navigate career changes.

She joins us today from Boston, Massachusetts.

Sarah, let’s start with the basics, what is a personal brand?

Sarah Friedell O’Connell:

Hi, Mac. Well, gee, that’s a great question. A personal brand is really when folks get clear on their own unique value proposition. What is it that they bring to the market, and really, why should somebody hire them?

Mac Prichard:

Well, isn’t a resume enough? I mean, how can a personal brand actually help you get a job, Sarah?

Sarah Friedell O’Connell:

Oh my gosh, yeah. Well, first of all, let me back up here; so, personal branding is really key for 2 reasons. So, it’s really important for people to manage their own careers, right? You know, sometimes folks sit back and say, “Well, I landed in this job after school and it kind of took me down this way and here I am.”

But if you want to own your own career and kind of manage your own destiny, it’s really important to step back and think about, what is it you want? What do you bring to the market? And target the right roles, so that you end up in work that you love and that’s a fit for you, right? Managing your own career is important and branding is a piece of that.

Second, it’s a very, very crowded marketplace, particularly right now, so there’s lots of competition out and there are lots of folks that have similar skills to you. So, there are folks who maybe went to your same school or had the same title at a job that you had at a job. So, you must be able to differentiate yourself, and in order to do that, you have to know what’s unique and then be able to communicate your own value.

Mac Prichard:

Has a personal brand always mattered, Sarah, or does it matter now just because we’re in the middle of double-digit unemployment rates?

Sarah Friedell O’Connell:

Yeah, I think it’s always mattered. I mean, if you think about…I don’t always like comparing a multi-faceted human being to a product, but if you think about what’s happening, if you are job seeker, you’re trying to have someone hire you. So you are bringing your expertise and your services to the market. So, there is a marketplace and you are seeking a buyer, you’re seeking a new employer. The clearer you are about the value that you bring to that buyer, the more likely you’re going to end up with something that’s a fit for you.

I think that branding has always mattered; we haven’t always used that phrase, those words, but really it’s about getting clear, targeting, knowing yourself, and really cutting through the clutter of a crowded market to help you stand out and get hired.

Mac Prichard:

I’m curious, you said we might have used different phrases to describe what you’re talking about today. Can you talk about that? A generation ago, perhaps, instead of personal branding, did we say something else?

Sarah Friedell O’Connell:

Yeah, I think it was…that’s a really good question. I think we didn’t really go there. I think we just said, to your early question, you know, write up a resume, give people your skills and something will come along.

We don’t always know how to do a job search, we don’t always come out of school knowing, “These are the strategies I need to take. These are the best ways for me to go about landing my dream job.” And that’s why your podcast, quite frankly, is so valuable. It’s because you’re teaching folks how to do an effective search. And I think back in the day it was, write up your experience, write out where you went to school, and get that out to as many people as you can, and blanket the market, and hopefully something will stick. And there are much more strategic ways to go about it and branding is one of them.

Mac Prichard:

When you made that comment about how maybe we talked about it in different ways, I can remember people talking about candidates who had good reputations; do you see parallels there, between branding and reputation?

Sarah Friedell O’Connell:

Yeah, that’s so interesting. I had sort of forgotten about that but yes, you know, we’re talking about brand but you have a reputation in the market, whether you want to or not, so the first thing that I talk with my clients about when we’re trying to get clarity about, what is their brand is, the first step is knowing themselves, doing some self reflection, understanding what is their unique value, what kind of gifts and strengths do they have? Start with themselves with what they think they’re known for, then go to an external audience, and when I talk about that, I mean a trusted core group of people.

These are people whose opinions you value, people you trust. I’m not saying go out to your detractors, but find out, how do others view you? Why do people come to you at work? What do they think your strengths are? What are you known for? Some people are known as a fixer; you’re the one they go to to solve things. Some people are great people managers.

You have a brand at work and it’s really your reputation, so getting that information from others can be very helpful before you start your targeting process.

Mac Prichard:

I want to talk about the steps involved in building your personal brand and understanding it, as well. Before I do that though, Sarah, I do want to ask you, do you have to be a marketing expert to actually improve your brand and use it effectively?

Sarah Friedell O’Connell:

No, not at all. This is for all of us. I mean, as we go through our careers, we are making impressions, we’re building reputations through our actions and the quality of our work. And no, you do not have to be a specific marketer, but there are certain steps that can be very helpful to take when you’re trying to figure out your own personal brand, so…should I step you through a couple of them?

Mac Prichard:

I’d love to do that. One more question before we do that, and I just want to talk about the benefits of having a good personal brand. You touched on this a moment ago but I’m thinking about job seekers out there who are saying, “Well, how is this going to help me find a job faster and easier?” What would you say to that, Sarah?

Sarah Friedell O’Connell:

Yeah, so I think, first of all, if you get clarity around what your strengths are and what your gifts are, that’s a big part of your brand. What are you really good at and what do you love to do?

One huge value is that you’re going to end up in a job that you’re more happy with, that you’re a better fit for. Having a strong brand is going to help you figure out what you want, land in the next role that’s the right fit for you, and also, just really have a better trajectory on your career.

If you’re focused on work that you love, it’s just going to get easier and easier. And it’s also going to be much easier for you to communicate if you start to narrow down, distill all your skills and your abilities down into the things that you really are the best at, that you really love, that is really unique about you, it’s going to become easier and easier for you to communicate and synchronize all of your messaging across the different platforms that we use. Across your resume, your talking points, your elevator speech, perhaps your LinkedIn profile; it’s just going to get easier and easier.

Mac Prichard:

Let’s talk about the steps to do that. Why don’t you walk us through that, Sarah? How do people get started?

Sarah Friedell O’Connell:

Sure, the first thing, and this is for everybody, I think it’s really important for people, no matter where they are in their career, to just every once in a while, take a step back and reflect and think about what are your strengths? What have been your successes? Reflect on that.

When I work with my clients I have them do…get a notebook or open the laptop and start writing. We do a big brainstorming. You can also do this with another person, but I like folks to start on their own, because you don’t want to feel inhibited or self-censored.

Just do a brain dump into the computer. What talents do you possess? What is unique about you? What problems do you like to solve? What are your skills? They can be specific functional  skills, content knowledge; they might be soft skills, like relationship building or collaboration. So, start to think about that stuff, and you might want to think about, what was your favorite job in the past, if it’s not your current job?

What kind of tasks were you doing? When were you losing track of time? When did you get into a flow state? In the 90s, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined that phrase about being in flow. When do you lose track of time at work? And capture some of that.

Start big with brainstorming and then look for some trends, and then do it again.

Mac Prichard:

Let’s pause for a second there; so, you make a list of those categories, you ask those questions, you’re putting pen to paper, maybe at the computer. What do you do with that document, Sarah?

Sarah Friedell O’Connell:

Yeah, so you start big and then you start to whittle it down and that’s where it can be difficult. But I think people will start to see the things that they love, and you want to just cross out the things that everyone else has that’s not unique, but also isn’t something that you really love to do and feel confident and strong doing. Distill that down into a few things and then the second step is go to the external view.

Talk to some others who are trusted people and ask them, how do they view you at work? What do they think your strengths are? What are you known for there? Why did they seek you out to help them solve a problem rather than go to somebody else? Get information from others that you trust, and then compare that to what you know about yourself, and pretty quickly, people start to see themes and begin to hone in on what’s compelling about them.

Mac Prichard:

I’m curious about 2 things there. Do you recommend talking to people outside the workplace? Because, let’s be candid, often our friends and family don’t really know what we do during the work day. And then, how big of a group do you recommend asking these questions of?

Sarah Friedell O’Connell:

Yeah, so I would start with people who are colleagues or former bosses or people who work for you. I would start with people at the workplace if this is something you’re focused on around your career because, yeah, you don’t always bring your work home and nor should you. Your family and spouse don’t see you at the office…don’t want to see you at work…unless you’re in the current situation where everyone is seeing everything on Zoom and all working together. Basically you want to talk to a few people. Don’t go crazy, you know, 3 or 4 people and start with that, and see what comes back. I think it will validate what you already know about yourself but it may be interesting, because folks may tell you things that you’d forgotten about, for example, in your past.

“Gee, I was really great at doing that specific project work.” Or whatever it was. So, I would start with a smaller group. You can always talk to more folks but the idea is to not get too bogged down with this. Do the internal view then the external view.

Mac Prichard:

Let’s take a quick break, Sarah, and when we come back, I want to talk about what you do next with that information that you’ve collected from your peers and former coworkers.

Stay with us. We’ll return in a moment and we’ll continue our conversation with Sarah Friedell O’Connell about why your personal brand matters more than ever.

Your resume is the first experience most hiring managers will have with your personal brand.

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Sarah Friedell O’Connell.

She’s an executive coach and the owner of ChangePoint Advisors. It’s a firm that helps senior executives navigate career changes.

Now, Sarah, before the break, we were having a conversation about why your personal brand matters more than ever, and we had been talking about how you need to reach out to peers and former coworkers and get those insights about how people perceive your strengths and what you’re good at.

What do you do with that information, Sarah?

Sarah Friedell O’Connell:

Yeah, so that’s a great question. What you do is you compare that to your internal view, your own self-reflection that you’ve done first, and see what themes come out, and then, I think it’ll be pretty clear where your strengths lie and how people view you. The information then, you need to do something with it, exactly to your point, Mac, and you need to think about, who is your target market? Who are you trying to get a job with? What are the organizations that you’re targeting? What are the roles that you’re targeting?

You want to understand what’s important to them because your brand has to be relevant to that. So, if you’re in a job search, you need to be sure that you’re talking about the talents and the skills and the experience that your future employer finds of value. You need to be able to talk about that. If you don’t know, for example, if you want to make a career change and you want to pivot into something new, you have to go do some research, you have to go talk to people. What’s really important? How does my skill set, how does my brand and my abilities map to these other kinds of roles?

What do I have? Am I a fit? Am I missing something? Do I need to go out and get some other skills or experiences? You want to be relevant to your target market. That’s really critical. You have to match.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so as you walk us through this, I mean, first you were talking about self-assessment, knowing your strengths; second was talking to your peers and coworkers and others in your field, and understanding how others perceive you; third is understanding the needs of your target employers. Sarah, why is it important to target employers? Why is it important to have a short list of companies or positions that you’re interested in? Shouldn’t you keep all your options open?

Sarah Friedell O’Connell:

Yeah, that’s a great question, Mac, I think that people get worried that if they’re not casting a really wide net, they’re going to miss out on some opportunity but, in fact, the opposite is true. Just because you have a certain skill or did something ten years ago doesn’t mean that you want to do it again. It doesn’t mean that that’s the right fit for you. So, being very thoughtful and selective about the kind of company that you want to work at, the kind of role you want to do, targeting places whose work you think is excellent, who have a leadership team that you think are good, that is financially in good straits. You want to make sure that you wind up in the right place.

Targeting is really, really critical. It’s an important piece, and narrowing down, having a target set; having 10 to 20 organizations that you would love to go to work at. Then you can start with that and use that for your networking as well. I mean, that’s a huge help when you’re going out and you’re talking to your network and saying, “This is the kind of work I do, this is who I am, and I think companies like A, B, and C could benefit from having me on their team.” It just makes it easier.

Mac Prichard:

Why does it make it easier, Sarah? Why does it help if you have a short list of 3, 5, maybe even 10 companies?

Sarah Friedell O’Connell:

Yeah, I think that you’re going to be able to be focused and not too scattered. We only have so much time in the day, and particularly if you’re already employed and you’re in a quiet search seeking something else, being very strategic and targeted makes the best use of your time, and also, it’s just much more likely that you’re going to be happy in your next role. If you’re excited about the organization that you go to, you’ve done some research, targeting takes a little bit of research on the back end as well, and so let’s say that you get into a networking meeting or, best case scenario, you get an interview for a job there, doing your research ahead of time really, really helps you.

Understanding the market, understanding your competition, all of those things are pieces of getting clear on what they might want. It helps, again, as you’re doing your brand, thinking about your brand and doing the work to distill your brand, all these other pieces help your job search overall. Networking, targeting folks to talk to, understanding the market, it’s just going to get easier for you as you narrow down your options of organizations.

Mac Prichard:

You’ve already touched on this, by talking about the connection between branding and things like networking and interviews, but how do you pull all this work together, Sarah? The self-assessment, the feedback from peers, the information you get from researching target companies; how does this translate into what you say in your applications or your resume or the words you write on your LinkedIn page?

Sarah Friedell O’Connell:

Yeah, that’s a great question because it sounds like a ton of work, and it can be a lot of brainstorming and gathering information and gathering data, so it can feel very overloading. So, what I do with my clients is, sometimes we’ll do a white board exercise where you’ve got your key qualities, attributes, skills, uniqueness, your value that’s been validated by others outside of you, as well as yourself, you know it’s true for you; then you could do a whiteboard, where you draw and you put what you think is your brand in there, your experiences and so on. Then, you draw another circle on a whiteboard and that’s the needs of your target market.

Think about, what are they seeking? Look at job descriptions, what do they want? And then, if you were to think about this as a Venn diagram, and in fact, kind of take the two circles and merge them together, where they overlap, that’s the piece that you want to focus on. You’ve got a lot of data and a lot of information, but you need to hone it in a little bit so that you’ve got a sweet spot. And so how you fit the needs of your target audience, that’s really your brand. That’s really the sweet spot.

Mac Prichard:

That flows out of what you’ve learned about the needs and the skills that you offer, and that’s where the 2 meet up.

Sarah Friedell O’Connell:

Yeah.

Mac Prichard:

I’m curious, what is the biggest branding mistake that you see people make during a job search?

Sarah Friedell O’Connell:

Well, I think people are afraid to be very narrow, they’re afraid to be…because, you know, particularly if you’ve been in the workforce for a while, we’re all multi-faceted individuals. We all have a lot of experiences, we have a lot of skills. How do you distill it down?

I think people are afraid to do that because they’re afraid, to your earlier question, are they going to miss an opportunity? But the fact is if you are willing to take that chance, not to disregard your other things when you’re in an interview or a networking conversation, you don’t disregard the breadth of the skills that you have, but if you start with a very clear brand, you’re going to be a stronger fit for the job that you want. You’re just going to be a stronger match. So, you know, it’s like, think about the products that are out there that have a really, really clear brand.

You know what they are, you know what they provide, you know why you want them, you know why you’re going to go buy them, and that’s kind of what you want to do out in the job market as well. Be clear to people.

Mac Prichard:

Sarah, over the course of a career, which might stretch out over thirty or forty years, your brand’s going to change, isn’t it? You won’t have the same brand mid-career that you did when you were right out of college, or perhaps the brand that you’ll have just before you retire, will you?

Sarah Friedell O’Connell:

No, you’re absolutely right, Mac. Your brand will change, your skills and your interests will hopefully change, and you will be, as you move through your career, you’ll be focused on a variety of things, and so, yeah, change is fine. Trying not to be all things to all people because that’s where, particularly if you’re in a search, that’s where it’s just not as effective. You have to take a little bit of a stand, and acknowledging your own uniqueness and your own specialness and experience and why you’re different from your competition, that should feel good, too, and it should help you feel more confident in your search.

Mac Prichard:

Well, it’s been a terrific conversation, Sarah. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?

Sarah Friedell O’Connell:

Well, that’s a great question. I took a big, big leap about a year ago, Mac, and I actually quit my job. I was a partner in a career management firm, so I was coaching senior executives and I had always had a very small, private practice. But I decided to leave and focus on my own business, and I gave myself a year to build it the right way, and now I’m ready to scale. I’m very excited. Now, I have a platform, I’ll be able to take on many more clients, and so I’m really excited to grow.

Mac Prichard:

Well, congratulations. I know people can learn more about you and the services that you offer at your firm by visiting changepointadvisors.com.

Now, Sarah, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about why your personal brand matters more than ever?

Sarah Friedell O’Connell:

Well, I would say, if you want to take charge of your career, you need to be really clear on what it is that you’re seeking, and you need to understand the value that you bring to the market, and then be able to communicate this clearly and effectively. Going through a branding exercise will give you these tools’ they’ll help you feel more confident, and ultimately, you’ll get better results.

Mac Prichard:

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Go to macslist.org/topresume.

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Next week, our guest will be Jackie Mitchell. She’s a certified career coach who helps professional women feel fulfilled, achieve financial goals, and have well-rounded careers and lives.

You may think you need to settle for less when you do a job search. So, instead of trying to get the position you want, you apply for the job you think you should do.

Jackie and I will talk about this, and why you should focus on what you really want.

I hope you’ll join us. Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

If you’re a job seeker in the current market, you know how crowded that market is. Excellent references and a professional resume are no longer enough to get you the job you want. To stand out to an employer, you must be strategic about communicating your unique skillset, says Find Your Dream Job guest Sarah Friedell O’Connell. How do you do that? Sarah says you start by developing your personal brand. Get clarity on the positions you’re interested in and on the value you bring to a company. Sarah also recommends using branding exercises to build your confidence in what you have to offer. 

About Our Guest:

Sarah Friedell O’Connell is an executive coach and the owner of ChangePoint Advisors. It’s a firm that helps senior executives navigate career changes. 

Resources in This Episode: