Lately, I have been doing a lot of reading about professional branding and what that means. Most of what I have found has revolved around using social media as a means for self-promotion or methods for doing the work to figure out how to present oneself professionally. Some have provided methods for working through a process of professional self-discovery by adapting business planning methods like the 3 P’s: Product, Price, Promotion, a marketing method used in product brand development (Davenport, 2008).
Or a business planning method called SWOT analysis as a means for analyzing professional strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. As well as being advised to conduct a healthy amount of reflection including analyzing where one has been, where one is at right now and where one might hope to be in the future. As I worked through these recommendations, I was brought back to a networking experience I had.
The Pitch and Where it Failed
I was fresh out of college and had attended a chamber event for young professionals hosted by a couple executives whose speeches centered on the importance of professional branding and its role in establishing a successful career. Their methods for cultivating professional brand hinged on two basic tools: professional networking and the perfect thirty-second elevator pitch intended to communicate to others what I had to offer as a professional. As the executives went on to describe the processes of networking and the elevator pitch, I remember thinking that the processes described were similar to a sales pitch. Except it was about me, what I had to offer. The thought in itself was overwhelming. The worst of it came when the speaker had invited us all to practice our elevator pitch with the person next to us as a networking activity. As I stood there in my suit, hair pinned up and high heels-sipping on my beverage all “professional looking and stuff”, my partner and I slapped on a smile and fumbled through a lengthy task list of what we did in our J.O.B. at the time.
The days following, I continued struggling to craft this infamous thirty-second elevator pitch and failed miserably to integrate into my networking activities. Reportedly, so did many of my peers from that event. As a substitute, I became good at rattling off a really sexy list of tasks that I had accomplished in my work. Don’t get me wrong, the list had its place. However, when asked how I accomplished these tasks I would then dive into great detail about the process similar to a political filibuster. Sound familiar? I chuckle when I think about it now. I still do it from time to time. Particularly when my nerves get the best of me. It has taken me a while to figure out that lengthy unorganized lists or detailed accounts of my accomplishments fall short on most days.
Building Blocks for a Successful Pitch
Examining this experience and working through where it all fell short has led me to formalize one of my advising strategy’s I developed as an enrollment adviser. The questions asked are informed by my understanding of career development theory, adult teaching and learning frameworks. The purpose of the worksheet is to organize the interview questions on paper so the participant can inventory, explain and organize professional assets on paper. Inventorying professional assets have become a valuable part of my career maintenance process and continues to help me not only develop but articulate my professional brand. Friends, family, colleagues and students have used this questioning structure and worksheet to assist with identifying opportunities, developing resumes, cover letters,. The process is intended to facilitate self awareness about ones professional self and build confidence in articulating professional expertise.
What are Professional Assets Anyway?
I define professional assets as select set of skills or competencies cultivated throughout your career that have proven to be useful or valuable in accomplishing series of tasks related to a professional endeavor that results in superior outcomes. Identifying professional assets have and continues to be both a proactive and reflective process. Which can take head time and fine tuning. Professional assets identified should be your top ‘go to’ skills or competencies. You should have a refined catalog of examples that demonstrate a particular professional asset. That is what makes it a professional asset. A collection of solid professional assets will then comprise the data needed to articulate your professional brand.
When teasing out professional assets, I like to ask these three questions that connect skills to competencies and anchor them in actual experiences. So you can develop a strong understanding of your professional experiences and highlight key professional assets which can be crafted into strong coherent examples for others.
- What am I good at (skills)? Reflecting on your past and present professional accomplishments/history and/or what you are working towards professionally; consider tasks, projects, responsibilities you rocked or did very well. E.g., event planning, budgeting, working with people, customer service?
- What competencies have I developed that make me good at what I do (skills)? If you are not sure where to start or what skills to note, the Colorado Department Education has compiled a handout of the top competencies for Post Secondary and Workforce Readiness which can be referred to as a starting point. However, I highly recommend that you look into your professional organization and use that as a point of reference if you have committed to a field or profession.
- Describe how you did /or would develop those skills and competencies? This section is about really putting your money where your mouth is, and aligning your perception of what you are good at with actual deliverables you can describe or quantify using past work experience. E.g., volunteering, in a past or current job, school or classwork, or specific special project?
Here are a few blog posts about professional branding if you are interested.