(Originally posted 14 Jan 2007)
4th March 2002 – the day my hitherto shining career came to a grinding halt. The date is etched in my memory. It was an ‘aha’ moment – the kind of ‘aha’ you really don’t want to have, but I guess I needed the wake up call.
The truth is I’d spent 12 years building my CV not a career. I started off after university training as an accountant with one of the ‘Big Six’ (or eight as they were at the time) – my first brand. After four years I left and, for a brief period, became an interim manager, but I felt exposed so I joined a major finance software company as a consultant – my second brand. A few years later I was headhunted to join a small consultancy but again I felt the brand wasn’t strong enough so after a year I left and joined the management consultancy arm of another of the Big Six. And that was where I was on that day, having my appraisal.
My career progress had been based on two things: working hard and knowing a lot. As I sat listening to my manager the realisation dawned that I had come as far as those two were going to take me. Not so much ‘Aha!’ as ‘Gulp!’
First, I had one of the highest ‘utilisation’ rates (the percentage of your time you spend out with client) in the firm – not surprising given that I’d spent the preceding 6 months working 60-80 hours a week, including weekends. On the plus side, the partners were happy to see so much billable time. On the minus side I was just a name on a spreadsheet – I was never in the office so very few of them knew who I really was.
Second, I was seen as an expert in my field, and was responsible for training new starters across Europe in my practice. As a result the firm was unwilling to transfer me to another practice, with a broader business base.
Finally, I had applied for a place on the firm’s sponsored MBA scheme. Unfortunately, as a manager I was too senior to qualify.
I walked out of the meeting not really certain what to do. The strategies that had got me this far were obviously not going to get me any further. And so I left, set up in business on my own, and took an MBA.
Looking back now it’s easy to see where I’d gone wrong. I had always relied on someone else’s brand to ‘sell’ me, and had never learnt to sell myself. I hadn’t built a brand called me, so I’d become a commodity.
I’ve seen it countless times since then:
It didn’t take me long, once I’d set out on my own, to realise that I had to brand myself or go bust. I just didn’t realise it was what I was doing.
I’ve spent the last four years learning how to present myself, how to mark myself out from my peers and competitors, how to track how I am seen by the market, and ensure that it represent the real me by making sure that I ‘live my brand’.
Today, I am a Personal Brand Strategist. This blog – The Personal Branding Blog – is one way in which I help my fellow professionals to keep their career on track. I also present regularly to MBA classes on career management, and coach and consult to managers, executives and professionals in a wide variety of industries.
Over the coming months I’ll offer a variety of tools and advice through this blog, along with my own personal musings on the sometimes weird, sometimes wonderful, world of personal branding.
Until the next time!