Building Distinction: Personal Brand and Your Second Career

Sep 7, 2018

By Seth Cohen

When you venture into a second career, examining, solidifying and protecting your personal brand is one of the first and most important steps you should take. It’s not that your personal brand isn’t important when you are an employee. It is. But when you are employed, your role is a quick way for people to understand your value. When you move on to a second career, seeking a portfolio of opportunities such as board seats, consulting and advisory, adjunct professorships and the like, your personal brand becomes an integral part of your value proposition.

Your personal brand is made up of three major factors:

Achievement: What you’ve accomplished

Your resume never stops being important. Your work history, your industry awards and your achievements are the building blocks of your personal brand. But how you got to where you are is also a valuable part of the story. I call these “the intangibles” and they include your reputation and your accrued wisdom.

Reputation: Who you are

A boss at UBS once told me that at some point landing a job is not solely about qualifications anymore. It depends on whether people in the executive suite want to share the foxhole with you. Are you predictable? Do you always do the right thing? And are you a joy to work with? Do your colleagues trust you? How you are perceived — or your reputation — is key to your personal brand.

Wisdom: What you’ve learned

Your job experience is always important. But once you are more than a year out from your last role, you’re no longer an industry ‘insider.’ Instead, you are expected to bring something larger to the table — wisdom. Wisdom is the accumulation of all that you learned from your vast experience in your industry. In your second career, being perceived as someone who has the unique ability to bring wisdom to a situation is critical to your personal brand.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall . . .

Periodically at Eleven Canterbury, we help our experts by offering Personal Branding 360 sessions. We invite four or five of our experts to share their resumes, their elevator pitch and their goals with a small group. This guided peer review allows our experts to receive constructive feedback from peers who are roughly in the same place in their careers. This process helps to gently guide our experts to understand and strengthen their personal brands, improving their chance of achieving their next objective. If you are interested in learning when our next Personal Branding 360 session will be, send me a direct message.

You definitely can (and should) try this at home. One easy way to get a feel for your personal brand is to ask for feedback from a few people you trust. This can be as simple as an email to a close circle of trusted peers. A good question to ask is “What are the emotions or adjectives that come to mind when you think about me professionally?” If the answers you get back are different from what you expected, you might want to rethink your goals and bring them in tighter alignment to your experience.

When you’re launching your second career, perspective is reality

Once you have a good handle on your personal brand, it’s important to do everything you can to bolster it. Your digital presence is part of your brand and a great tool to reinforce it. Make sure every social media interaction, professional blog, a contribution to a traditional publication or speaking engagement aligns with your brand goals. Don’t forget your LinkedIn profile which should not only express what you’ve done but also convey what you want to do. Think of your LinkedIn profile almost like your digital storefront.

Similarly, every professional engagement you take should not only provide value from the perspective of compensation or time but in terms of how this affiliation is going to help (or hurt) your personal brand.

Finally, it’s important to maintain your reputation by keeping up with your network. In the end, personal opinion carries a significant weight. Think about it. If you don’t know me, this blog post might spur you to dig around online. But before you actually form an opinion, you’ll probably reach out to someone you see we have in common and ask, “What do you think of that Seth guy?” Your friend’s or colleague’s perspective on my reputation will significantly color your opinion. And if you were looking to hire me, and that perspective was negative, it would most likely be the deal breaker.

When you embark on a second career, your personal brand is your future

When you apply for a job at 35, the determining factor for successfully landing that role is unevenly split. Eighty percent depends on your credentials. Twenty percent on the intangibles that make up your personal brand like reputation and likeability. But when you are 60 and pursuing a second career, the split is fifty-fifty at best. Your work history will never stop being important, but your personal brand becomes equally, if not more, important. Having a strong, well-defined personal brand opens up the second career opportunities you want and can help ensure that the next challenge you tackle matches your interests and your expertise.

Seth Cohen is the Managing Partner of Eleven Canterbury. He was a member of the Group Managing Board and Head of Group Offshoring at UBS AG.

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