Last week I spoke on a Harvard Tech Panel and one of my co-panelists, Katherine, gave some advice that I want to share here: decide how you want people to remember you in three words and plan, ahead of time, to encourage that perception. Katherine made the point that individuals can control and mold his or her own “brand”.
I shared one story from my career when I used this tactic to make the switch from sales into marketing. After college, I started my career in customer support and sales at Google. Once I realized I wanted to move into marketing, I needed to change my perception from “entry-level customer support specialist” to “scrappy, creative marketer” to get the role as an Associate Product Marketing Manager launching Google Fiber. I did so by building my experience with six months of extra volunteering on the Fiber team doing anything related to marketing, communications, operations and, even, customer support. After proving to the team that I could be the “scrappy, creative marketer” they wanted, I, in the team’s mind, was qualified to do the role (marketing + Fiber team experience). No one, when I applied, told me I did not possess enough marketing experience because I built my “creative marketing” portfolio with the team.
Even if you don’t yet have the work product or characteristics to backup the three word brand you want, you can start building it. If you work in sales and want to become an “extremely technical customer engineer,” start shadowing customer engineers and leading technical calls. It may not work immediately, or come easily, but it will over time. With enough preparation you can claim any three word description you want. The three (ok, four) perception I work to build now: “connector & career guru”.
Once you start “shopping” your new brand, check-in to make sure it lands well. While it may be awkward to bluntly ask how people you interact with perceive you, think of other tests to see if you successfully left clients, co-workers, etc with the perception you want. Launch and iterate.
One caveat: my brother would argue that I can never become “an all-star NBA player”. I argue that’s TBD.