Personal branding for professionals

Did you know that 85% of people find new jobs through their existing contacts? It stands to reason that as working patterns and practices in general are changing with the modern world, so too are the methods in which people are finding these opportunities. One way to make sure you’re well thought of throughout your network is by having a strong personal brand.

Personal branding (the term is quite buzzwordy yet annoyingly apt) is how you present yourself in a professional capacity both in real life and online, and not only aids you in your job hunt, but also builds your professional persona throughout your HR career, or any career.

A couple of posts ago, I wrote about building your professional credibility by immersing yourself into a wealth of information and applying it in real life, for example in the workplace or online discussions on the topic du jour.

It’s important to follow this through into building your personal brand and how other professionals perceive you. This isn’t about getting ‘Likes’ on your social media posts, or having your quippy insights retweeted – this isn’t a sign of approval.

In fact, you don’t need external approval. If you want to maximise what the online and real world have to offer, what you need is a strong personal brand.

This is no easy feat. You will quickly find you are potentially a mere whisper in an overcrowded stadium of loud ruckus , so it’s important to focus on the realisation that your intentions aren’t necessarily to be heard, but they are to be seen.

Seen and not heard

What is the difference between being seen and being heard? In a modern world where everyone has an opinion on everything, voicing this is nothing ground-breaking.

It is possible to be heard over all the social hubbub but before you can be heard, you need to be seen.

And to be seen – the unequivocal separation from being heard – you need to build up, or upon, your strong personal brand. Your personal brand is:

  • your core principles
  • your work ethic
  • your ethics
  • your opinions
  • your knowledge
  • your enthusiasm
  • your skills
  • your background
  • your career
  • your social decorum
  • your integrity
  • your aspirations
  • your professional motivation
  • your focus
  • your intentions
  • your connections

These are not exhaustive, but hopefully you’re getting an understanding of how deep this can go. It’s essentially who you are as a professional, what you stand for, and how you go about it.

Luckily (perspective-dependent) building your personal brand doesn’t involve excessive amounts of actionable exercises – the things that make up your personal branding aren’t really physical…things to fix or work on.

It does however take ongoing conscious effort (which becomes less effortful as time goes by) and self-awareness of your actions, and below, I touch on just a few small pointers that you can be thinking about.

Social media introductions

Introductions on social media are a funny thing and I’m slowly getting to grips with the correct netiquette myself. Luckily, the HR and L&D tribe are a friendly bunch so I’m fine-tuning my introductions on social media which takes me further than I expected, but this is of course true to many other ‘tribes’.

Whether it’s a response to recent followers of replying to a comment, the first impression you make on social media is open for all to see, not just the recipient.

Being helpful, insightful and genuinely interested are what you’re aiming for, but also showing your personality and what you’re professional purpose is.

Social interactions

Following on from the previous point, how you come across in your general conversations in your social interactions, online or IRL, will paint a picture of your professional persona to all those who observe it.

This will help them determine whether or not to trust you, converse with you, or become a key member of your network. All of your debates, opinions, views and debates are open for everyone to see, and I encourage you not to shy away from voicing your opinions on things you are passionate about.

This itself builds your personal brand and attracts other professionals that share the same view, or educates them on your own perspective. Your personality in general should shine through, so if you’re funny, serious, passionate or laid back, let this contribute to your personal brand.

Your social network

The members of your network also contribute to your personal brand. The people and companies you follow (on social media) show a different side to your brand – your interests, your colleagues, your role models, your supporters, your political preferences, your professional intrigue, companies and people you admire, potential employers, potential business partners – listed together on one block tells onlookers a lot about you.

Experience and professional history

Where you have worked and the experience you picked up along the way develops your personal brand. You have a very specific formula of your experiences by working at very specific companies, and with each of those came their organisational culture.

How you reacted and adapted to this has shaped your personality and work ethic and in turn your personal brand. You might have also developed your brand in a particular niche market by only working in a specific industry, or specialised roles.

Think about what these previous experiences tell onlookers should anyone look you up on, for example LinkedIn, and in a job-hunt capacity, what your brand can do for potential employers with these experiences.

Qualifications and training

Similar to the previous point, your select and specific set of skills and qualifications contribute to your personal brand. In a more evident, in-your-face way this is more apparent with any post-nominals you may have.

How you have approached your training also depicts your personal brand; self-funded or funded by work? Clear strategic escalation of levels or different qualifications at the same level? Relevant qualifications or seemingly irrelevant qualifications? Loads of qualifications or none?

Professional community contribution

You will also need to consider the activities you do outside of the day job and think about what extra-curricular activities you do and how this contributes to, and even strengthens your personal brand.

If you do any at all, this alone is enough to tell people something about your brand, specifically that you’re dedicated to the profession, or volunteering, or being more socially or environmentally responsible, for example.

Or if your activities are dedicated to researching various or specialist fields and topics and contributing your thoughts and views on these to the wider professional community.

Or if you do none of the above and contribute very little.

These just touch the surface of the number of question and considerations you can begin to think about when firstly being aware of your personal brand and then how this is perceived to other professionals.

Again, this really isn’t about seeking approval or making sure you show off all your best bits. Indeed showing some of your fails and struggles contribute massively and positively to your personal brand, demonstrating that you are learning along the way as is everybody else.

But this is generally to make you become more conscious of the areas of your professional persona can come across as, how it can steer you to greater opportunities, and how to identify potentially harmful turn-offs.

This is particularly important for HR professionals as I find the HR community are very keen to network and learn from their peers. As natural people-people (most of us anyhoo), we value community and the people that make up that community, and by having a strong and authentic professional brand, it can help you settle into the right sort of community that share your views and aspirations, as well as opening doors for new opportunities.

The importance of good customer service in HR

My first customer service role was at the age of 16 at a local shop/petrol station, and I quickly learned about the multi-characteristic nature of the customer demographic. I then started to work with customers over the phone in another company where I discovered a new set of characteristics to add to this customer scope. Then I started waiting on tables which broadened the demographic even further to unexpected heights (those in catering know what I’m talking about)!

All in all, I began to see all types of personalities the world has to offer. Some were a delight to serve, some not so. Some were easy to deal with, some not so. Some taught me patience, and did not so.

To me, the customer demographic is a snapshot of the broad spectrum of personalities, and in my opinion, dealing with customers early on in a career develops important people skills that HR professionals can take with them throughout their careers.

The majority of us work with people who come with their own personality (or personalities) and dealing with some of them in a professional capacity can be a struggle, even under the implied constraints of workplace etiquette.

Customers are not obliged to adhere to, or behave under the scope of HR policies, company etiquette, or even social expectation. Indeed, they can throw at you whatever personality they want and there is nothing you can do about it other than react with complete and utter servitude and diplomacy in order to resolve the situation on your toes.

Typically, HR rarely deals with ‘customers’. Those who we provide advice to are ‘colleagues’ – staff, managers, business managers, senior leaders – but at times it can be difficult to handle situations with objectivity and diplomacy as you would with a customer.

So why are good customer service skills important in HR? Here are just five out many skills that are important in both settings:

  1. Co-operation

Using good customer service skills encourages co-operation. Rather than a position of servitude, we must be able to co-operate with our colleagues for the best outcome, one which has the least negative impact by personality negotiation.

Defusing situations before tensions rise is a key skill in both customer service and dealing with colleagues, and by understanding the same principles of the server-customer relationship, we can aim to co-operate better.

  1. Respect

We each deserve respect, and in my opinion, good customer service is demonstrated when a customer is shown respect even when they themselves are being disrespectful. This shows a huge amount of integrity.

Showing respect for teams and colleagues means that you maintain professionalism even under extreme confrontations, and will find it quicker and easier to reach diplomatic resolutions. It also demonstrates general good character which is a trait that will help you organically progress in your career anyway.

  1. Listening

A good skill in general, listening – or more specifically, active listening – in customer service means you provide the customer ample opportunity to voice their objections and opinions in whichever way they feel is more productive (even when it isn’t).

Even when they’re screaming and shouting, actively listening to this in a responsive, rather than a defensive way, means you’re assessing the emotion and frustration from their vent, thus understanding the impact a situation has on them.

Hearing what is being said, and the undertones not said, you are then much more likely to be able to identify the root of the problem they have experienced. This can be applied when dealing with a frustrated or upset manager for example and use other skills as a HR professional to provide solutions to their problem.

Even if solutions cannot be found, or at least not in the manager’s favour, actively listening will assure the manager that you have taken the time to understand the issue to give the tailored solution.

  1. Process improvement

As a follow-up from the point on listening, working with customers and listening to their problems provides you first-hand opportunities to identify process flaws or gaps.

You’re at the firing line of the negative impact these gaps have on the customers, and by providing them with solutions to resolve the situation, you are in the position to address these gaps on a more permanent basis by suggesting longer-term process improvements.

In the HR environment, dealing with colleagues and other stakeholders, you act as the fixer between company’s goals and weaknesses via its people. You are in the position of having the business acumen and people skills of an HR professional, and applying these to the day-to-day issues managers and employees experience.

Process improvement is just one step for bigger successes HR can facilitate, for example improvements on culture, employer branding and the employee value proposition.

  1. Going the extra mile

Customer service roles can sometimes be incredibly satisfying, especially if you’re the sort of person who likes applying discretionary effort to helping customers.

When applying the effort on the frontline, appreciation and gratitude is (mostly) expressed immediately, and the satisfying feeling it gives you makes you want to do it again.

Applying this in HR gets the same results (if you work in that sort of company of course). Just like coming up with discretionary and one-off solutions for customers in exceptional circumstances, HR provides enough opportunities to provide the same for colleagues and stakeholders without expectation of reward or special treatment.

It begins to teach you a great sense of occupational pride, knowing that you have sometimes the capacity to go that extra mile in order for big results to have a positive impact.

So by treating those to which we provide advice as customers, we carry that mind set of pleasing the customer through the things we do at work.

The company’s customers

As an aside, HR does in fact have distant dealings with customers in that whatever we do in our daily role(s) ultimately has a knock-on effect on the customer or end user.

We guide and support managers to deal with staff who are essentially the face of the company to its customers. How this employee is managed and supported by their manager is determined by the support we can give in order for the customer to receive good service.

The benefit of understanding this, and the skills and aptitude needed for good customer service, is that we can better place ourselves in frontline staff’s shoes.

We can begin to empathise with what can be a challenging role, considering, as mentioned, there are very few restraints within which customers should conduct themselves, other than the prohibition of expletives and violence.

The stress that comes with is can be excruciating, and as HR professionals we must be conscious of this fact and factor it into our advice and strategies.

The benefit of understanding the importance of the skills needed for good customer service means we can also work better in the business with our colleagues and stakeholders in general.

Adopting a customer-pleasing approach in the things that we do ensures we go about our work with pride, respect and understanding.

If you are currently in a customer service role and aspire to become an HR professional, I hope this has demonstrated the close link between the two and encourages you to emphasise these great skills to bag your first role.

If you work in a call-centre and you want to move away from that environment, check out this article I wrote on the host of other skills you can transfer away from a call-centre environment that you might not have realised.