As an attorney recruiter and representative of my company (the nation’s leading executive legal search firm, Major, Lindsey & Africa (“MLA”)) focused on business generation, marketing, professional development and relationship-building, I had the opportunity to speak on several panels in 2015 for various attorney organizations concerning the topic of using social media and other networking tools to build your personal brand.
What is your personal brand? Why is it important? How do you get one?
To me, your personal brand is your reputation. What you are known for professionally. Ideally, what you are known for is what you actually want to be known for. It’s important within your organization (even if you don’t think you’ll ever want or need a new job or to develop new business) because you want your colleagues (not just your fellow attorneys) to know you, trust you, turn to you for advice and counsel, rely upon and want to work with you, and encourage others to do the same.
It’s important outside of your organization both because your internal reputation can in part be influenced by your external reputation and also because you may come to need or desire another role outside of your current organization someday (and/or you may need to develop business someday). Having both strong internal and external personal brands is critical to success in this arena, and it doesn’t happen on demand or overnight.
Your personal brand can also be thought of as your origin story (if you like comic books, which I do), mission statement, value proposition or that overused chestnut, elevator speech. It should evoke the brief Pavlovian response that you want your network (and your network’s network) to have when they think of you so that you easily spring to top of mind when relevant opportunities are being discussed and referrals for those opportunities are being made.
When I was a practicing attorney, I used to say that I could always find another job if I needed one as long as I had a law license. Better to lose the job than the license, better to lose the battle and win the war. Now, as a non-practicing attorney who recruits other attorneys for a living, I advise that, yes, you need a license, but your personal brand/reputation and network are equally important to support you throughout your career.
So, where do you begin to create, nurture and utilize your personal brand? Here are my top 10 tips for 2016:
- Self-Assess: Take a look in the proverbial mirror. Who am I? How am I known? What are my strengths and weaknesses, not just as I see them, but as others see them? Google yourself. Ask people what they think of you—people who know you well from different parts of your life, people whose judgment you respect, who you know will give it to you straight, and who you feel confident have your best interests at heart. Tap into select members of your network—your personal “Board of Directors” or “Brain Trust”—for their insights.
- Mine your Past: Don’t have a personal “Board of Directors” or “Brain Trust”? Don’t even know who is in your network or who should be? LinkedIn is a wonderful tool for getting your arms around this (Facebook and Twitter in their own unique ways are also great crayons to have in your crayon box but that is another article). Make lists of your classmates, former colleagues, former clients, people with whom you have participated in groups and associations, met at conferences, etc., and connect, connect, connect (and reconnect, reconnect, reconnect). They need not have been your best friends in the past in order to be potentially valuable members of your professional network. And you never know when or which one of them could hold the key to your professional future.
Tend to the Garden: Once you have built a strong LinkedIn profile flush with many professional connections (aim for 500+. Stop being so picky and you can do it!), selected appropriate industry and alumni groups to join, filled out your profile using keywords and added awards, recognitions, articles, links to your other web presences and a professional bio picture (essential to have the professional pic that looks like you at your best and which you use across multiple platforms so people can recognize you when they meet you in person), your job is not done. Your job is never done. You must regularly tend to the garden, prune the weeds of stale information and plant fresh seeds such as continually adding new connections, occasionally posting status updates and otherwise regularly interacting with others. Mentioning interesting articles you have written or co-written or read and panels or events in which you will participate (have participated) in your status updates is a good way to remind people of you and your desired brand. Congratulating others on their successes shows that you are a giver and not just a taker/self-promoter—which is also good for your brand.
Develop Your Voice and Use It: Once you have decided what you want your brand to be and who you want to be in your network, avail yourself of opportunities to develop your voice and use it. For example, I want my brand to be that of an “Attorney Connector”—to jobs, information and to other connections—and I speak on many panels and write many articles in furtherance of this goal. When I practiced law, I wanted people to think of me as a skilled legal practitioner, so I wrote and spoke frequently to develop and use that voice in my chosen practice area. Now I want people to think of me with regard to the business of law, the connections between attorneys and employment opportunities, and the career development of attorneys, so I have redirected my Thought Leadership efforts over the last five years accordingly. For in-house counsel, consider how you might collaborate with your outside counsel on articles and presentations for your mutual benefit.
Engage: Social media is terrific, but it is a supplement to and not a substitute for real world engagement. As I always say, “You’ve got to go out and see the people.” Certainly there is neither the time nor the energy (nor the need) to go to every event. One need not attend the opening of every envelope. And being selective is a must to conserve your time and energy as well as to strategically advance and preserve your brand. But making a point to schedule some lunches, coffees, breakfasts, dinners and drinks with valued connections on a regular basis is key to strengthening those important ties. Decide which industry conferences are a “must do” for you and plan to attend year after year to continue to grow those key relationships. (I am personally a big fan of the Corporate Counsel Women of Color, National Bar Association and Women, Influence & Power in Law conferences, to name a few). If you are shy about attending a meeting or conference on your own, consider using the buddy system: Find a “wing(wo)man” to attend the meeting or conference with you who will help hold you accountable for walking into the room—but don’t just stick by his/her side the entire time. Plan to connect with old friends and try to speak with at least a few new ones. Connect with everyone you meet on LinkedIn as soon as possible to help stay in touch. You never know when one of these meetings will lead to your next great career opportunity.
Be a Mentor and Sponsor: Much is made of the importance of receiving mentorship and sponsorship in your career, both from within and outside of your organization, but I submit that being a mentor and sponsor is equally important. There’s a definite karma element, but I also find that I learn a lot and grow through the process of supporting others. And, no matter how young or inexperienced you are, there is always someone younger and even less experienced (to a law student, a first-year associate seems to have it all figured out. To a law firm lawyer, someone who has been in-house a year is a sage) who can benefit from the lessons learned on your path. And older/more experienced people often crave and benefit from the insights of Millennials. Being known as a supportive person and team player can be a valuable component of your personal brand.
Be Your Authentic Self: Many will tell you that you have to force yourself to like sports, play golf, drink, etc., if you want to get that new job, promotion or client. I disagree. If you feel that you can truly, enthusiastically throw yourself into the new activity, then go for it. If you were always meaning to learn more about football and this new opportunity to build a relationship just happens to provide a convenient opportunity to do so, have at it. But if you are not going to genuinely, enthusiastically embrace the activity, you run the risk of ruining the pleasure of the people who do genuinely enjoy it—resulting in the opposite impression from the one you want to make. I have developed a fair amount of business in both my career as a practicing attorney and as a recruiter, and I have always focused on engaging in activities for which I truly have an affinity. By participating in diversity groups, the opera, social media, movies, pop culture, I have formed many strong professional relationships with people who enjoy what I enjoy. It is an age-old truism that people like to do business with (and refer opportunities to) people who they feel they know, like and trust. Your personal brand is positively impacted by being authentic and suffers if you develop a reputation for being a fake, a phony, who only pretends to like people and things in the hope of receiving a benefit.
Create You.com: In addition to your organization’s website bio of you and your own well cultivated and maintained social media profiles, especially if you are actively in the market for a new job or other professional opportunity (like a board position), consider creating your own personal website (or hiring a professional to create and maintain it for you) as a one-stop-shop destination with links to your social media profiles, blog posts, etc., and which provides you with your own email address. There is no better way to stake a claim to your personal brand and show that you are actively engaged in the business of you 24/7. (I need to do this one myself!)
- Invest in Yourself: We’ve all seen the profiles of business and entertainment celebrities that claim that a little hard work and a lot of luck was all it took to make them a success. Don’t believe the hype! Behind every General Counsel, rainmaking partner or Hollywood star there is a “squad:” some combination of an executive coach, a nanny for the kids, a personal trainer, a personal shopper, a hairstylist, a therapist and a nutritionist. It takes a village to raise a success and some personal investment in yourself where needed to help you reach your goals. Don’t feel guilty about this (I’m looking at you, especially, working moms). In the event of an emergency on an airplane, you must first put on your own oxygen mask before assisting anyone else—even your own child. You can’t help anyone else breathe if you can’t. You can’t just live a life of the mind and your personal brand certainly consists of more than your intellect and work ethic (assume everyone has those as a base line barrier to entry). Your physical and emotional well-being reflects on your outlook and how you are viewed. Ignore them at great peril to your long-term brand cultivation and success.
Smile: I promise that this last one is NOT directed specifically at women! I am NOT talking about “RBF.” Rather, I am reminded of a conversation I had with a retired male CEO who was once told by his team that it was making him seem perpetually angry or concerned about the state of the company (and, by extension, their jobs) that he appeared to always look so pensive and upset when walking the halls. For lawyers, too, this can have a negative impact on internal or external client relationships as well as peer and staff morale. Gravitas is important, sure, but instilling confidence in others and helping to foster a positive work environment is important as well. Rarely (if ever) is a reputation for low or negative energy going to reflect well on your personal brand.
Happy 2016, Everyone! Let’s brand the year early and often as a great one!