How do you market yourself when you work for someone else?
It’s tricky to market yourself as an expert in your field when you work for a larger organisation, are not the spokesperson and you certainly aren’t authorised to speak to the media on behalf of your workplace. Even sharing your perspective on the industry on LinkedIn or social media in some form is a reflection on your employer in some way.
So how do you get a reputation outside of your organisation as being the go-to person for expertise, professionalism and potential opportunities in other business divisions? How do you position yourself for career opportunities, Board positions and promotions within your organisation? How do you build a network around you so when the time is right for a new role, you have a community of trusted professionals around you who know the value you bring?
Am I perceived as a doer?
When you’ve got your head down delivering your KPI’s, it can be easy to watch weeks, months and sometimes even years slip by without seeing career progression. Surely if you’re delivering your KPI’s, managing your people and making the business money, you’ll get noticed?
Every business needs doers. Businesses make and save money thanks to the doers who make the ship run smoothly. If things are running smoothly, people are happy, projects are getting delivered on time and you’re making the business money, why on earth would someone promote the person who makes the ship run smoothly?
It’s worth considering how you are spending your time and whether you’re perceived as someone they can take to a senior level. If you’re such a good delivery person, can the business afford to go without you? If the answer is no - it’s worth looking at how you’re spending your time and opportunities to balance this out with getting in front of people who can progress your career, both within and outside the organisation.
Are you spending 100% of your time delivering the goods (as you are paid to), or are you making time to look outside of your immediate role to opportunities for the business outside of this?
Have you set up systems for your people to deliver the goods without you needing to be involved? Are you making yourself redundant from elements of your role by upskilling your team? Or are you crucial to the team of ‘doers’?
If you’re perceived as crucial to the ‘doing' of the business, it makes it very challenging for any leader to consider you for wider opportunities.
What organisations need at a senior level are people who can innovate, drive change, ask the hard questions and lead a team who trusts them to shared outcomes.
You likely know all this of course. But have you communicated your career aspirations or goals to your direct manager, leaders within the organisation, colleagues and even people outside of your network?
Tell people what you want
I asked someone who appoints people to Boards for a living how one gets on a Board. “They tell people they’re looking for a board position”, he said. “Once you are perceived as one of the ‘pool’ of people who want to be on a board, word gets around."
Seemed obvious to me, I thought. So why wasn’t I on any boards? I’d realised, in hindsight, I’d had coffee’s with people without outlining what the greater goal was.
It needn’t be a sell though, said my contact. “Simply saying ‘I’d love to be on a Board for an organisation that needs my skill set, if you know of any thing going, let me know’, can be really effective", he said. "People start asking around their network, ‘do you know anyone looking for a Board position? And usually someone says ‘I had coffee with someone the other day who was asking for opportunities. I’ll connect you.’ You’d be surprised at how effective that is."
In my instance, working full time, I wanted something new - I just didn't know what that was. So, I developed an I Want List, which revealed I was actually dying to become a speaker. I started mentioning it whenever I met with people, at work, with colleagues and basically to anyone who would listen. "I'm looking to get into speaking. If you hear of anything going, let me know." A friend over coffee revealed they were looking for a reason to get out of an MC engagement because they really disliked speaking. Would I cover him, he said. And the next week I was doing my first MC gig which did not conflict with my employer or their values, was out of hours and helped me dip my toe into speaking without being the focus.
Do I have a network outside of work?
Do you have a network of professionals you trust, in positions of leadership around your level and above who can be a sounding board for when you’re looking to see what’s out there?
If no - that’s understandable. When you’re busy ‘doing’, going out for networking coffee’s aren’t always at the top of your ‘to do’ list, are they. However, it would be wise to consider how you can dig out 10 per cent of your working week to getting out of the office, and in front of people you respect, admire and whom you can learn from.
Those of us who hate networking won’t like reading this. But it doesn’t have to feel icky. In fact, when you look at it like you’re meeting people who can help you learn, grow, develop and perhaps even help you shape your career, it stars becoming more and more appealing. And, once you’ve met one person outside of your immediate network, you’d be surprised at how much fun it is.
Where to start? Here are a few prompters:
- Post meeting, are there any impressive individuals in your team / department you’d like to learn from whom you might casually say 'enjoyed hearing about your X initiative. Perhaps we might grab coffee one day next week so I can learn more about the project?'
- Look around your office. Have you made connections with people outside of your immediate department? Would it be a stretch to pop by and suggest casually you might grab a coffee after a meeting to talk shop?
- If you bump into anyone from the office at your local coffee shop, for goodness sake, break the awkward, get off your phone and simply say hello. People are all human after all, and forging a relationship over a takeout is a really lovely genuine way to get to know someone outside of a formal arrangement. "Be the first to smile", my mother taught me, "it immediately puts others at ease."
- Ask your friends whether they have anyone in their network in a similar field to your own. Would they be interested in meeting for a coffee to swap notes? Have another colleague who shares the same challenges grab a coffee to talk shop? They are your friends so ultimately they’re only going to set you up for success and with good people.
- Reach out to people you have previously worked with (and from whom you have enjoyed the experience and learnt a great deal from) to suggest you grab a coffee over the quiet months.
- Grab a pal and go to a networking event relevant to your industry. A great place to start is MeetUp which reviews meet ups and you can search by topic such as ‘sustainability’, ‘finance’, ‘education’, ‘marketing’ and so on. Take a buddy with you if you’re nervous and read this for tips on how to break the ice if you don’t feel immediately comfortable.
Do I communicate my successes?
Yes you are doing a great job, but does anyone know about it?
I’d encourage you to consider writing a regular update on the work completed to date every quarter (or if particularly busy, it might be more relevant to do this monthly, or even weekly, as a friend of mine does who publishes regular content and shares it with her organisation).
This is what I call a ‘forwardable summary’. This is a communication which highlights you/your teams successes, outlines what you’ve achieved, the response to your programme of work / feedback thus far, and ultimately, the opportunities or ideas for what is next.
Please note this needs to make your manager look good. If this is achieved, your manager will likely forward that to their manager, and if it’s especially good, it will get forwarded straight to the top. (For contractors, check out my ‘how to’ and a template here).
What's my online footprint?
The first place my recruitment, hiring and Board contacts look for people is word of mouth and: LinkedIn.
For many of my workshop attendees, LinkedIn at first seemed sort of redundant. But used well, and with a few small tweaks, it can aid searches for people finding your skill set. And, people with budgets and HR people use it to find quality people who are already in great roles. (Recruiters call this "passive talent" - that's you, by the way if you're not actively looking for jobs but are open to opportunities coming your way. Shh!).
One thing recruiters actually look for is when people update their profile. It's an indication they are cleaning up the house in preparation for finding new opportunities.
A quick hack is to go to your online profile, ensure the 'NO' button is switched on for notifying your network about updates, and to ensure all your working history is up to date on the platform.
Then, ensure all of your working history is up to date. Also ensure your Executive Summary is simple, concise, and articulates your qualifiers (eg you've been working in the industry for X years, Y leadership experience, award winning if that's you and your sector).
Do you have a warm, engaging and professional profile photo? Or was it taken at a party, with sunglasses, or frowning (all no-no's, by the way).
Do a quick google search on your name and see what crops up. Does it look professional, approachable, knowledgeable and if you hadn't met you - would you reach out?
Ultimately, talking about what you want, widening your network and stepping slightly away from the tools from time to time will only benefit your career (and pay packet) long term.