It’s a new game out there. It’s harder than ever to differentiate yourself from every other candidate. So how do you do it? How do you find success in an industry wrought with competition? How do you prove to a company that they should hire you over everybody else?
Shamelessly self-promote yourself. That’s how. At the end of the day, it really IS all about who you know. Here are 7 tips to follow to make sure you know the right people.
1) Business Cards
Do me a favor. Grab one of your business cards. I’ll wait.
OK, got it in your hand? How much of the information on that card would be true if you left your current job? I’d be willing to bet, in most cases, that your name is about the only thing that’s “yours” on that card. The address, phone numbers, and email address all belong to the company you work for. And technically, in a situation where you’re not shamelessly trying to promote yourself, those cards will suffice.
But if you leave that job, or get laid off, or outsourced, or whatever you kids are calling it these days, everyone you gave that card to was just cut out of the loop. Every customer, that attractive new friend from the party last weekend, even some of your close friends were relying on the information on that card to get a hold of you. So why do we rely on these cards from our company so heavily? Is anyone making us use those? No, they’re not.
Make your own cards. It’s that simple. You can put the company you work for on them, but that shouldn’t be what defines you at all. You define who you are. Your accomplishments, your skills. That’s what matters. Here’s a picture of my current business card.
These might be a little simpler than I’d recommend for most people, but there’s a purpose to this card other than the arrogance it might suggest. First, it’s simple. Most cards are crammed with information that nobody needs, and your name often takes a back seat to a corporate logo. The first thing someone should see when they look at your card is your name. Everything else is secondary.
The second part of this card that is serving a purpose is the amazing amount of white space available on the card. I always carry a pen with me, and when I hand out a business card, I like to add any other information that was specific to the time that I gave it away. It’s likely to go into a stack of cards later, and a few words like, “DevLink Conference, talked about Silverlight” reminds the recipient of the card why they were talking to you in the first place. It also demonstrates to the other person that you truly enjoyed meeting them.
The third reason you should have your own business card is because it’s an opportunity to show people your identity. Once you leave the conversation, your card is what they will have to remember the impression you left. Whether or not you’ve spent the time to create a logo, you have a brand that you’re marketing. Your personal brand is what this entire post is about.
To get some new shiny business cards of your own, there are plenty of places to start. I recommend VistaPrint because I’ve used them and the cards were excellent, and if you’re really low on cash, they even offer “free” business cards as well. You can get 250 cards for $20. They’re not expensive.
2) Your Online Presence
I was tempted to make this one #1, but then decided that the order doesn’t really matter. All of these points are invaluable to someone starting their self-promotion ascension.
Your online presence is HUGE in this game. Whether they will admit it or not, hiring managers will search for you online before making a determination about whether to hire you. If you’re not on the Internet, you’re gonna be the second choice. But there’s also a downside to this one, and I’ll address this one in a bit.
I am not suggesting that you need a robust, super-technological web site. All you need to know is that you can be found when someone is looking for you. In addition to having listings on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Plaxo, you need something that is uniquely yours. To show my example, go to http://www.jeffblankenburg.info. This site contains nothing but my contact information. Email addresses, phone numbers (if I want that to be public), IM names, etc. If someone wanted to get a hold of me, this is the place they should go.
A domain name costs $10 a year. It’s not expensive. I use GoDaddy, but there’s honestly hundreds of places to get one. In addition, GoDaddy will also give you free hosting for your domain, so you have a place to create a simple website. Take this opportunity to get yourself a branded presence on the web. It will be the best ten dollars you spend this year.
Now the downside of being able to be found on the Internet…they’re gonna find you. Make sure that your MySpace page isn’t blaring death metal and featuring pictures of your inappropriate Halloween costume. They will find that stuff too. You should have an online presence, not an online episode of Jerry Springer. Keep your private stuff private.
3) A Unique Name
I know some of you were thinking about this during point #2. “Jeff, my name is Dan Miller, and domain names are just not easy to come by.” I’m here to tell you that you can find a unique name for yourself. Add a middle initial. Add a Jr. after your name (even if it’s not true…nobody cares!). Heck, call yourself “Dan Miller III”. My friend Dan has struggled with domains forever because of this. But a quick search shows that danmillerjr.com is available as I write this post. Give yourself a permutation of your name that is unique to the web. My colleague Brian Prince has branded himself as Brian H. Prince for that specific reason. There just aren’t any other Brian H. Prince’s out there.
So start brainstorming, and come up with a unique name for yourself. This is the name you should put on everything. The business cards, the website URL, your resume, your Twitter handle…anything and everything where you identify yourself, use that name. You’re sure to be found by that name if you do.
4) Show Your Passion
In your professional life, what’s the thing you’re most passionate about? What’s the part of your day that you really look forward to? If “lunch” is your answer, perhaps it’s time to think about changing your career.
Now that you know where your passions lie, let them show. Find websites that focus on that thing, whether it’s writing software, working on advertising campaigns, or designing cars, there’s a place where passionate people are talking about it on the web. Not only can you learn from these other people, but they will probably learn something from your perspectives as well.
Participate! Your opinions are your own. They are NOT wrong. They’re your opinions. Using your unique name from earlier, build a passionate presence on the web, even if it’s just posts in a forum or comments on a blog.
Speaking of blogging, however, this is one of the best ways to show off your passion at work. There are dozens of blogging engines out there to help you get up and running in a matter of minutes. I use Blogger, but there is also WordPress, Live Spaces, and several other popular ones out here. All you need to do is come up with something to write about. Again, this is where taking that thing you’re passionate about and running with it.
The whole point of all of this passionate display is to position yourself as an expert in your field. When people search for you, finding your name all over the reputable sites in their industry will be a HUGE plus.
5) Community Presence
This is the step that is probably the hardest for most people, but it is also one of the most valuable. You’re now talking with people online (and maybe even blogging), but face-to-face interaction far outweighs the online kind.
For every industry out there, there is a small, passionate group of people getting together to talk about it. It’s very prevalent in the software world (in the form of user groups), but these types of groups exist for every type of business. As an example, for project managers in Columbus, OH there’s PMI Central Ohio. For CPAs, there’s The Ohio Society for CPAs. For creative folks (artists, writers, designers, etc), there is Columbus Society of Communicating Arts (CSCA), The Advertising Federation of Columbus, and many others (thanks to @leighhouse for the help). They’re out there, you just need to find them.
For software development in Columbus, here’s a short list of what is available:
- Central Ohio .NET Developer’s Group (CONDG)
- Columbus Digital (Adobe User Group)
- Central Ohio Linux User Group (COLUG)
- Columbus Ruby Brigade
- Central Ohio Sharepoint User Group (COSPUG)
- Central Ohio Java User Group (COJUG)
Finally, there’s speaking. You are an expert on something. Why not tell people about it? Each of these great groups is looking for a speaker each month. There is no better way to convince yourself and others that you’re an expert on something than to get in front of a crowd and talk about it. Now, I know this isn’t for everyone, and in fact, I think Jerry Seinfeld said it best when he said:
“Speaking in front of a crowd is considered the #1 fear of the average person. I found that amazing. #2 was DEATH! Number 2! That means for the average person, if you have to be at a funeral, you would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
But take a chance. Take a risk. Speaking in front of people is not easy. It takes practice, focus, and nerves of steel. But after you do it, you’re gonna feel great. And the expertise you convey will definitely be a reward worth receiving.
6) Make Sure You Talk About You
When you do something, don’t expect that people will just know about it. Talk about it! Promote it! If you wrote a new entry for your blog, mention it on Twitter. And Facebook. And FriendFeed. It will get more people aware of what you are trying to accomplish, which is to get noticed, right?
But we can go much further than this. With sites like Digg, and StumbleUpon, we can demonstrate our passion, again, by sharing with others what we are reading. Posting interesting articles to these sites is a great way to build a reputation, and if you’re posting your own articles, even better. The goal is to get noticed, not to be polite. People will be able to see that you’re “in the know” which is one more way to say that you’re an expert on that particular subject.
I mentioned Twitter a few times already in this post, but it deserves its own section. Talking about yourself on Twitter is INVALUABLE. In the simplest definition, Twitter is meant for people to answer one simple question: What Are You Doing Right Now? But it has become a networking tool on a much larger scale. Start following some of the big names in your industry. If you’re into .NET development, start listening to Scott Hanselman (@shanselman), Joe Stagner (@misfitgeek), Sara Ford (@saraford), and your local evangelists (that’s me – @jblankenburg), Jennifer Marsman (@jennifermarsman), Brian Prince (@brianhprince), and Bill Steele (@wjsteele). And then start following the people you meet. And the people you hear about. You’ll be surprised how many people you know are already on Twitter. But following them is not enough. You need to participate. Respond to Hanselman when he talks about something cool. Become part of the conversation, not just a listener.
The coolest part about Twitter is that people post EVERYTHING. It’s not just what they’re doing. It’s mostly they’re thinking and feeling. It’s a way to externalize that internal monologue that’s running in your head. I have said over and over that I feel like I know more about the people I follow on Twitter than some of my close friends. I know when people are sick, when they’re feeding their coffee addiction, when they’re frustrated with their work…it’s all there. And if people feel like they know you that well, they’re also likely to help you when you need help. Whether that’s to find a new gig, or just to figure out how to do something, somebody’s done it before.
7) Know When Others Are Talking About You
Our final step. If you’ve stuck with me through this novel of a post, you’re interested to know if there’s a way to measure your success. How do we define successful self-promotion? My definition, for the most part, is when I can get other people to talk about me. But how do we know when that happens? My tool for this is Google Alerts. Its simplicity is its strength.
Go there, and start creating alerts. Create one with your unique name. Create one with any common misspellings of your name. Create one with the name everyone calls you by. (Nobody calls Brian Prince by his unique name, Brian H. Prince, so you don’t want to miss these.) Create one with your Twitter handle. And create some that are on topics you’re interested in.
Google then takes these terms and sends you an email each time it finds something on the web that matches your search term. You get an alert within minutes sometimes of a mention of your name on the web. Here’s a look at my vain little list of alerts.
As you can see, I’ve got quite a few terms in there. Make sure to surround multi-word phrases (like your name) in quotation marks. That way you’re sure to get only things that have your name written the way you wrote it. I also alert things like domains that I own, and topics I’m following (like “Live Mesh”). All of these things then magically show up in my inbox when the Google bots find them. It’s an absolutely great service, and so simple to use.
I can’t emphasize enough that the point of this post is to help you in your professional career. I am not encouraging you to become an arrogant, unlikable person. Each of these suggestions are meant to help you come out of your shell and become recognized for the skills you already have. These tips are useful to differentiate you from the hundreds of other people that have a resume just like yours.
I hope you get something useful from this list that helps you make that next step in your career. And I’m always open to expanding this list if you have recommendations. How do you promote yourself?