OPINION: Escaping personal brandlessness

Saturday September 7 2019

 

A personal brand is the unique combination of skills, experience, and personality that differentiate one person from the rest.

Promoting and marketing this set is personal branding. Done well, personal branding can create highly unique and successful professionals. However, the water is deeper for the jacks of all trades; or rather, the ‘jacks of no trade’.

The onset of my inner question “who am I?” started during one of my Master’s degree courses in the UK when the lecturer said – don’t say in your CV that you are an IT specialist, because there is no such thing. Then who was I?

I had bagged a degree in Computer Science, worked in an IT department for almost three years, and in an effort to stoke the infernal in which poverty was burning, had left my job to go for further education.

But then, outside the comforting boundaries of my former job - who, really, was I? A programmer? A software-engineer? A database administrator? I was taught all these things in university, but had become none.

I almost hated people who asked what was my expertise because of the way they awakened the devil that screamed mediocrity to my face. Was I an application support specialist? Or a systems specialist? Maybe.

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But only for some institutionalized applications and systems. The bottom-line was that I had no brand. I had no strong technical skills.

At best, I was a jack of all trades, a master of none.

The reality in today’s workplace is that a vast majority of the workforce belong in the same dustbin that I then scrambled to escape.

The IT field in particular, especially in Tanzania, is the most notorious for breeding what I call brandless professionals. Maybe it’s more of a problem with the people joining the field than the field itself; but in either case, more young people need to kickstart the “what is my brand” discussion. How?

1. Brainstorm. The most important stage in creating a personal brand is analysis of one strengths and weaknesses. Questions such as: In which areas of work do I excel; What motivates me; What characteristics have others complimented me on; Which tasks seem to drain my energy; Which tasks can I spend hours on without feeling overwhelmed; are great eye openers. Colleagues and friends are resources in providing answers.

2. Forecast and adjust. We often ask children what they want to become in future but forget that the question is even more important in adulthood. Is whatever you are doing now in line with what you want to become in ten or twenty years?

3. Create an online presence. The resume-only approach to hiring will someday phase out completely, given the increasing trends of employers using social networks to prospect for potential candidates.

How positioned are the sons and daughters of Tanzania for this transition? Taking a professional headshot and using it across all networks such as Google, LinkedIn and Facebook, is a great starting point. Then, beef-up the LinkedIn profile to depict values, strengths and successes.

4. Eat the frog. The often-dreadful question “Who am I” must continuously be used as a self-assessment tool. It is very easy especially after getting employment to be comfortable in the routine of doing admin work, or any other work for that matter, which does not build any strong, long term, and reusable skills. Whether it takes having to change jobs or making it a side hustle to build long term skills, every effort count.

5. Authority. What does your online and offline content say about you? Are you only a selfie-taker or are you involved in something else, something more meaningful?

While professions such as auditors, economists, programmers, etc., are more clear-cut and only need some fine-tuning to firm the personal brand part, many careers have large grey areas of brand-lessness.

The best strategy towards creating an outstanding personal brand is to choose and become skilled in a particular area of focus, let it evolve overtime, and keep abreast the important health-check questions.