Are You My Personal Brand?

Personal branding has become one of today’s most talked about topics. What image best defines me? How do I maintain this image, improve it, not lose it? Should my image be permanent or does it morph as I age or take on different roles? How do others describe me? How do I describe myself? Do I hold values so true that others would associate those values with my own name? Can I be defined by a single word or short sentence? My head is spinning - get me off this ride!

Years ago, when my oldest daughter was asked to share in kindergarten what her mother does, she did not hesitate. She confidently responded, “my mother talks a lot and fires people.”  While true (don’t judge!), she had a defined image of me. She knew my personal brand. Did this mean that she thought I was Frank Underwood? Did I even want to be Frank Underwood? Come on, who doesn’t want to be Kevin Spacey for a day?

But why didn’t I know my personal brand? Children know right away how to describe anyone. Adults overthink.

I remember being in a deposition a couple years ago. The opposing counsel asked what made me qualified to be promoted to my current role?” Counsel was essentially asking for me to describe my personal brand. I responded, “I’m a good worker.” Holy crap! First thing out of my mouth is I’m a good worker? I couldn’t even describe my kick-ass self with anything better than I’m a good worker? As women, are we reticent to proudly describe our awesome selves?

As my career took different twists and turns. I went from a consultant that talked a lot and fired people to the first female to lead a toll road in Ohio to the first non-veteran to lead a large veteran organization. All were incredible learning opportunities, but an unfortunate thing happened along the way. I forgot to take the time to develop or define myself. I was so busy and tired from working 60+ hour work weeks that I didn’t take the time to engage in meaningful networking or to attend conferences and learn, both of which are important to personal branding.

Up until this point my brand was intertwined with where I worked. I didn’t understand there needed to be a distinction between the employer’s brand and my personal brand. I think many of us have fallen into this trap.  It wasn’t until forming my own business that everyday became a scene out of Dr. Seuss’s Are You My Mother? I was suddenly the baby bird on a desperate search for my mother! I never gave personal branding any thought until I started my own consulting company and had to define what I do and what sets me apart.

But here’s the thing, while seemingly trendy right now, personal branding is very important for women. We need to be able to confidently describe ourselves without hesitation. We add value everyday and we hold values that should be easily definable by others AND ourselves.

I asked my youngest daughter how she would describe me. Without hesitation, she said I fix things and make everything better. I’ve come to realize that I do, in fact, fix things. And that’s my personal brand. As a mother, wife, worker - I fix things. Maybe it’s fixing dinner, solving homework problems or repairing a bad work situation for a client - all of which are important - but I fix things. And I’m damn good at it.

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Robin Carlin

Robin Carlin is the owner/principal consultant of Rustbelt HR, which she founded after holding a succession of leadership roles in operations and human resources. She was the first female Executive Director of the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission and served on the leadership team in 2013-2014 to secure $1B in bond financing appearing before all three rating agencies (Moody, Standard & Poor, Fitch). She led significant operational change at the Ohio Veterans Home and prior to that was a management consultant specializing in labor relations and board development. Experienced in both the private and public sectors, Robin helps organizations fix their HR challenges.

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