Developing your Personal Brand

A Discussion with Uana Coccoloni, October

Career Transition Council

PE-Backed Executives, or Operators, facing a period of career transition, often struggle to demonstrate relevant value to hiring decision makers.

Uana Coccoloni, a marketing expert with proven experience guiding brands in transformation, was the guest speaker for the Career Transition Council meeting on November 3, 2023. She led an interactive discussion about the importance of developing your personal brand. The article below is a simple distillation of the core messages of the conversation.

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. In order 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. 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.”

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. In other words, 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? 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 pithysummaries of you, your heritage, your roots and how that heritage helps define your value offering.

  2. Define Your Belief – Think about consistent interests, characteristics, or passions throughout your career. What do you stand for, above all else, as relates to your next role? Avery and Greenwald, the HBR authors, suggest that you consider your “through line” of core beliefs throughout your life.

  3. Clarify Your Intent – Given your core beliefs, begin the process of determining your value proposition. In order 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?

    In your communications with prospective employers, be mindful about steering the conversation beyond a recitation of skills and competencies toward how/why you can 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 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. However, 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 also allow you to say how you grew as a person from the experience.

    So, 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.

    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). 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, you will need to nurture and re-adjust your brand because the world changes, your customers’ needs transition, the competition evolves, and you change, as well. As you gain more life experiences, your core beliefs, intents and your value proposition adapt over time. Be sure toconduct a self assessment on a semi-regular basis. And then be prepared to communicate the nuances of how your brand promise has evolved.

    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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *