Being ‘stuck’ stinks. That scary feeling that no matter what you do, you’re getting nowhere. Like being stuck in quicksand, when you need to move forward in your career and you can’t, you’re bound to feel alone, frustrated, out of control, and sinking fast.
And to think – it might all be because of a weak personal brand!
It was that way for my friend Katrina, who after paying her dues in a creative agency, took over a marketing role for a large multinational that required her to manage marketing activities across the region. Accustomed to working with internal teams and developing creative, Katrina excelled in driving great content. Her newsletters, market guides, white papers and creative for strategic requirements won her praise with the local management. But her boss, Susan, didn’t see it that way. She hadn’t seen any positive metrics about local affiliate satisfaction, because her dashboard was set up only to highlight deliverables in planning, budgeting and executing events, where Katrina had some failings. So even though Katrina was over-performing in one important area for the company, her boss raised questions about her project management and event handling skills, which caused some friction and they eventually decided to part ways.
That would be bad enough, but it turned out she was stuck.
She had a strong reputation for creativity with her network, but her expertise, skill, and value was largely invisible to the outside world. Her personal brand had no metrics to show her talents, or to show what she did better than anyone else. That stopped her boss from seeing her contributions in her present role, and she eventually determined that the same thing was holding her back from moving on as well.
Diagnose What’s Holding You Back: Perception Shapes Reality
Inability to move on in career can be stifling and frustrating, as it was for Katrina. And in matters of your career, perception matters. Your bosses and recruiters both go by the impressions they have of you, which can collectively be described as your personal brand.
Katrina had issues with making her impact on the business clearly shown to her boss, but there are lots of ways your image could be holding you back, like:
- Maybe your work or behavior has received bad reviews online or with some internal stakeholders; a case of reputation management gone awry.
- Maybe you haven’t felt motivated enough to put in that extra effort because you’re not in the right position to activate your passion; when this happens people around you might be telling you that you come across as indifferent, or lackadaisical.
- Perhaps the nature of your job is difficult to put metrics around and be able to point to achievements or victories. When you work ‘behind the scenes’ it’s hard for others to know the value you bring to the table.
- Or maybe it’s really just your presence. Is it possible that you come across as rough, or difficult, or combative? Do you have difficulty in patching things up with people after an argument? Do you have trouble listening to what others have to say about you?
If you’re not getting traction with a job search, then there could be other reasons why opportunities aren’t knocking down your door, like:
- Your job description or other aspects of your LinkedIn profile could be under-performing for you, (or just plain poorly written)
- Your resume could have outdated information and missing some keywords, or
- Your mission statement might be falling flat for recruiters.
So whatever is holding you back, you need to diagnose it in order to take action. Katrina knew this, and so she hired a coach who could provide her with perspective on where she could go from there. She also got some needed focus, discipline, and benchmarks to help her understand how to raise her game in terms of promoting herself.
Addressing the Problem: Face it and Erase it
Your next step is to take that diagnosis and turn it around into a solution. You’ve probably identified a weak area in your performance, but rather than just saying “I have to do this better,” you want to try to turn the issue around. How can you use your actual strengths in this situation to eliminate your weaknesses, or at least make them immaterial to the work?
Katrina had a lack of online presence because she didn’t know how to show exactly how her work was contributing to other stakeholders. She also felt that it was difficult for her to highlight her broad project management abilities, when she had much stronger skills in managing creative development and production.
So she changed direction and began looking for a role that directly played to her strengths, which turned out to be driving communications within the larger organization. She was able to point to the stellar work she had previously done, and she recruited her happy affiliate managers to vouch for her skills through a consistent feedback system that tracked her projects and clarified her value to her various other stakeholders.
Promote your way forward
Lastly, you want to make sure that your new direction continues to build your influence from a point of strength. You want to expand your audience base – both internally and externally, if possible. As you capture feedback from stakeholders on each deliverable or milestone you achieve, find a way to document it and disseminate it across the organization or the industry so others can learn from it. Think about how to capture learnings on areas of improvement, or mechanisms and processes that ensure success. You might project the relevance of your work through blogs, case studies, white papers or speaking opportunities.
Katrina broadcast her expertise to a wider audience by sharing her opinions in blogs and posts on industry online forums and the company newsletter. She captured email addresses of those who liked her work, and started posting case studies of everything she worked on, and directed people to follow her on LinkedIn. This showed her bosses and the wider industry how satisfied her customers were and where she excelled in meeting requirements.
Eventually, results started to show – her blogs built a solid industry following, her LinkedIn profile boomed with likes and shares, and she got invited to conferences and seminars related to creative development. Katrina was finally being recognized for what she was — a thought leader with creative talent. And so what if she wasn’t a great project manager? Shifting how she applied herself to her company and the market at large helped her get unstuck and evolve into a better role that gave her the scope she needed to continue to expand and showcase her true talents.
Katrina’s way out of the mess started with recognition of the problem. She didn’t panic or turn bitter and blame others for being stuck. She focused on building understanding and then took a smart path forward.
So if you get mired in quicksand, you have to fight the urge to struggle, which can make you sink further down. Instead, practice patience and get some perspective to determine how you’ll get free and back on the road to your brightest future.
Yooniko (a brand of Metamorph Corporation) is dedicated to creating the future of unique, personal branding. Find out more here.