This Washington, DC reader has changed careers multiple times and is stymied on how to explain her diverse story (different industries, different functional roles) in a way that resonates with recruiters, hiring managers, and her broader network:
I just read your article “Personal Rebranding: How To Be Seen Differently” as personal branding is something I have struggled with and something I am currently working on. About 3 years ago, I decided to switch careers to [a different industry] and it’s been a great experience! I am somewhat of a unicorn in that I have multiple skills which I am having a hard time “packaging” for recruiters and hiring managers. I find that, when I talk to recruiters, they want to quickly figure out what box I can fit into (sales? client services? operations? business development? project management?), and that approach is not working for me. Same with networking. I like the idea of having multiple personal brand stories to pull from. Can you help me get unstuck and think through how best to build my story?
With people living longer and therefore having longer careers, it’s more likely that today’s professional will change careers at least once, if not multiple times. With companies increasingly turning to contingent workers, and more people joining the gig economy, it’s more common for today’s professional to have an eclectic background. Therefore, this reader’s career path of multiple industries skills, and roles likely applies to more and more readers.
It is challenging to develop a succinct introductory pitch when you have held many jobs. It can be confusing for the listener when the jobs are very different. Finally, it can be confusing for you to constantly have to decide what to emphasize in your background, what to omit altogether, and how to embrace your variety of experiences within one compelling story. If you have many different industries and jobs in your background, here are four guidelines to help you package yourself into one coherent personal brand:
Don’t pitch to recruiters
I’m a recruiter and a multiple-time career changer, and I would never hire myself. My job as a recruiter is to find a clear fit for my client’s job opening – i.e., the round peg for the round hole My client can be imaginative and hire an unusual, “out-of-the-box” candidate, but the recruiter’s role is to find the obvious candidate. Therefore, a recruiter has no use for backgrounds that don’t follow obvious, traditional career paths – e.g., the banker with decades in banking for the banking job.
If you meet a recruiter at an event, find out first what they specialize in, and only talk about your experience in that area. If you don’t have experience in that area but you want to be considered, resist the urge to introduce yourself as someone with translatable skills. Recruiters can’t do anything with translatable – we look at proven only. You are better off referring someone who is excellent and 100% on point with what the recruiter does. This way, you demonstrate immediately that you understand their area, you showcase yourself as connected and savvy to how professional networking works, and you open the door for an ongoing relationship with this recruiter. Who knows? You may get relevant experience down the road that will cause the recruiter to change their mind about you, or you might tap the recruiter for market information, if not a direct lead.
Tailor your pitch to your audience
Talking to recruiters in a way that caters to their interests is an example of tailoring your pitch to your audience. When you have a varied background, tailoring your pitch to the specific things (whether a job, industry, or expertise) that your listener is interested in is ideal because you make it easy for the other person to relate to you. It’s easier to develop rapport with someone who shares the same interest.
This doesn’t preclude expanding the conversation to mention other jobs, industries, or expertise. When I’m giving a workshop to a working parents’ group, I introduce myself as married with two kids and two businesses. If I’m giving the same workshop – say, it’s about negotiation – to MBA’s interested in banking and consulting, I introduce myself as a former banker/ consultant. Both of those aspects of my background are true, but I’m packaging my introduction for maximum relatability and rapport. Invariably, I talk about my banking and consulting work to the parents and about my busy family life to the MBA’s, but by then, my value and credibility are already established.
If you can’t pick just one thing, pick one common thread
Sometimes you can’t focus your story because you’re sharing it to the general public, say on LinkedIn. Your LinkedIn summary, a professional bio that lives on your website, or an introduction you include in a speaker’s kit should include a comprehensive summary of your career. When your career is very varied, you can keep it coherent by sticking to a theme across your story .
For example, my career goes from piano to banking to consulting to recruiting to acting to media to entrepreneurship to a little bit of all my previous industries. When I tell it like a laundry list, it sounds scattered. When I introduce myself as a career change expert and extreme career changer myself, I give my story a hook that each distinct thread can relate to.
One client with an MD and an MBA branded as a bridge between the science and commercialization of biotech. Another client with financial services operations as her profession and multiple Board positions as her personal passion branded as a trusted advisor on spending. Her day job was advising hedge funds on back office costs, and her volunteer work included advising diverse non-profits on budget issues, so we picked the overlap in two seemingly different roles.
Package your story for your future, not your past
Keep in mind that the common thread worked for my financial services client because she ultimately wanted (and landed) a role advising institutions on investing. The science/ commercialization thread worked for my MD/ MBA because he wanted a general management role in biotech. My extreme career changer moniker works for me because my ideal client is an aspiring career changer. The best personal branding story packages you for what you want to do in the future, not just what you have done before.