Developing Your Personal Brand – with Adriana Cowdin

PE-Backed Executives, or Operators, facing a period of career transition, often struggle to demonstrate relevant value to hiring decision makers. Adriana L. Cowdin is a PE-Backed executive, and an experienced large corporate executive, as well as an entrepreneur and executive coach with Be Bold Executive Coaching.  In her 25+ years as an executive coach, she’s proven that her clients land 90 days faster and make 10%+ more in compensation on average. She recently facilitated a discussion on the importance of a Personal Brand for The Operators’ Career Resource Council. This article is a summary of that conversation as well as my personal research efforts.

It is important to show recruiters and private equity decision makers that you have not only knowledge, skills, and competencies, but that you can apply them to solve the specific set of problems or unmet needs that employers are experiencing. To do so, you will need to define your value proposition, cultivate it, influence how others interpret it, and then reinforce their thinking with more proof points. 

Let’s define your personal brand: How others perceive you. Your reputation. 

The problem is, unless people (employers) know you personally, they are left to discover you, typically online.  What will they find? You can influence how people who do not know you might feel about you, say about you, or believe about you by establishing your personal brand promise. Your brand promise is your statement about commitment to how you provide value in the workplace. In other words, you need to market yourself as a brand. As Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, famously stated, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” 

The stakes are high. What employers find online when researching you influences whether they move forward in the process or not.

Developing, influencing, and cultivating your personal brand takes work, but the fruits of your labor will be seen in terms of your visibility to those who deem your brand relevant for them. Having a well-established personal brand can help you stand out and differentiate yourself from other candidates. Whether people look at your resume, LinkedIn profile, or anything else online, they are trying to get a sense of who you are, what you stand for and most importantly what they can count on you for in order to solve for a dilemma or problem in their company. And if you are not a fit for their needs at the moment, you will expand your network of those people who can introduce you to the most relevant new opportunities, given your unique value proposition. 

There are several important steps in the process of personal brand building:

  1. Know Your Heritage – Think of this step as a self-reflection, a self-audit.  What are your roots? What have been your points of distinction? What were your defining “crucible moments” when you were thrown in the fire, pressure was applied, and you failed (and learned from it) or succeeded? What gives meaning to your life? Harvard Business Review published an article, “A New Approach to Building Your Personal Brand” by Jill Avery and Rachel Greenwald (May-June 2023), in which they suggest “…analyzing your cultural capital—the expertise you’ve developed through your upbringing, interactions, hobbies, and interests that allows you to operate smoothly in different milieus.” It may help to develop lists for yourself of experiences, accomplishments, and awards. In addition, it may also help to hear friends, family, former colleagues, mentors and the like to provide pithy summaries of you, your heritage, your roots and how that heritage helps define your value offering.

  2. Define Your Beliefs and Values – Think about consistent interests, areas of importance to you, characteristics, or passions throughout your career. What do you stand for, above all else, as relates to how you want the world to see you? You may want to look at The Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Values Sort Cards, as they can be a useful tool to help you reflect on what is most important to you. Take time to identify your values because doing so helps you exhibit integrity at work and in relationships. Avery and Greenwald, the HBR authors, suggest that you consider your “through line” of core beliefs throughout your life. We structure our lives and careers around our purpose; it provides us with a sense of direction and internal motivation. As Adriana says, “we may share our goals and causes with others, but our purpose is the unique essence of who we are and how we live.”

  3. Clarify Your Purpose and Intent – Given your core beliefs, begin the process of determining your intent, purpose, or for the sake of your job search, your value proposition. To do so, you will need to clarify whom you are targeting professionally (be specific); what you intend to do for them to provide them with value (how you will benefit your “customer”); and perhaps most importantly, your distinctive capabilities to solve for their needs. In other words, what is your unique benefit to them?

  4. Demonstrate Brand Clarity and Authenticity – Brand clarity is your intention for how you wish to be perceived by others. And being authentic means being deeply connected to your purpose, as represented by your thoughts, words and actions. Remember that your brand is designed to live on indefinitely beyond merely the job search.

In your communications with prospective employers, be mindful about steering the conversation beyond a recitation of skills and competencies toward how/why you solve for their specific needs. And the best ways to communicate your intent, show your core beliefs and connect the dots to your own personal heritage are through authentic personal stories.  A story is typically about a main character (you) whom the audience wants to cheer for, who faces a major obstacle. The story is resolved by explaining how the hero resolves their dilemma or challenge. Everyone has had a crucible moment — a time when you are in the hot seat, facing heat, pressure, stress. Perhaps your crucible moment had a fantastically successful result. Or, more likely, you got burned. The lessons that you learned from that experience are valuable because they serve as opportunities for you to be vulnerable and establish connections with other human beings, and allow you to say how you grew as a person from the experience.

When a recruiter asks you to talk about yourself, they do not want you to recite what is already on your resume. This is your opportunity to demonstrate, through your own life stories, how unique you are and how useful you can be. Convey your personal value proposition through stories.

  1. Identify and Leverage your Strengths – All of us possess innate (and sometimes hidden) talents and strengths. You will need to articulate what your strengths are, how they relate to your personal brand, and how they will be useful to the hiring decisionmaker. You may wish to leverage strength finders online such as the TTI Success Insights Assessment Tool. Be Bold Executive Coaching can administer this assessment.

  2. Identify Your Sources of Energy (and what depletes your energy) – Your energy and mood affect your ability to perform and achieve, and they also impact those around you.

  3. Think About the Full Circle from Heritage to Legacy – Your heritage is your roots – where you came from and how you came from that place; your legacy is the mark you intend to leave on the world. It is helpful to think about your intended legacy throughout your career steps, rather than only at the end. Keeping your eye on the long-term legacy you intend to leave ensures that you choose work that is authentic and that connects you to something larger than your next role.

  4. Communicate Your Personal Brand — The rest of the process of brand building involves communication, reinforcement, and nurturing of your message (and/or your target audience about how you can be helpful). There are three reasons for this: 1.) Exposure 2.) Demonstrating Fit 3.) Managing reputation

    You can take the bull by the horns and create – books, articles, podcasts, posts, etc. Reinforcing and influencing your brand story is a continuous process. Whether your media exposure is limited to “owned” media such as your LinkedIn profile, which you can control, or “earned” media mentions resulting from recommendations, comments about you, referrals or press releases, you will want to ensure that your brand message remains on point. In other words, avoid contradictions or confusing “brand static” that may get in the way of the message of value that you have worked hard to develop. It is important to have a LinkedIn profile and an elevator pitch that enables recruiters to see you, in all your unique, quirky, root-for-you ways. Be authentic – be yourself! But be sure to convey your unique value proposition.

Lastly, while your personal brand should not change, you may need to nurture and re-adjust your messaging from time to time. The world changes, your customers’ needs evolves, the competition adjusts, and you change, as well. As you gain more life experiences, your core beliefs, intents, and your value proposition continue to develop over time. Be prepared to communicate the nuances of your brand promise in response to new stimuli. New stories, experiences, trials, successes, and failures do not necessarily change who you are or your brand, but they provide opportunities for new, enhanced storytelling!

Developing your personal brand does require effort and self-reflection and a commitment to mindful communication. Yet refining and honing your brand message can mean the difference between gaining your perfect job and simply your next assignment.

In Conclusion

Your personal brand can have the single most significant impact on your career search, ability to land the ideal role and job satisfaction. There are 10 personal branding benefits:

  1. Establish trust and credibility
  2. Differentiate yourself
  3. Provide clarity
  4. Boost your confidence
  5. Leverage the power of social media
  6. Build your network
  7. Increase your visibility
  8. Enhance your control over your future
  9. Differentiate yourself
  10. Connect with a sense of purpose

The onus is on you to be bold (!) and develop your own Personal Brand. Thank you to Adriana Cowdin of Be Bold executive coaching for facilitating this discussion for the Career Resource Council of the Operators community!

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