One evening when my daughter was 12 I asked her to grab my car keys from my desk. She came back with the keys. We got in the car to drive to her piano lesson. “Mom,” she said, “I saw a resume on your desk.” “Was there something about the resume that struck you?” I asked her. “Yes!” she said. “This man says on his resume that he’s the best technical salesperson in Chicago. How could that be true? They don’t have a ranking for something like that, do they?”
“No,” I said. “That’s just how he describes himself. It’s his own designation.” “It’s so sad!” said my daughter. “Anybody could call themselves the best technical salesperson in Chicago. It seems so — childish, like a kid in my grade telling the other kids they’re the best singer or the best volleyball player in the class.”
“It is kind of sad,” I said. “The problem is that people don’t know how to brand themselves. It’s not something they teach in school.”
“So that’s why the man who sent you his resume made up a fake title for himself — the best technical salesperson in Chicago?”
“Yes,” I said. “When someone is looking for a job, they want to stand out. They aren’t sure how to do that, so they say things like ‘I’m the Best Technical Salesperson in Chicago!'”
Calling yourself the best salesperson around, the top attorney in your field, the leading digital marketer in your city or the greatest cost accountant ever to live is a very poor branding choice.
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That’s why it’s included on our list of the six worst ways to brand yourself, below!
The problem with “I’m the best!”-type personal branding is that it marks you as someone who lacks the confidence to simply say “I’m a Cost Accountant, and here’s what I’ve done so far in my career.”
Praising yourself is beneath you. Let other people praise you. That’s not your job!
Here are all six of the worst possible personal-branding choices.
• Calling yourself a guru, mogul, maven or expert
• Zombie branding
• The best/the one/the only
• My Tasks, My Skills
• Disruptor, catalyst, change agent
Let’s break down these six regrettable branding choices.
Calling yourself a guru, mogul, maven or expert or using “praising adjectives” like Savvy, Strategic or Visionary to describe yourself is a fear-based move that will not impress anyone.
It is much stronger, more compelling and more human to simply tell your story in your LinkedIn profile and your Human-Voiced Resume.
Zombie branding uses the dull, dusty corporate-and-institutional language most of us have learned at work (whether we wanted to or not).
Here’s an example of zombie branding: “Bottom-line-focused Business Professional skilled at leading cross-functional teams, developing end-to-end solutions and adding value through game-changing strategic initiatives.”
There are lots of good reasons to avoid zombie branding. It’s impersonal and makes you sound like a zombie or a robot, not a living person. It’s generic and trite. Anyone can dish out this awful jargon.
It doesn’t tell your story at all. You are much more powerful than zombie branding makes you sound!
Some people brand themselves based on their trophies, like this:
“Ivy League grad and alum of Apple, Google and Snap.”
Now you’ve made it clear that you were able to get into an Ivy League school and that you subsequently worked for Apple, Google and Snap.
All that tells us is that these three organizations (four if we count the Ivy League college) found you acceptable for their needs.
Is that all you want us to know? Are your trophies really the most significant thing about you? I hope not!
We want to know what you came, saw and conquered at each stage of your professional life. We want to know about you, the person — not the impressive trophies in your trophy case!
Calling yourself the best, the top or the only something-or-other is an amateurish personal branding move that will not grow your flame.
A very common and unfortunate branding choice is to list all the things you can do, thereby branding yourself based on the tasks you can perform.
This is a very sad and hopeless way to describe yourself, because what’s significant about you is certainly not the list of things you’re capable of doing.
Still, we see LinkedIn profiles with branding like this every day:
Public relations, marketing, customer service, IT and office administration professional seeking new challenge.
Few organizations have a pressing need for a person to do PR, marketing, IT, customer service and office management all at the same time.
The person who brands themselves this way is telling the world “Heck, I don’t know what I want to do next! I’m throwing all my skills out there so that somebody will find at least one skill they need and hire me!”
However, that’s not how people get hired.
Your job as a job-seeker is to decide in advance what kind of Business Pain you want to solve, and to brand yourself for the specific jobs you want, not any job you could possibly perform.
The last deadly branding mistake on our list is to call yourself a Disruptor, a Change Agent or a Catalyst.
These terms are cliches and they don’t tell us anything useful about you. Rather than calling yourself a Disruptor, tell a story in your LinkedIn Summary or the Summary at the top of your Human-Voiced Resume, like this:
I’m a Product Manager whose passion is to shepherd good ideas through the development process to get products out the door on time and on budget. I led the product development team at Acme Explosives and launched six profitable new products between 2014 and 2016.
Now you have a voice, a story and a mission. You’ve shared a concrete example of what you can do, right in the Summary of your resume or LinkedIn profile.
You’re using the word “I” the way humans beings do when they talk about themselves — and haven’t been brainwashed to think that the use of the word “I” in their branding is forbidden!
You aren’t bragging or giving yourself a made-up title like Best Technical Salesperson in Chicago.
You aren’t listing the tasks you know how to perform.
You’re just telling a bit of your human story so we can understand who you are and what you do professionally.
It isn’t hard to brand yourself like the powerful human you are.
It only takes a shift in your mindset. You can start cultivating that right now!
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I was a Fortune 500 HR SVP for 10 million years, but I was an opera singer before I ever heard the term HR. The higher I got in the corporate world, the more operatic the action became. I started writing about the workplace for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1997. Now I write for LinkedIn and Forbes.com and lead the worldwide Human Workplace movement to reinvent work for people. My book Reinvention Roadmap: Break the Rules to Get the Job You Want and Career You Deserve is here: amzn.to/2gK7BR7