Social Enterprise

Don't make self-promotion your only skill

Personal branding is good--as long as you actually have some talent or skill other than just knowing how to market yourself.

I came a cross a blog today that "spoke" to me. Steve Tobak, writing for CBS Money Watch, put wonderful words to the gnawing aggravation I've been feeling toward the personal-branding movement. I love a person who speaks his mind. I love a person even more when he speaks MY mind.

So here's the big question: Why do I get the feeling that lately a huge chunk of the business world has taken a horribly misguided detour from B2C and B2B to Me2Me? I mean, why does it rub me the wrong way that these Generation Me uber-gurus and experts who've never built a company or marketed anything but themselves are so interested in evermore insidious ways to promote themselves? And why does it feel like what passes for knowledge and expertise these days is really just a waste of genetic material that might otherwise have made something useful of itself?

I write career advice so, yes, I have quoted experts who tell people how important it is to market your personal "brand." But the underlying assumption has always been that you should have some kind of recognizable skill to market. At some point you still have to do some useful work that offers value to someone. I don't want someone working for me whose only real talent is sculpting his or her own image.

You know what happens when people market themselves just for the sake of marketing themselves? You get Kardashians out the wahoo and more Jersey Shore'ons that you can shake a stick at.

Steve's blog is one of the best-written rants against using personal branding in the wrong way that I've ever read:

I don't know, maybe it bugs me that personal branding is such a transparently obvious uberpile of ubercrap that takes self-help to new lows I wouldn't have even remotely thought possible that it actually makes me sad. Or perhaps it's that there's a seemingly endless demand for this sort of self-absorbed, self-centered, self-involved, self-promoting crap by millions of me's just like the personal-branding gurus who spew it.

"Uberpile of ubercrap." I bet he could put that on a tee shirt and sell it.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

28 comments
danmar_z
danmar_z

I thought the only reason for living in the US was to make as much money as possible so you could enjoy the good life, the American Dream. If people can make that dream come true by self-(over)promoting then how do you think you can stop them. Besides, ranting to them about how wrong they are is as useful as yelling in a black hole and expecting an echo. I once heard the following: The monster does not recognize itself in the mirror. I believe that defines humanity very well. Bottom line: who's actually wrong here? The guy who manages to convince dumb employers he's actually useful or the dumb employer who hires him? I vote for the second because I've seen all my employers hire shiny incompetent self-promoters to the detriment of not only the bottom line but to general employee morale. What can you do when so many enterprises hire dumb-ass managers who may have self-promoted themselves into these positions? It's a vicious circle that will likely never be broken because it feeds on itself.

tonycopp
tonycopp

As attention spans approach zero, the shine blinds the connection to the results. Humpty Dumpty got pushed to keep the game going with fake money.

RMSx32767
RMSx32767

Those who can, do, and allow their coworkers to sing their praises; some will perhaps become managers. Those who want to manage will master the art of self-promotion. They might possess some useful talent but it's equally likely they are larger, louder, perhaps better looking, and better liars than their associates. They are perhaps also bullies. Eventually they will be managers and woe be to any direct report whose coworkers sing hosannas to his or her abilities; that person will be targeted for elimination.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Move along before they find out you're 'all hat and no cattle'.

Timbo Zimbabwe
Timbo Zimbabwe

"You get Kardashians out the wahoo and more Jersey Shore???ons that you can shake a stick at." I think it's funny how people with no real marketable skills can make a name for themselves with nothing more than a sex video.....

ant.mac
ant.mac

There's a lot of people that make self-promotion their only skill. Nevertheless, I think that if we talk to them several times, it's very simple to spot them, because they only speak about one thing, normally something that we can ear on the news, and for the next times the talking it's the same, there's never nothing new. The better it's to ignore them!!!!

glen
glen

It seems that this is exactly what Obama has done!!!

kmoore
kmoore

This guy was a very quick study in the IT industry. He could have been very good. But he insisted on doing everything in his own way. He spread rumors about his peers but for those that could help him get ahead, he kissed whatever needed to be kissed. As time went on, he wrote nastygrams to most of the others here. Finally, when he applied for a promotion that he had neither the training nor experience for and got rejected, he left. I was brought back in to clean up the mess. The new IT manager has declared that he will be referred as "The One That Cannot Be Spoken Of". Actually, it has helped me. When there are problems, I just mention The One That Cannot Be Spoken Of, and everyone says "Oh, I see.'

jlmwriter
jlmwriter

In my experience, success is a by-product of creating value for others. I run into people who aspired to being "personalities" who want to just sort of get up on stage and say a few inspiring platitudes and everyone adores them. That works for infants and puppies but once you're an adult you get to contribute in more substantial ways. It's not a burden, it's an honor and if you choose the right career it should be a lot of fun too. And in the end, you'll be about as memorable as a vapor trail.

jzabrams
jzabrams

I've never been very good at self promotion, or maybe it's just that I've never felt very good about it. So usually I can't wait to get in there and get my hands dirty to 'prove' myself, while the shameless self-promoter may live in fear of this. If it's a consulting-type gig, I try to pick the client's biggest ongoing problem and solve it quickly and efficiently, often for free or close to it. Sometimes I end up working under the self-promoter, but they need me to avoid discovery of their dirty little secret and so my job is at least secure.

pikeman666
pikeman666

I hate to sound cynical, but a look at the BS people I used to work with are posting on LinkedIn is appaling! You'd think these folks had been captains of industry. It grates on me too! So, yeah, 80% is perception and the rest is what they can actually do.

ittechexec
ittechexec

As someone that helps IT and tech job seekers hone their personal brand strategy, I absolutely agree with the main points of this article. The caution I have? Don't go so far to the extreme that you disregard the NECESSITY for branding yourself effectively. Yes, you will need to have a good foundation, strong experience, and relevant accomplishments to back it all up...but if you don't package, message, communicate (whatever you want to call it) that information in a manner that is compelling and earns the interest of HR folks, recruiters and hiring executives alike, you will likely wind up frustrated and complaining that "no one appreciates your talent."

Aikon1953
Aikon1953

It is not just about you the one person, but also the team! People need to sell themselves as an individual and also a team member, that is how the best companies work; I would never hire someone who was always me me. The other thing is do not think you know it all, just because you have a degree, they need to be able listen and learn from the older experience people, so you can develop the skills you need, that in its self is a skill that I as a hiring person want to hear when self-promoting.

zyzzyva57
zyzzyva57

Location, location, location is still important, but you best focus on benefiting the customer. Other than sloppy bookkeeping, how often do you note the failure of a business is simply getting cocky and forgetting this: benefiting the customer as his or her needs shift for whatever reason?

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

[b]Perception[/b] I once had an interesting chat with a former boss about how important perception was career-wise. I asked him what percentages would he apply to [b]substance[/b] versus [b]perception[/b] in evaluation. He allowed 80% to perception... I replied that the 80% should be substance because in the case of competent people perception takes care of itself. Unfortunately it takes 80% substance on the part of management to value it in the employees. Make of that what you will wrt where your energy would be best utilized.

alv002
alv002

I have also seen many individuals with not much talent, but good at promoting themselves move up the corporate ladder. It is sad that senior leaders are still fooled by such individuals.

frunobulax
frunobulax

Before you can do anything worthwhile, you have to be very, very good at your job. I have a term for the empty suits--"achievement without accomplishment".

Screaming_Chicken
Screaming_Chicken

...people who excel at self-promotion are the ones who rise up the ladder. One guy who rose to the level of CIO within a mid-sized corporation, ended up having a pretty big hand in bringing the company down. In another place, a purchasing agent talked her way into being put in charge of the entire telecom section without ever even understanding what she was talking about in the first place. In my current place, one guy talked himself into being one of the highest paid admins within the organization and another lady talks up the storm to be the highest paid in her region...but again when it comes to performing, they don't have a clue. Just excuses and buzz words that management buys into every single time. Another job that was a start up, the guy who owned the company all but walked on water as he personally deployed the Internet to various countries in SE Asia...he also fixed his home PC which naturally made him as knowledgeable in all aspects of IT work as the field techs he hired. Obviously, these people getting away with what they do is the fault of a bad management team in the first place...but finding a "good" manager, let alone a whole team these days is quite rare.

tbmay
tbmay

Unfortunately, many may workforce environments don't require self-promoters to accomplish anything. They simply need to be gifted in fostering the perception. Maybe you want to disagree with me there. I want to disagree with me there. Empirical evidence stands against me. We are definitely in a cultural regression. The me generation has been spoiled and made believe they are special. I grew up with horses and love the races. If parents use this analogy with their child: "Other people are just plain old horses. They're mostly farm horses, draft horses, some good race horses, but YOU are SECRETARIAT." Well....can the kid help but grow up narcissistic and deluded? That is what parents are doing now. (I do have some experience with this problem.) Those that don't feel that way naturally have realized their survival depends on self-promotion even though they don't want to do it. And evidence has suggested that narcissists actually DO rise in rank. There would have to be some obvious benefit to humility before these things got any better. I'm not going to hold my breath. In fact, it's getting worse.

backbaconguy
backbaconguy

With the organization I was with a decade ago, I had hired a very well-spoken gentleman as a senior programmer-analyst. He came with a mechanical engineering degree and a few IT certifications. He interviewed well, including in the technical realm, and passed technical exams. He provided glowing references, including from a professor in I.T. from a local university, and other professionals. His former companies had positive comments. In any case, early on a contractor I had on warned me there was something up with the new guy in that any time the contractor would open up a conversation with him about their common subject area -- Java and Oracle programming -- the new employee would find a reason to leave. He would never engage in conversation with the contractor. I soon had mounting evidence that he was all talk and no action. For every work request I made, he did something else; and yet his CV (posted to a jobs board and which he maintained almost weekly) would embellish the most menial tasks into projects of huge responsibility -- essentially works of fiction. He would attend but not participate in team meetings, and within a month had the cajones to ask the office to cover the cost of an MBA education for him!!! (Which we denied, of course.) He produced virtually nil. I finally learned the truth while attending a night course. The instructor worked at one of the tech companies the new employee had referenced. When I questioned him about the 'new guy', he told me flat out the guy had been fired! (So, his 'reference' had flat-out lied.) Apparently, he rarely did what he was told, he daydreamed, he was not a team player, he was fantabulous at self-promotion, and a super-avid reader. This last point was key because I knew he took oodles of books away with him weekly to read from the library. Apparently, he is able to absorb the content of books and speak intelligently with anybody on those subjects. However, his superpower did not come the ability to actually accomplish anything. Fortunately, within a matter of months he left to another job (one where they hired a large crew without interview). So, I too am cautious with those who practice self-promotion. Being able to back-up the talk with walk is key. Some hiring or promoting managers really need to have better processes and metrics in place, and as in my case a way to better validate references! (I should add that I was with govt, making getting rid of the guy more complicated... fortunately for us he left on his own when the 'jig was up'.)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

If I wanted to manage a brand, I'd have gone into marketing in the first place. Fortunately, I'm not in the job market. If it reaches the point where I am, I'll probably use a chunk of 401K to have someone do it for me. I'll call for your rates, if needed.

j2will
j2will

In this case, 80% of the productivity in an organization can be traced to 20% of the workers. I have found that of the 80% of non-productive people around 20% of them are self-promoters who are great con-artists and social engineers. These leaches actively seek out highly productive people and "befriend" them by getting them to talk about what they are doing, the status of their projects, and their problems in getting their projects completed. These frauds then go to management and take credit for your work blaming all delays on you and taking all the credit for successful completions. This is how they manage to get by the screens of management and get their promotions. Once I learned this fact of doing business, I started conning these scum-bags. I would lead them on for a couple months then set them up with some fabricated problem that was going to produce a long delay, give them time to "report" the bad news, and complete the final report on the project and turn it in way before the deadline date. when the boss queried me about the supposed delay, I would simple ask him wherre he got such an impression and say that I was the only person working on this particular project. The boss would realize what was happening and write the self-promoting pea-brain off.

Owen Glendower
Owen Glendower

'I have a term for the empty suits--"achievement without accomplishment".' A somewhat older term is "style without substance." Applies to many if not most politicians these days, unfortunately.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Management used to be a goal for the workers. You could start at the bottom and work your way up, if you were so inclined, and no matter how you got there, you were going to learn enough about the company to get by. Management is now a 'vocation' for those with degrees, who come into the company from outside with no clue how their new employer works.

toni.bowers
toni.bowers

Depressing as it is, I have also seen the self-promoters rise in the ranks without having any real talent to back up the hype. Self-promotion is a skill within itself.

ittechexec
ittechexec

Ouch! If you'd rather endure that, then yes, you'll want some professional help putting your resume, LinkedIn profile, and other marketing and branding information together. In the meantime, please just eat your vegetables...no other funny games with them.