By Olga Pougovikna
You may think that pitching or ‘selling’ yourself is confined to specific occasions like networking events and job interviews. In reality however, we are constantly connecting with others and leaving an impression of ourselves. Whether you work in a large corporate company or you are a freelancer, creating a strong image that will be associated with you is essential to help you build professional relationships and find exciting opportunities. In this post I will look into why it’s important to have a personal brand and how to start building it.
Have you noticed how you remember someone more vividly than others from a networking event? Or a time when there is a specific person that you immediately think of if an exciting project idea hits you?
On the other hand, have you also experienced cases when you hear others being approached for projects or work that would have been an ideal fit for you? These times when you end up questioning yourself why they didn’t think of asking you? There’s no chance behind it. The person leaving the strongest impression on you at an event had a compelling story to tell that hooked you. The person you think of for a specific opportunity has made it clear to you in the past that they would be interested and have the necessary skills. And the reason why you didn’t get that appealing offer is because you didn’t make it clear that you would have been the best pick.
When it comes to great opportunities, it’s not enough to have an updated LinkedIn account and rely solely on public (job) postings. It’s also not enough just to have a strong network. Additional to all, you need to have a distinguishable signature known to your network from which it is clear what your interests, expertise and aspirations are, so that you can be found when opportunities arise. Think of it from the perspective of Bluetooth technology where you can’t pair devices until you make them discoverable. Similar to that, having great skills and knowledge will not be of much help if people don’t know about you. Creating a distinct image of yourself is a dynamic process as it’s something that you continuously shape and adjust based on your evolving experience and interests.
Before you can effectively communicate who you are to others, you need to know it for yourself and be able to express it in a concise and clear form. This is more difficult than may seem at first sight as it requires deep self-knowledge. After all, who you are isn’t limited by your job title or your PhD research topic. Sharing only this superficial information will blend you with the rest of the crowd and yet this is often all that we tell about ourselves when meeting others.
To bring this into perspective, compare the following two statements:
“I am a molecular PhD biology student working in lab X on topic Y.”
“I’m doing my PhD on topic Y where I gained a lot of expertise in Z. I collaborate with several other groups to apply my findings in medical context. I’m fascinated by finding new potential therapeutic targets in oncology and would really like to continue working in this field in a biotech company.”
They both describe the same person, but do you notice how the second version tells much more about skills and interests? The more personal information you add to your introduction the more connection you will be able to achieve.
You can practice forming your pitch by giving a short catchy description of what you do and aspire to every time you are asked about it whether it is in work context or with family and friends. Getting your message straightforward and conceptual so that it can be understood by a wide audience will make it easier to be grasped and remembered. So, keep experimenting and remember that it doesn’t have to be perfect from the first time. Try to notice which aspects catch attention and lead to questions tweaking your story until you feel that it accurately represents you and connects you with others.
It’s good to have a strong story behind you, but without actions to back it up it will only be words. Creating solid reputation will surely take longer than coming up with an opening statement about yourself, however building a personal brand is like long-term investing from the point that it takes consistent effort and patience.
So, what does this mean in practice? It all comes down to working diligently and becoming an expert in your field as there are no real shortcuts to it. If you are consistently achieving great results at whatever you say you are good in, this will become known and accepted with time.
There is also no point in building an attractive story if you don’t believe in it. Therefore, when talking about things that interest and drive you, be honest avoiding the temptation of adapting your story to something that will be widely approved or to what you think others would want to hear. If you don’t truly stand behind your words, it will be visible to others and they won’t trust you. Therefore, if you say that you are passionate about something, really be it. If you don’t feel like you can use your current work for inspiration (feeling tired of drudging through the last year of your PhD or you are in a job that you don’t enjoy), focus on things outside of your work that you aspire to like, your future plans or side projects. Remember, that your current job doesn’t have to define you.
The take home message that I would like to give, is that working hard and being good at what you do is important, but it’s not enough for a truly successful career. There are so many aspects that are based on social interactions and having the right representation of yourself within your network is essential. However, don’t panic if you haven’t been working on networking and building your personal brand up until now. Introducing subtle changes can have a substantial long-term effect. The most important step is to start.
Olga Pougovikna, Senior Scientist
Olga joined the bio-pharmaceutical industry after obtaining her PhD in Medical Biochemistry. While finishing her PhD she faced the challenges of making career choices and transitioning into industry. This inspired her to start postphdcareer.com where she shares information about career development after a PhD.