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The Art of Personal Branding: An Interview with Dorie Clark

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Over the years, I've come to embrace my inner geek. I'm convinced that being authentic has helped me cultivate a certain brand, one that doesn't suck.

Today, personal branding seems more essential than ever. After all, how many of us will work for the same company for our entire careers? Even if we stay within the walls of a large organization, we still have to get noticed, right? And how do we "manage" our brands on an increasing number of devices and social networks? What about if you're changing careers?

So many questions. For some thoughtful answers, I recently sat down with Dorie Clark author of the new book, Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press). Here's a transcription of that interview.

PS: What was the impetus for writing the book?

DC: After graduate school, I landed my dream job as a political reporter at an alternative weekly paper in Boston. I was thrilled and loved the work, but a year into it, I got laid off. Though I didn't know it at the time, it was the start of the Internet-induced collapse of print journalism. I tried freelancing for a while but eventually realized I wasn't going to get hired for another newspaper staff job; everyone had a hiring freeze, and it wasn't just a temporary lull. I needed a Plan B, and my efforts to find a fulfilling career - eventually working as a presidential campaign spokesperson, nonprofit executive director, documentary filmmaker, business school professor, marketing consultant, and more - sparked the creation of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future. In the book, I lay out a roadmap for others, using my experience and that of the dozens of executives I interviewed, to help make others' career transitions (whether in one industry or when changing careers) better, easier, and smoother.

Dorie Clark photo

PS: In the NFL, there's a saying, "If you have two quarterbacks, you have none." Many people seem to make the mistake of trying to do everything. Can you talk a little bit about trying to stand for too much.

DC: One example I talk about in Reinventing You is the fact that many people, when they're in the midst of a job search, embrace a strategy of going for anything and everything: "I need a job, any job!" Of course, that ends up hurting you because you're wasting time applying for things that aren't a good fit. Ironically, your friends and colleagues can actually be more helpful in guiding you to good opportunities if you're specific - "I'm looking for a communications job in the healthcare industry" - because that level of detail helps them think of people they can introduce you to, companies where they have connections, and recent postings they may have seen.

PS: You advocate regular Twitter and blogging schedules in the book. Many small business owners, however, are too busy working in the business to work on the business. Should these busy folks hire content creation specialists? How do you recommend that they find the time to contribute and be a part of valuable conversations?

DC: Wherever possible, I think it's best for small businesses to keep content creation in-house; if you outsource that, you're essentially outsourcing your voice and your personal connection with customers. There are software resources like Hubspot that can guide you through the creation process and make it easier, but even on your own, I contend that it's easier than you think. Using Twitter as an example, you can use a service like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck to program in outgoing tweets or retweets for the week, which may take 30-60 minutes on a Sunday. Then, if you spend only 5-10 minutes per day, you can easily respond to customer messages, share new information as it arises, or send out additional retweets that catch your eye. Being engaged and interactive doesn't have to take over your life.

PS: What's the biggest mistake that Millennials make with respect to personal branding? What about those making mid-career shifts?

DC: The most common personal branding mistake that I see, both among millennials and older workers, is not focusing enough on developing your narrative. That may sound frivolous: isn't the real work sending out resumes, or networking at events, or putting in overtime at your job to get noticed? But the truth is, you need to be able to tell a clear, compelling story about your past and why it will add value to the new endeavor you're pursuing. Most of us assume we can skip this step; isn't it obvious to others? But they're not paying that close attention to you or your resume, and the transitions that may seem clear to you (why you left grad school to launch a startup, or shifted from HR into sales) may be confusing to others. Having a solid explanation that succinctly captures what you can bring to the table, and why, can be your most powerful tool in personal branding.