Robert Meyers, head of the Origination and Marketing Department for Republic Business Credit, and a 2016 CFA 40 Under 40 Recipient, offers tips on building your personal brand.
It is imperative for individuals to have a general idea about their future career aspirations, just as companies should have clearly defined strategies. This shouldn’t be confused with the chronological “requirements” of a career, but rather reassessed and evaluated throughout your career with short- and long-term viewpoints being considered. I was lucky to have several managers remind me that your title is the least important part of your twenties. During this period, combined experiences, challenges and continual learning prepare you for opportunities. The prompting for this article came through discussions with several senior lending executives who wished they understood more about their personal brand early in their careers.
Your Personal Brand is generally defined in two schools of thought. The first, brand recognition, is the initial reaction when people hear your name. Frequently that thought is often determined by unconscious biases or heuristics. Our brains are prone to recall the most recent or most vivid “memorable” thing they associate upon hearing a name. This could be a mix of positive thoughts surrounding your title, family or various work-related successes. Conversely, it might evoke negative thoughts due to behavior, gossip or a host of elements both in and out of our control.
The second school of thought is when people take more time to evaluate you over a specific set of criteria. Whether it is your fit/placement towards a certain deal, experience required for a promotion or documentary review of your publications, these generally override heuristic tendencies. We see this more through interviews, transactions and volunteer opportunities where systems exist that enable people to look past their heuristics into making a more complete evaluation of you as a person.
Personal Brand is essential to your long-term career success as you will be generally be measured in criteria-driven processes by the summation of your experiences. The importance of your personal brand is viewed almost daily by the number of times you hear the question, “What do you think of so and so?” Many of us make instant decisions throughout the day as a result of those initial biases when we hear a name.
While there is no magic recipe, here are four steps that aim to help us be more intentional while remaining authentic throughout our careers.
1. Understanding the Difference Between Management and Leadership
A few years into my career, I had a great mentor/manager who explained the difference between management and leadership as simply, “Management is doing things right, where leadership is doing the right things.” Management is often expressed in the title or role we possess; leadership is how we behave. The key aspects of leadership that contribute to your brand are presence, self-awareness and emotional intelligence. Your management brand is typically more dependent on your technical skills, years of experience and the potential opportunities for advancement. Leadership typically combines with your management attributes to yield future titles/roles. I had a mentor early on in my career focus on improving my leadership abilities. Thousands of books have been written on leadership, from the recent obvious themes of being present or authentic to the less obvious tools of reflection, coaches and understanding that you don’t have all of the answers the day you become a manager.
2. Demonstrate Professionalism in Your Actions
Your reputation is earned, nurtured and will evolve throughout your professional career. Your reputation will typically remain consistent until you reach one of those leaps, typically defined by strongly or widely known positive and negative moments. Always maintain a minimal level of professionalism in your day-to-day activities. A few examples are active listening, being respectful, unselfish, and kind and taking opportunities to get out of your comfort zone. In today’s connected world, there is a tangible cost to missteps, lies or how we act during those tough moments during the pursuit of our aspirations. Following up, remaining professional, being inquisitive of others, self-awareness and consistency are some of the most important aspects of building your brand.
3. Networking – Association Events and Social Media
External (Intercompany) and Internal (Intracompany) Networking are probably the most important brand creation activities. You will create, maintain and impact your brand throughout each networking opportunity over the life of your career. While first impressions initiate our early biases of people, being professional in every aspect is essential. I truly believe that very few people actually enjoy networking at first, but often they develop friends, peers and mentors that result in long-term relationships when done intentionally. We have all been in tough conversations while networking, so take it upon yourself to learn from a good networker about how they successfully approach it. The most success comes from following up within 24 hours or you might never send that email in the future.
Social media is generally a less-personal, but very acceptable, approach to building your personal brand. One warning to keep in mind: prior to venturing into social media mediums, you need to assume that everyone you know, including your family and work associates, is able to read that message. Whether your platform of choice is LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or SnapChat, you must always be intentional in your actions. Social media serves as daily consumption for some, where noise, learning, connections and relationship building all intersect over a picture or a few characters. The connectedness of our world provides great advantages as well as perils. While comments, posts and tweets can be deleted, it is often too late to remedy the negative effects. It is also getting increasingly difficult to bifurcate your “personal” social media persona and your “corporate” social media persona. While I strongly encourage keeping them separate, I definitely recommend assuming that everyone you know is going to read this, and consider what you really want them to hear. Remember: anything done in the emotion of the moment often lives on for years after the fact. I think demonstrating thought leadership, sharing successes and respecting the contributions of others are some of the worthwhile purposes of social media.
Reflection throughout your career will help you understand events that might seem too complex in the moment to truly understand. It should also provide an objective review on your actions during a given day or preparation prior to a day beginning. Reflection allows us to capture both the good moments and the moments that deserve improvement. There are several techniques and frameworks that can help, but I generally revert to an easy one I learned sever al years back. It has three simple steps, “What”, “So What” and “What Next”. Reflect on something interesting that day/week, determine why it was interesting and then decide if you will do/improve something, think about it more or change your behavior as a result . Reflection will typically improve your desire for continual learning that is essential throughout your career. It is one consistent challenge that C-Level executives face as their internal learning chances reduce and they seek more peer learning. It drives many successful CEOs to 50+ books per year along with their executive coaches to improve their perspective.
While these four steps are not a comprehensive guide to personal branding by any means, I hope it provides you with an initial framework so that we all can be more intentional throughout our careers as we lead our organizations over the years to come. I have been very lucky throughout my career to have worked with and worked for some amazing managers and coaches who took an interest in my career and devoted time to invest in my development. Thank you to all of you who have helped me so far and those who will do so in the future.
Heading the Origination and Marketing departments for Republic Business Credit, Robert Meyers puts into practice more than 12 years of commercial finance experience. Currently Robert serves as the VP of Programs for the Turnaround Management Association Midwest Chapter, CFA Executive Committee Member and past President of the Midwest Chapter of the Commercial Finance Association. Robert is a graduate of the University of Chicago and holds an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management. Robert was awarded the CFA’s Top 40 Under 40 Award in 2016.