Career: Develop your personal brand but then live up to it

Career experts will tell you how important personal branding is. That's true but you have to have the goods to back it up.

We've all heard the advice from career experts (including yours truly) that one should create a personal brand when looking for employment. (See: Eight tips for creating your personal brand.)

But I understand why this suggestion could be a little off-putting at first, especially to IT pros who are more prone to perfecting the work they do rather than polishing up the image they portray. When you think of networking or selling yourself like a product, it brings to mind those eely types of people you casually meet who slide a business card in while shaking your hand (in case you're "in the market" for a used car or a burial plot). It seems so insincere and it feels as though the introduction was just made to exploit you in some way.

A recent piece by Meridith Levinson for points out the four pain points faced by IT pros in particular when dealing with their personal branding. They are:

  • IT pros don't want personal branding to matter. (Some IT pros still operate according to "school rules," wherein their intelligence and hard work leads to academic recognition. But in the business world, as Levinson says, "intellect and hard work aren't always enough to yield a promotion or job offer, and this bothers some IT professionals.")
  • They don't like the idea that their appearance (the way they dress, etc.) matters.
  • IT pros have difficulty seeing the big picture, or how the details add up to their overall image.
  • IT pros don't like to promote themselves.

I wonder, though, what does an over-emphasis on personal branding say about a job candidate? Is it just a fresh paint job to disguise the mediocre?

I've been on the receiving end of "the sale" of a personal brand as well, not only as a hiring manager but as someone who fields inquiries daily from people who want to share their technical and business expertise with TechRepublic members. The people whose email arrives with glowing client testimonials and who describe themselves in terms like "world-renowned" or "internationally respected" kind of scare me a little. And honestly, they are often the ones whose actual output does not live up to the hype.

The best route? Be intelligent, work hard, achieve a lot, and then make sure everybody knows it. Hollow personal brands are pretty obvious. But incredible talent without a personal brand is often invisible.

By Toni Bowers

Toni Bowers is the former 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.