If you want to go far work early and hard on personal branding

Extracted from Talking HR by Pauline Ng, Star Biz, Tuesday May 14, 2013

“Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room,” Jeff Bezos, founder of “Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room,” Jeff Bezos, founder of

There are probably hundreds of books in the market on branding such as “Designing Brand Identity,” by Alina Wheeler, “Kellogg on Branding,” by Tim Calkins, and “Harvard Business Review on Brand Management,” published by the Harvard Business School Press just to name a few titles of books available on

However, professionals often overlook the subtle yet important details that stand out when a headhunter comes into the picture. Most headhunters look beyond just the resume and the outward appearance of an individual. It is critical that professionals consider the impact of personal branding before they start looking for their next career move.

My question is this: Is it ever too early to start paying attention and improving your personal branding? I asked myself this after I was approached by a stranger.

Apparently, the “stranger” was my junior from school. Suffice to say that I left secondary school quite a while ago and yet this person remembered enough to recognise me and remind me how we were connected.

Personal branding is something most of us take for granted either because we want people to accept us just the way we are and “what you see is what you get,” or perhaps because we do not think that the opinion of these individuals matter. This could prove to be a huge oversight because of the porous geographic boarders in our increasingly international world and the speed of information traveling as fast as the speed of a search engine delivering the results of a word search on the internet. In the executive search business, I am constantly reminded that the world is uncannily small and that there are only six-degrees of separation in almost any relationship. On numerous occasions, I've introduced myself to someone only to find that we have common friends or acquaintances.

In such instances, the individual I was getting acquainted with could easily touch base with their friend to find out his or her experience of having dealt with me previously or just to see if I have done a good job. Hopefully, their friend would convey positive remarks about our interaction but as you can see; my personal brand was already built from that previous encounter.

It is also important to remember that a first impression could already have been formed before we know it and not necessarily through a face-to-face meeting. Here are the top three most important elements that I wanted to share with you on the topic of personal branding from a headhunter's perspective.

The first contact most, if not all executive search consultants have with an individual is when emails are exchanged whereby spelling and grammar are critical to conveying a positive personal brand. There is also contact via social media.

If there was any doubt left as to the importance and strategic significance of social media, that doubt would have been erased after the latest General Elections or GE13 as it is popularly known. Many updates, whether substantiated or not were being exchanged and shared quicker than the official news channels could report.

So, when someone recently asked me if it would be advisable to state in her LinkedIn status that she is “Actively Looking for Job Opportunities.” I told her that in my opinion it was the worst thing she could do to make me contact her as a potential candidate for a job search. That brief statement tells me that she is probably unemployed or unhappily employed and is ready to move into a current role without much hesitation. It could also indicate that her communication skills are probably underdeveloped and that she is not very adept at social networking.

Even though I have only spoken with this individual over the phone, I had formed an impression of her and I was already making mental notes of what I need to coach her on to improve her personal branding.

What do you want to be known for?

Credibility in leaders is a highly sought after commodity these days. Credibility isn't built in a day or even a week but more likely over an extended period of time. So, if this is something you want to be known for it is never too early to begin branding yourself as a credible professional in your field. There many ways one can build credibility but the foremost method that comes to mind is to do something not many people are able to do and to do it extremely well.

Then you have the advantage of being a credible individual who is also a subject matter expert; a reliable source of information and a trusted advisor. You will know that you have attained some degree of branding in this area if you are recommended by someone else to give advice as they believe that you have expert knowledge in a certain field.

A positive “can do” attitude is another example of something that I would generally look for in a candidate. In this instance, interaction with supervisors and colleagues would a checkpoint for this quality. What potential candidates are known for in their organizations will be evident upon the reference check process which is usually a key component of the executive search methodology.

I have mentioned before that “job-hopping” needs to be further analyzed as there are some instances whereby the employee is not the cause of the change of employment. However, if the career moves cannot be justified, this will create a negative perception and may cause a potential employer to doubt the stability and reliability of the individual. I recently advised an individual to stay in her current job with a large IT company which she had joined for only a few months.

She shared that she came to the realization that her current job was not taking her in the right direction in terms of her career aspirations and that there was more than one headhunter pursuing her.

I advised her that whilst this may be a flattering position to be in, after all which human being doesn't enjoy being told that they are special and have more money offered to them; she needed to consider the consequences of her actions as there will come a day when the headhunters may stop calling and she would probably have changed another 3 or 4 jobs by then. I also reminded her of what her resume would look like at that point and if she was prepared to justify her decisions for changing jobs so frequently.

In summary, I'd like to leave you with a quote I came across whilst researching this article. “Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room,” by Jeff Bezos who is the founder of This is a gentle yet poignant reminder to be aware of how you brand yourself so that you have a positive brand that is always working for you and not against you.

Pauline Ng, managing director of BTI Consultants, wants to be known as a professional executive search consultant and coach, trusted advisor, a good friend, a fair boss and a loving wife and mother.