By Jennifer Carter, President of EWF International
Our 4-part series on Building Your Network focuses on these key areas:
- Part 1: Focusing on the engine. The power of a deep network, setting your goals, clearly defining success, and mastering “the ask” and “the offer”.
- Part 2: Honing your brand. Identifying and honing your introductions and basis of your influence.
- Part 3: Choosing your targets. Where and with whom should you network, impactful ways to network, and how to become an effective connector.
- Part 4: Planning, measurement, and making adjustments. How to know when you’re networking successfully, and when to pivot.
This article is part 2 in our Building Your Network series.
Spoiler alert: this article is not about becoming a Kardashian.
In an age of social media celebrities and being famous for being famous, the notion of “personal brand” has taken on a hue of relentless self-promotion. When we talk about “personal brand” in our Emerging Leaders Program, we’re not talking about that version. We’re talking about the art of self-advocacy, of articulating the gifts you bring to the workplace, and describing how those add value – for your team and your career.
Go beyond beige
I network as part of my business. This means I hear a lot of introductions. Most of them are some version of this: “I’m so-and-so, and I’m a blah-blah-blah for company X.”
I nod. Everyone nods. Nowhere to go with that.
This is what I call a “beige introduction.” It doesn’t have anything to grab onto; there’s nowhere to take the conversation. It’s like the color beige: just ok. Not memorable. Background. This is the exact opposite of what you want to accomplish. Effective networking is being memorable and building relationships of reciprocity. To do this, you have to get past “beige” and add some color. This is where your personal brand comes in.
In our Emerging Leaders Program, we call the basis of this your “superpower.” Your superpower is one part training, one part experience, one part talent, and one part moxie. It’s the constant thread across your work experience, roles, and – most importantly – your accomplishments.
Your superpower is not a set of tasks. It’s not a job function, or simply your area of expertise. It’s your approach to accomplishing things, and how you uniquely add value, no matter the task.Identifying and being able to articulate it matters both inside and outside your organization – because if you don’t tell your story, someone else will.
Discovering your superpower
Discovering your own superpower can be tough. When you’re inside the frame, it’s hard to see the picture. So grab a group of associates, friends, mentors, and closely held colleagues, and collaborate on helping discover each other’s superpowers.
Key questions to help get you started:
- How do others talk about you? Introduce you?
- How do you introduce / describe yourself to others (particularly those you’re trying to impress)?
- What makes you feel accomplished?
- Think about your very best days – do they have something in common?
- Think about all the things you’re good at – is there a common thread?
- HOW are you doing what you do?
Maybe you’re really good at pattern recognition, which makes you able to create efficiency and optimize processes. Maybe you’re very intuitive, and read people well, which makes you a great voice of the customer. Maybe you’re great at understanding complex problems and finding multiple solutions. Maybe you have a knack for bringing feuding parties to the table and finding resolution. Maybe you’re a whiz with financials. Whatever your superpower, it’s helping you be successful.
Be as specific as possible, and think about what you’re really good at. Go back and check out our post on the dangers of focusing on “flexibility” and “filling gaps” as a superpower. Revisit this article for more on focusing on your impact.
It’s not enough to know your superpower; you must connect it to business outcomes. You need to make your superpower meaningful in terms of outcomes and impacts. Once you’ve identified your superpower, think about these questions:
- Why is that valuable?
- To you
- To your team
- To your function
- To your organization
- How does it drive outcomes?
- How does it help your team or company:
- Make money
- Reduce costs
- Adapt to change
- Run smoothly
Connecting your superpower to the outcome is crucial to making it meaningful (rather than just bragging or empty self-promotion).
Back to that networking introduction. Are you sticking with beige? If so, STOP IT. Use your superpower to provide the raw materials for your professional introduction or “pitch”. My professional introduction has two main versions, depending on the audience:
- Individual prospects: “I elevate the careers of ambitious women.”
- Company prospects: “I help companies build competitive advantage through women.”
What I’ve done here is directly tie my superpowers – which are all about using insight to solve tough problems, help others achieve their potential, and boost company performance – and tied them directly to my field, my target market, and the impacts of what I do.
My goal: to get the other person to say, “tell me more.”
Once you’ve built your professional pitch, you can use this as your LinkedIn headline, at networking events, in email introductions. A really good one can be hugely impactful. When I changed my LinkedIn headline to a more effective pitch, my engagement went up 30%!
Another example: a relatively junior mentee of mine went to a networking event with me recently. His introduction was a version of beige: “I’m a software developer for Company X.” It also undersold what he actually does. So I suggested that he work with something like, “I build digital experiences that help our clients get and keep their customers’ attention.” He practiced different versions of it throughout the event, and even landed a meeting with a prospective client for his employer!
All by going beyond the beige.
Want more information, guidance, and practice identifying your personal brand, honing your professional introduction, and learning how to advocate for yourself? Check out our Emerging Leaders Program! Want tips on how to get your company to invest in your development? Check out our playbook.
Stay tuned for next month’s installment in our “Building Your Network” series, which will focus on choosing your networking targets.
Go back and review last month’s article on “Focusing on the engine”, which covered with the power of a deep network, setting your goals, clearly defining success, and mastering “the ask” and “the offer”.