Friday, September 14, 2012

The working life: My personal brand

Over at Ask A Manager, we were talking about personal branding, which most commenters thought, rightly so, was crap. "Show up on time and do a good job" was one commenter's recommendation for a personal brand and I have to agree.

However, when I was working in Memphis, I discovered that the marketing VP thought I had a personal brand. Here's how the conversation went at Ask A Manager (the blog that helped me get my job, btw):

cf September 10, 2012 at 11:01 am
I didn’t know until the marketing director at my old company told me that I had a personal brand. Apparently, my wearing a hat any time I was in the sun meant I was the Hat Lady. Who knew that a desire to reduce glare (a headache trigger) and to protect my skin, which I so sorely abused as a teenager, would lead to my professional identity?

Yup September 10, 2012 at 11:31 am
Ah, but this proves the whole point of the problem with the ‘personal brand’ concept. Just like with corporate brands, the seller doesn’t determine the brand — the buyer does. The seller can put ideas out there, but it’s the marketplace that shapes the brand. So we can all run around creating Unique Personal Brands like “analytics rock star” or “wordsmith extraordinaire,” but our de facto brand is “nice lady from accounting who wears hats” or “long memo writing guy”. Despite my desire for a personal brand of Office Superhero, I’m pretty sure my actual brand is “sarcastic over achiever.”
Thumbs up on the sun protection, by the way. :)

Blinx September 10, 2012 at 12:27 pm
Referring to someone as the Hat Lady isn’t branding, it’s labeling. This practice has got to stop! You should be known as “the go-to person for _______” and not what you wear! We used to have a vendor that everyone referred to as “No Socks” since he never wore socks with his dress shoes (ick). I finally had to interrupt someone and ask just WHO they were talking about. I also find that this nickname practice is rampant among cliques.

cf September 10, 2012 at 1:41 pm
Nobody sees me in my hat at my new job, so I have become known, in 8 weeks, as the Person Who Knows How To Get Stuff Out of IT and Who Can Format It and The Person Who Can Do Financials, Which Is A Relief Because Our Financials Guy Just Quit.

Jamie September 10, 2012 at 2:06 pm
“Person Who Knows How To Get Stuff Out of IT”
Ow. Quit it. :)

cf September 10, 2012 at 2:36 pm
Cookies help.

Kelly O September 10, 2012 at 4:56 pm
IT guys are really fond of cupcakes too. They won’t admit it, and they’ll act weird if you bring them in, but that plate will get licked clean.

Jamie September 10, 2012 at 5:01 pm
IT women however, have marginally better social skills and we won’t act weird…we’ll just be very grateful.
I did something very wrong in my career as I almost never get bribed.
I have to stop accommodating people who don’t leave a frosting covered offering.
danr September 10, 2012 at 2:38 pm
There was a period of time at my old company when I got all the bits and pieces jobs, and some folks referred to me as Lord High Everything Else.

Blinx September 10, 2012 at 2:57 pm
Now that’s more like it! Congrats on the new job, and for establishing a great reputation!

cf September 10, 2012 at 5:32 pm
Thank you! It helps to have your boss quit a month after you start. Definitely sink or swim!

So after all of that - after deciding that my new brand is "Person Who Can Get Stuff Out of IT" (a co-worker says, "You speak their language!" which I do, because 1. I have taken computer science classes and 2. I am married to an engineer, so I have learned to communicate with techies), after deciding I am no longer the Hat Lady, what happens?

I find out that I am still the Hat Lady.

Yesterday, while I was waiting for the bus, a woman came out of the office building behind the bus stop. "I have to see your hat!" she said.

"What?" I asked. What was she talking about?

"Every day, I sit here and I look out the window. And every afternoon, I wait to see what kind of hat you're wearing."

I do wear a hat still. I don't need to be called the Hat Lady, but I still want to reduce glare, which gives me a headache, and prevent my skin from being any more damaged than it already is, which is a lot, thanks to a misspent youth as a lifeguard and on the swim team. No sunblock. When I was 15, I looked great with a tan. What 15 year old doesn't?

But now? No thank you leathery skin. I don't need to look any older than I already do. I still need to be employable and look like someone with potential as opposed to someone with one foot in the grave.

Mostly, it's vanity. Sun-damaged skin is not pretty.

ANYHOW. This woman likes my hats! I am the Hat Lady to her!

We talked about hats. She told me that she has a lot of hats but never wears them. I said she should - that she and I could be in the fashion vanguard together. I don't know if Milwaukee is behind or ahead in fashion - I saw two guys with Mohawks the other day and the big Afro appears to be in here. Either the 70s are catching up to Milwaukee or we are right in front of a fashion renaissance. I don't know. This is the place where it's acceptable (not to me, but I'm not in charge) to wear a Packers sweatshirt to the theater. Play theater, not movie theater.

A Bears sweatshirt would probably not be OK.

Anyhow. She says she doesn't wear them and that she is going to bring them to me. We'll see. I hope so. I have to show her my shoes.


Anonymous said...

My boss told me today that our outside counsel said how amazingly competent I was, and then said, 'I'm just _sure_ she has white carpet and doesn't let anyone walk on it.' Apparently I appear to be the Ramrod-Spine Lady. At one former job I was The Grammar Witch.

Just once I'd like to be the Overpaid and Underworked Beautiful One that Can't be Let Go for Some Unknown Reason.

Gaylin said...

I could also be the hat lady. I have diffuse alopecia on my noggin and get burnt scalp and sunstroke really quickly. Lots of old ladies complement me on my summer hats.

Or I could be the Disney woman. I have a collection of Disney pins and earrings - don't leave home without them!

Or the get It Done Today woman. I am not all that efficient, I know that if someone asks me to do something at work, I get it done that day or I forget to do it entirely . . .

Jen on the Edge said...

I'd like to see more people wearing hats and protecting their skin. I look at all those golden brown 20-somethings and want to show them warning photos of their futures.

Class factotum said...

Anon, my college boyfriend's parents had a white carpet that we were not allowed to walk on! I made the mistake of stepping on it once and my boyfriend pulled me away. "She'll see the footprints!" he said.

Gaylin and Jen, hats are cool.