Branding can help you navigate your career

As you progress in your career, branding becomes more important. Branding and your career as inseparable. It can be positive, and it can be negative, if you don't know what you're doing. It's your image, as perceived by other people, in many ways, and you need to get it right.

It also becomes an extremely useful tool in figuring out what the good career moves are, and making some very tough decisions.

Career orientation is critically important. Some people are successful simply because they get the right jobs. These jobs are major assets in their progression, and they bring with them good credentials to show employers.

That sounds obvious, but doing that is quite difficult. It's not just a matter of who you work for and what names you can drop at an interview. The opposite can also be the case.

It's not hard to get something that looks like a great job which turns into a career flop. Most people have had to leave a job for whatever reason, and some of the reasons can be pretty good. However, in the process a gap in the CV is created, or the resume looks like a series of holes. They arrive at the interview with something that looks like a crossword puzzle, rather than a good strong career CV.

Result, trashed, or semi-trashed, career. They may have to take a few steps back, and in some cases down. Their employers in the forward and upward jobs are geared for people with much less neurotic career paths. The fact that you got hit by an asteroid may get some sympathy, but not necessarily a job offer.

In this case, they're the wrong brand. They're up against people whose records read like CEOs in the making.

The comparison is between a BMW and a skate board.

Careers do go backwards, and that's how. Branding, to employers, is a kind of quality control, and they use it to make comparisons between applicants.

The career branding path

Entry level branding

Let's start at the beginning, and work through to career progression. Branding comes into play from the day you enter the workforce. At entry level, your branding is very basic. Entry level job seekers branding doesn't have to be difficult, but you really do need to know what you're doing.

You have your qualifications, some experience, and some references. Entry level job seekers branding has some material to work with, but not as much as career branding, and you have to get the best out of what you have.

Even these branding tools are quality controls for employers, when hiring.

Never imagine for a second that people who are about to be paying you money, letting you access their computers and allowing you to roam the building don't check you out pretty thoroughly.

This is as close to branding as you can get at this point. It's a good way of looking at branding generally, if you're just starting out:

Qualifications:

Qualifications are a reference to your ability to deliver on a job, but they're also an indication of your real depth. Branding at interviews for entry level jobs is in some ways more demanding. Entry level interviews tend to be heavily scripted, working on a standardized set of requirements. The branding has to address the requirements of an entry level script.

It can be done, and it can be done well.

Entry level people are expected to move on and up.

However, you'll also notice that the workplace has a core of relatively young people who seem to be running the place on some levels. They float about fixing things, handling customers and fitting in the IT with the accounts. They obviously know a lot, they're very focused, and work well with managers.

These are people who've progressed from entry level. They with a lot of depth in their entry level branding. Employers are always looking for new blood, and their managers are interested in who they can get to take up the workload.

So if they see someone with qualifications which include a range across customer service, IT, and basic accounts, they'll grab that person.

It is quite possible to get a pretty good range of skills before you leave high school, let alone get a degree, and these are the people who've done that.

Obviously, at entry level, this range of skills is perfect. Any employer can find a use for someone with this kind of depth. The candidate has written a good CV for themselves without even having a full time job.

As branding, this is a lethally competitive approach at entry level. It's the kind of skill set which is typical of very competent people, too.

It's an integrated career skill set, which is very strong branding. Branding yourself at a job interview can be done very efficiently, when you know what's required. Just don't get casual about it, and make sure you don't leave out any talents, interests or skills.

Put in some effort, and think about what you have to work with.

You'll find you can make a pretty good case for yourself.

As a strategic career approach it's even more effective. At interviews, when these people move on, other candidates will have one or two skills like that, with varying levels of experience. They won't have three or four good working skills, and definitely not doing stand in management jobs.

Meanwhile, they're always doing some form of qualification. They build on the range of skills, and they do it very well. Everything is useful, and it all leads where they're trying to go.

The result, by the time they get to their degree is nothing less than a very healthy professional portfolio.

Experience at entry level

The skill sets lead to the range of experience. This can be a killer, or a career maker. Experience comes in various forms, and the extremes are irrelevant experience, and critical experience.

It's not at all uncommon for people at entry level to get the pure garbage jobs. They get them mainly because it's cheaper for lower paid people to do them, but the cost to entry level people is time. A few years doing things which add nothing to the skill set can be very expensive.

Employers, looking for signs of useful experience, will always prefer clear evidence of a range, like qualifications.

For job hunters, the range of experience is part of branding. Again, there's a real risk of bad branding. Entry level people are vulnerable to getting the jobs nobody else wants to do. These tend to be the jobs which are quite useless as career assets.

There is another side. Entry level experience is always a form of orientation, in any career.

Gopher jobs, where you get a lot of exposure to how things work, are good basic experience, provided you're not doing them for 40 years. You can get an excellent overview of the career work. Working in a place where you can see the work you want to do is almost as good as an internship.

Note: If you show interest, and can prove you're actively studying for a career, you'll find that your brand value goes up quite a bit with your employer. At entry level, you have to prove you're trying to get somewhere.

Entry level jobs should be seen as advanced training and orientation, but if they don't go anywhere, they're not good career branding.

References:

Because you haven't had much experience, your references at this point can be extremely important.

Who those references are, and how they communicate, is part of your branding. Some referees are excellent communicators. They can give you a real jump start just by talking on the phone for five minutes.

Others are well intentioned, but not good at expressing themselves. Meaning when someone enquires about you, they'll get a pretty variable mess of information, some useful, some not.

Who the referees are is in fact an important reference in itself. You'll discover through your career that employers will put more weight on references upscale. Professionals and executives get precedence over teachers and shopkeepers. That's pretty natural, but it also leaves you with the problem of getting good referees who have both status and communication skills.

The exception is academic references, where employers with academic backgrounds will instinctively pay attention. Professor so and so is as good a reference as the CEO of some firms, in many professions.

The fact is that references are branding for entry level jobs.