barack-mccain.jpgPeople are not cereal boxes!

Lately, it’s all about the image you portray when it comes to landing a job or getting promoted.

At least that’s what many career experts would have you believe.

Today, image building is known by fancy names like personal branding and brand management.

We’re all supposed to be building a brand for ourselves in cyber space and in our industries, or risk being left out in the career cold.

The branding experts say this applies to every type of career, every type of job.

I think that’s bologna.

Maybe you’re happy with the low-key persona you’ve created for yourself. Maybe it’s served you well and you don’t need to be Twittering all the time telling the whole world what you’re up to, or amassing connections on LinkedIn, like me.

And what if you’re not one for tooting your own horn, or someone that likes to remain in the background and just quietly work hard, behind the scenes, in your career? There are a lot of you out there. I hear from readers all the time that they just don’t have the nerve to ask their bosses for more money, or sing their own praises when it comes to getting recognition for their work.

How do people like this get a page on Facebook and let it all hang out? And trust me, the thought of starting a blog is insane to most of the people I talk to.

I think this whole personal branding, image building, etc., stuff is getting a bit out of hand. I really don’t think every employee in this world needs to be worried about it. That said, there are benefits to self selling. But let’s just keep it all in perspective folks.

On this historic Election Day, aka, Branding Big Daddy, I thought it would be a good time to really challenge a branding guru about branding and the average working stiff.

I’ve been informally asking one of my favorite personal branding buddies about this lately on Gmail, so I figured it may be time to have him go formal and actually do a Q&A with the CareerDiva.

I challenged Dan Schawbel, personal branding expert and author of the soon-to-be released branding book “Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success,” to a branding/no branding duel:

Q. What if someone thinks this whole personal branding thing is bullshit, and wants to advance their careers the old fashioned way? My dad was a furrier. He didn’t have a personal brand. My grandfather worked in a factory. He had no brand. My hubby’s dad was an engineer at DuPont. He didn’t have a brand. My mother in law was a X-ray technician. She didn’t have a brand. My mom ran a boutique and also was a seamstress. She didn’t have a brand.

A. Eve, as usual, you have great questions and are a great devil’s advocate. I’m a little bias here, but when I present to schools and companies, I always explain that you are your Google results and people are wanting to find you online. If you aren’t visible you don’t exist, nor will get the opportunities you are working hard for. Another important factor is that you need to invest in your self (your personal brand equity), which means that you need to be a content producer, not just consumer. This is how you can command a premium price (higher salary) for your brand name.

Q. What would you say to someone who says they are just too shy to start a blog or really get anything out of social networking sites?

A. Eve, I think it’s hard for someone to get outside of their comfort zone, show their true face to the world and start being overly aggressive using social media tools. I would recommend that people start a private blog on Google blogger and start to write about personal or professional topics. This way, they are performing the acts of blogging, but don’t have to worry about other people seeing it. It’s like a private journal diary of sorts. Once they get comfortable, they may either leverage that content for a public blog or start something else. By not blogging or being apart of social networking sites, you lose the chance at owning your Google results (they rank high in Google), you lose your freedom of speech and you miss valuable opportunities to be recruited or network with others who share your passion.

Q. Is there any way to use a surrogate so you can get your name out in cyber space?

A. You can do anything you want but people will find out and dishonestly spreads virally quicker than honesty. As bloggers or members of the web 2.0 consortium, it is in your best interest to be yourself, especially because everyone else is taken and replicas don’t sell for as much. There have been many stories of ghost writers for CEO’s and they have all been terrorized in the blogosphere for lacking authenticity, integrity and transparency. It’s not a good idea if you want to build brand you.

Q. How can someone convey their brand without tooting their own horn, which is so hard for some folks?

A. It’s actually very hard to do. At some level, I think all of us have to use social media to “indirectly” promote our brands to others. Theres a big difference when your bragging to people directly, relative to showing and demonstrating your knowledge on a blog. We have to market ourselves, or we will go unnoticed, but we have to be smart about it and only self-promote when called for. In an interview, you have to promote yourself or you won’t get the job, but in social situations, theres really no point. It’s better to have your friends or professional contacts spread your brand gospel then for you to do it.

You are the chief marketing officer for the brand called you, but what others say about your brand is more impactful that what you say about yourself. That being said, you should try and get as many endorsements as possible throughout your career.

Q. Does it make sense to hire your own PR person, image consultant?

A. It depends where you are in your career. I’ve never had a PR person before and I’ve been in Fast Company, BusinessWeek and many other publications. The world is still about who you know, but by starting a blog, it enables you to meet a ton of people who can aid in your quest to success. The term “image consultant” is looked down upon by anyone involved in the personal branding space. The difference is that image management is a product of constant manipulation, while personal branding is about sincerity. I think the role of the PR person has changed significantly. I value PR people, not just because I work in a Fortune 500 PR department, but because it’s another person who can help you, when you don’t have time to help yourself.

Q. Are most hiring managers looking for prospective employees that have a strong personal brand? Are there certain industries, professions where this is much more important?

A. I don’t think many hiring managers are in tune with social media and personal branding quite yet. I think their main priority is to hire the best person for their job, rather than worry about branding. This will change soon, as I believe people will be measured in new “innovative” ways. One example that I’ve posted about recently, is hiring managers looking at how many LinkedIn contacts you have. If they have narrowed their pool down to a few candidates, they might choose the candidate with the larger network.

Matt Dickman was hired based on the brand he established online to be a Director at Fleishman Hillard and Steve Rubel was hired to be an executive at Edelman after achieving blogging fame years ago. Depending on your industry, I believe personal branding will be more of a factor than not. Marketing positions are probably the most important because people are looking for examples of how you can market a product, company or person (same tactics), in order to get results.

Q. What’s up with all this personal branding? Aren’t we all just full of our selves these days?

A. I think that’s half true. People, especially in Gen-Y, are more apt to give out their information freely. They want their friends to see they are attending this awesome Halloween party on Facebook and the pictures of that party the next day. I think the smart people will realize that personal branding is important for protection and promotion and without it, it’s harder to network. Networking is your only insurance policy in a failing economy and social media is proven to help you build a powerful network in the least possible time.

What do you all think? Branding may be able to elect a president, but do you think you need a personal brand to make it through life?

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