I remember the day my boss told me I would never be an engineer. I was sitting on an itchy gray wool sofa in a glass-walled conference room, hands under my knees, eyes on the floor. I looked up startled at the words: “You want to be an engineer, don’t you? Well, you’re never going to be one.” The possibility had actually never crossed my mind, which made the accusation more intriguing than insulting, so I just laughed and shrugged it off. Looking back, I see the young woman on that couch. And while I hardly recognize her, I know now that she is a future engineer.
I got hired. Three magical words. It sounds so simple, but the process itself often feels like a fragile house of cards, capable of collapse after one wrong move. That said, understanding the hiring process as a process is definitely the right way to approach things. There are steps you need to take, and one success leads to the next, until finally, the BIG success. The three words. I got hired.
Grit. The word seems to be everywhere, and every hiring manager and recruiter seems to be on the lookout for candidates who possess it. But don’t be suspicious of it as a trend—grit is real, and it’s an important trait to nurture within yourself.
But is it everything?
The Biggest Skill You Need
We are in an age when all job-seekers must understand personal branding, and everyone must be a lifelong learner to succeed. What then, do we make of advice like this?
“The biggest skill you need to have these days is curiosity.”
Marketers love to talk about “brand.” So do recruiters. Company brand, personal brand. In the weeks leading up to—and in the days following—the Super Bowl, everyone talks about brand. Which means, whether anyone realizes it or not, everyone is talking about storytelling. This year’s assortment of Super Bowl ads were heavy on story-as-brand. A recent Forbes article noted that:
- Some companies are using their ads to make a political statement (intentionally or not).
- There seem to be more ads focusing on the brand level instead of individual products.
For some, this was a successful approach. For others, not so much. One thing we can all agree on, is that story works, when it comes to provoking emotion. Whether you liked the Audi and Coke ads or not, chances are you discussed them. A very good friend of mine worked on the Airbnb ad, which was a textbook example of story-as-brand in action, and by almost all accounts, a very successful version thereof.
But what does this have to do with getting a job?
If you’re a job-seeker, you’re probably familiar with the term “personal brand.” What this refers to essentially, is the “public” you. Your personal brand is a composite of all the things publicly available about you, that together comprise a representation of you, as seen through the eyes of recruiters and hiring managers.
There are countless articles out there about how to create, maintain, build, and enhance your personal brand:
These are just a few examples. Keep searching, and you’ll keep finding more. But don’t keep searching. Instead, put your writing cap on. Because at the end the of the day, it all comes down to telling your story.
Telling Your Story
I can already hear you say it: I’m not a writer! That’s ok. The actual writing is for your eyes only. What the public sees will be the expressions and manifestations of what you wrote.
Here’s how it works. Start a document, and create two columns.
In Column A, try and write down demonstrable accomplishments and experiences that others pursuing similar career goals would likely be able to list as well. Degrees and credentials earned. Skills mastered. Roles previously held. Projects built. And so forth.
In Column B, try and write down demonstrable accomplishments and experiences that are more likely to be unique to you, but that still relate—at least tangentially—to your career goals. For example: Places you’ve traveled. People you’ve worked with. Articles you’ve written. Awards you’ve received. Internships you’ve held. Talents you possess. Obstacles you’ve overcome.
Now, forget about Column A completely. Your job is to write Column B. And remember, this is for your eyes only. It’s not the movie. It’s just the script. Don’t worry too much about grammar, tone, etc. Just keep it simple. Start with an introduction that summarizes what’s to come. Follow this with one brief paragraph for each accomplishment/experience that you listed (no more than 4-5). Then, write a conclusion that summarizes why what you’ve listed is relevant to your career goals.
Your Script For Success
This document is what you’re going to use to optimize your personal brand. It will be your sanity check, and your source of truth. It’s your script for success. Here’s a use case to show you what we mean:
Do you have a Twitter account? Yes? Good. Go look at it. Look at EVERY aspect of your Twitter account, and ask yourself, is it in line with your script? Does your photo LOOK like the person you talk about in your script? What about the header image? How about the short bio? Does your bio sound like your script? Now, go look at your own tweets. Does every single one support your script? If yes, good. If not, don’t do those anymore. If you need to send tweets that aren’t in line with your script, create another Twitter account, and use that account for your “non-script” tweeting. And name that account something VERY different from your “personal brand” name. Same approach for curated (i.e. retweeted) content. Share what fits your script. Don’t share the other stuff. Or, share it from your other account.
Once your Twitter is optimized, do the same with your LinkedIn. Your Quora. Your Facebook. Your blog. Your website. Anything and everything. You, the person, are now a story. Stick to that story.
Let’s go back to Airbnb for a moment. Here’s the statement at the core of their 30-second Super Bowl ad:
“We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful the more you accept.”
What does this have to do with Airbnb as a business? Think about it in terms of Columns A and B. Obviously this is Column B territory. What does Airbnb do that’s different? They believe in travel as an experience. They believe in lodging as a connection to place. They believe in the world as a global platform for cross-cultural engagement and interaction. If this ad succeeds, it does so as an expression of their Column B script.
When ads like this DON’T work, it’s because people perceive there to be a disconnect between the expression of the story, and the reality of the story. Read some of the criticisms of Coke’s Super Bowl ad, and you’ll see what I mean.
Your Personal Brand, On Brand
Here is what you want to do when it comes to storytelling and your personal brand. You want to understand, and be able to enunciate to yourself, what the reality of your story is. Then, you need to create and maintain the public-facing expressions and manifestations of this story, such that it’s always all in perfect alignment.
Marketers love to talk about being “on brand.” Oddly enough, recruiters don’t. But it’s how they choose who they choose all the same.
Some might say we’re currently experiencing the triumph of technology companies. Others might say this is actually the end of them. A recent Medium post by Rob Thomas (Vice President, Products, IBM Analytics) is in fact entitled exactly that—The End of Tech Companies. In it Thomas writes:
The era of “tech companies” is over; there are only ‘companies’, steeped in technology, that will survive.
Data-driven hiring models are increasingly able to include and assess soft skills, so it’s critical that students and job-seekers understand how this impacts and informs the process of building a successful candidate brand.
Hard skills are generally defined as those teachable skills that can be measured and quantified. Soft skills, on the other hand, are understood to be more subjective—these are the qualities and attributes we tend to think of as comprising “people skills.” Traditionally, soft skills are considered much harder to quantify.
So can soft skills really be assessed using data? The answer is: Yes.
Udacity supports students from a variety of backgrounds, including many who are returning to the workforce. Today we highlight the career story of Kate Rotondo, an iOS Nanodegree Course Manager here at Udacity. After taking 5 years off to raise a family, Kate successfully overcame the challenges of re-entering the job market. In our interview below, Kate details her journey, and offers her advice on how to maintain your skills, grow your network, and ace the interview cycle.