By Gabriel Bristol
No one will ever care about your career as much as you do.
This is a simple truth that, once you grasp and embrace, can help lead you to newfound heights of success. Even if you’re among the lucky few who have a mentor — somebody who takes an active role in your career and gives you advice and other guidance — the fact is that even this person, at the end of the day, is not as vested in your career and its progression as you are.
Whether you’re an entry level customer service representative, an administrative assistant, a systems analyst — even a CEO — you’re constantly engaged in the business of marketing, whether you realize it or not.
Every time you have an interaction with a co-worker, a boss, subordinate, vendor or a customer, you’re not only having the obvious straightforward dialogue, but you’re also making subtle, but perceptible, statements, leaving an indelible imprint about who you are as a person and/or an employee. Just like a billboard, banner ad or product placement in a TV show or film, you’re communicating the value of a product, service or brand.
In most cases that product, service or brand is you.
Of course, we’re all more than the sum of a label, but our careers often depend on how others perceive us and our actions are what dictate those perceptions.
If you’re asked by your boss to complete an assignment by 4 p.m. Thursday afternoon, and you turn it in at 5 p.m. — even early Friday morning — you may think it’s fine because it’s only a few hours late. Maybe you think your boss won’t even notice.
Well, chances are very good she did, and whether intentionally or not, you’ve delivered a message about yourself.
You’ve marketed yourself in a way that you most likely wouldn’t do consciously. To some, you may have gone further than just marketing and actually branded yourself. You may not think it was that big a deal to miss the deadline by a few hours, but you’ve indirectly stated to everyone who had a stake in the report that you’re ambivalent about the work and can not necessarily be trusted to meet deadlines and keep your word.
On the flip side, if you were to turn in that same assignment at 2 p.m. Thursday, you’ve now indirectly stated to all involved that you take the work seriously and can not only meet expectations, but also exceed them. You’re now branded as a person of your word.
When there’s a company meeting, are you the one complaining or being a wallflower, or are you the one displaying active listening, demonstrating you comprehend what’s being discussed and offering constructive feedback? Are you stepping forward to participate in projects, adding value to your presence?
Stack these individual actions, and their imprints add up over time. And you’ve created a very clear marketing campaign — intended or not.
Once you’ve embraced the concept that you are constantly engaged in the business of marketing your personal brand, how do you make sure to put your best foot forward and always make the best impression?
First, you must think before you act.
Always spend at least a few seconds to think about your response. A co-worker tersely implies your work is not thorough — do you market yourself as hot-headed and reactionary and state she is in no position to critique another person’s performance when her own output is substandard? Or, do you market yourself as thoughtful and rational by stating that perhaps at another time the two of you could have a polite conversation and discuss any concerns?
Second, accept that marketing not only occurs before and after a project is complete, but during the project’s development.
If you’re assigned a project that, in retrospect, took much longer to complete than anybody could have imagined, do you market yourself as organized, conscientious and a good communicator by advising everybody days before the due date that a delay is possible, specify the reasons why and then reassure everyone that though you will deliver the report two days later than expected, it will be comprehensive and accurate? Or, do you market yourself as incapable and ambivalent by missing the deadline, and when you’re questioned after the fact, let everyone know that there were some problems and you will turn it in within a day or two?
Marketing yourself is a constant process, but by being aware of your actions and striving to exceed expectations, the appropriate responses will become automatic. Eventually, you’ll find yourself one of the people who can be relied on to get the job done or troubleshoot a problem. And those are the people who are valued the most in any environment.
Raises and promotions are sure to follow.