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What’s your personal brand?

In one of my prior HR jobs, I did a lot of recruiting. The company was growing fast, and the whole HR department became de facto recruiters for a time. I was tasked with interviewing network engineers, hardware engineers, software developers – highly technical folks with telecommunications backgrounds. This was 20+ years ago, and at the time I felt somewhat intimidated by the prospect of talking with senior technical types whose jobs I did not completely understand.

Our process was that I would meet them first, have a chat to make sure they seemed, well, “normal”, then unless there were major red flags, I would pass them on to the department for their in-depth, technical interview.

One time, I had a candidate who was making me work hard to try and engage him in conversation. After 15 minutes of torture (probably for both of us), I was not fully convinced that I wanted to pass him along to the hiring manager. So I said:

“I’m ‘just’ a liberal arts girl [using deliberate self-deprecation], and I’m not at all technical. Can you explain to me what your current job is in a way that I can understand it?”

He hemmed and hawed and finally said, with a condescending tone and a smirk, “I probably can’t.”

He probably didn’t mean to come off as disrespectful. Maybe I stumped him because he had never been asked. But if you can’t be bothered to try and answer a question the recruiter asks, are you the kind of person an employer wants to hire?

I cut the interview short and called the manager to explain the scenario and my reluctance to pass him on for further consideration. The manager insisted on seeing him anyway. The candidate didn’t get the job, for reasons other than how he treated the HR interviewer, but I was relieved.

Lest you find yourself in a similar situation, I’d like to offer you a suggestion. When I asked the candidate to explain what he did in a way I could understand it, what I really asked him for was his “elevator pitch”, or even more to the point, his “personal brand.” Your job title says “Sr. Network Engineer” – what does that mean? Who do you serve? How do you support them? What do you help them do? Where do you fit into an organization? How do you contribute to the company’s mission?

He could have said something like this:

I manage network security for telecom companies, and provide support to the technicians who work in the phone companies’ central offices whenever there are data breaches.

I just made that up, but that statement gives me context into who you support, who you work for, and what you do in your job.

Here’s the point: You should be able to state your role, in context, in one sentence. Maybe two. Here are some more:

I provide outsourced HR services to small businesses in Maryland and DC.

I support senior executives by managing all the administrative activities – travel arrangements, calendaring, correspondence – so that they can concentrate on running their business.

I manage the marketing communications department for a community-based hospital.

I design and stage model homes for new home communities.

I manage accounts payable for a regional electrician that serves mainly residential customers.

Job seekers are well-advised to create and reinforce their personal brand. Give some thought to how you’d explain your job in one sentence so you’re ready the next time the small talk runs out at a professional mixer or on a long elevator ride. If you’re afraid it might sound weird, practice saying it to a friend. Use the same statement at the top of your resume and on your LinkedIn profile, so that whoever sees it has an immediate understanding of who you are, what you do, and who you serve.

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