On self-branding and being a tool

Pardon the following digression, I will return to cycling and cooking after this brief hissy fit.

I received a recent email from YNPNdc, which contained an announcement for the following event:

Self-branding: A Networking Tool for Success
Brought to you by Opportunity Knocks, this interactive YNPNdc session will enable you to establish your own personal brand, a must in today’s competitive job market. Additionally, Opportunity Knocks will provide all attendees access at no charge to a copy of the On-Demand Webinar “Using Social Media to Find a Nonprofit Job.”

And it irritated the hell out of me. People are not and should not be brands.

Call me old-fashioned, but careers are built on relationships between real people interacting with each other in real time. Those relationships develop through a series of jobs in which a person does good work, hopefully with and for good people. The relationships that make up a career are not always easy. There will be people you encounter that will be difficult to work with. But you find a way to work with them or around them, and if you can’t, you leave and go to a place where those relationships function more smoothly.

I guess seminars like these were inevitable: If brands twitter and politicians and celebrities hire people to twitter for them (to make sure their “messaging” is consistent) then why shouldn’t the average person brand themselves?

Because to paraphrase Edan Lepucki on The Millions , you are more than a facebook profile, linked in profile or twitter feed. And time spent doing those is time not spent having real-time, real-space interaction with your colleagues, friends and family–the very people who best know your strengths and weaknesses and whose connections almost always land you your next job.

Maybe my reaction to this is stems from my Midwestern upbringing and “the fear of being caught thinking you’re special.” Self-branding strikes me as not only being caught thinking you are special, but flagrantly touting it. Quoting from Edan Lepucki’s piece above, “It reminds me of when I used to do dance routines and little plays for my mom.  ‘Look!’  I’d yell every few seconds.  ‘You’re NOT watching! Look!'” While Edan was referring to the need to constantly update facebook and/or twitter rather than self-branding, I think this story is relevant here: Edan was more focused on getting attention than on doing the dance routine (i.e. the actual work).

Brands are a contrived thing of colors, fonts, memorable names, catch phrases, products, etc. that are meant to appeal to a specific audience who will buy into them.  In other words, brands are tools for making a company money. Brands don’t actually do the work themselves, so they don’t feel responsible when things go awry (although they often take credit when things go right.) In that respect, brands are like politicians–they don’t ever really apologize for anything (as in “Mistakes were made” rather than “I made a mistake.”) If careers are built on relationships, then they require you to be responsible (i.e. actually do work) and to be responsive to criticism (i.e. when you make mistakes.)

So branding yourself is not a path to building a career. It is a path to being a tool.

2 thoughts on “On self-branding and being a tool

  1. I interview people for jobs pretty regularly. A lot of applicants are really well-branded. The well-branded ones tend to be well-branded because if you go to their intellectual and professional cupboards, it’s bare. All hat, no cattle.

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