Personal Branding is Broken (Lessons From Getting The Job I Wanted)

I first understood the concept of branding after going through the process of trying to get a job that doesn’t actually exist. Weirdly enough, I was branding myself thinking my boss would be fictional lawyer.

Strangely enough, I wanted to be one of the guys on that show “Suits”. The one with the lawyers in high-pressure situations wearing (you guessed it) fancy suits. The plan was to go to work for Harvey Spectre when I wasn’t a lawyer and he doesn’t exist.

Naturally, I went for the closest thing to that I could find.

Branding myself was a big part of eventually landing this job.

My approach worked. I got a job at a creative-tech company that did wonderful work.

The environment was high-pressure, I learned a lot, did much growing, and got to experience life after university. The best part was that it was all based on what I actually wanted, instead of something I had to settle for (like getting a random job).

The experience; however, was certainly different than expected. Avoiding any mention of bad or good, I’ll use the word “different” because my expectations at the time weren’t clear. Personal branding helped, the problem was that I did it in all the wrong ways, with long-term repercussions. The job was later defined as a “fruitless success” in a 3000-word reflection on my time at that company.

Personal Branding: What Not To Do

This is what I wanted from my work:

  • I wanted a role in business development (sales and partnerships)
  • I wanted a high-pressure environment that ensured my growth.
  • I wanted to expand my knowledge-base at a company with many capabilities.

That list is a reflection of everything wrong with how to start the personal branding journey. I’m saying this after getting everything I wanted on that list by the way.

Everything is all about what I “want”, which doesn’t last. Brands are not about what we want, they’re about what we value; our dreams and hopes, not our plans for the weekend. A personal brand is the same; we connect with people who care about what we care about, have what we want, and believe what we believe.

It’s fixed on a goal that I “achieved”, with a clear ending. Get a job and be done, right? That’s broken. Brands are not about ends, they are journeys. The goal is to continue for as long as possible.

For now, I will only share exactly how I got that job, and some practical lessons learned after doing so. I’ll link to my full post on personal branding at a later time.

Getting A Job With Personal Branding (and an anonymous blog):

  1. Research:

My research phase was spent analyzing Harvey Spectre and going deep into his psyche. The intention was to understand what the writers (of the show) and the actor would have believed was in the character’s psyche — more than than what was just shown on camera.

I learned what would make him want to hire someone and what qualities I had that would make me look like a good fit for it. Everything about my research and analysis was focused on connecting the on-screen actions with what I believed he would have been thinking.

Why? Research helps understand what matters and what doesn’t. Connecting with an audience means understanding them. It’s easy when you are like your audience. If I was looking to get a job with my peers, writing about what they cared about (see below), would be easy. I was not familiar with this character; nor what he cared about, so there was much research involved.

What about the branding? That followed shortly afterwards. The research gave me the values, beliefs, culture, use of language — pretty much everything. Branding became a matter of articulating my understanding of those situations, and connecting my thoughts with what I believed Harvey would have thought (writing them down on a blog).

Of course, none of this was real.

I took a big gamble: I believed that if I put everything out into the world accordingly, based on this research, I would find the next closest thing. Worked out.

  1. Execution:

My “execution” was starting a Squarespace blog and crafting a series of essays about human nature. I called it “Social Intelligence for Rational Minds”. It was positioned as skimmable, but in-depth content; somewhere between academic research and savage, highly polarizing quotes. It was published anonymously, but I did share it with close friends.

The “brand” was what I was saying and how I was saying it. The consistent messages and tone created an impression in the hearts and minds of other people. That reputation expanded, and the brand followed from what I was writing. As my research had focused on particular values and beliefs (Harvey’s), I made sure what I was writing and my tone matched what I thought he’d want to see.

My peers didn’t understand where I was coming from. Some agreed with the content but felt it was “too much” and sensationalized (despite the academic-style research). Ironically, C-suite executives, directors, and successful entrepreneurs were the exact opposite. My theory that successful business-people would want an in-depth analysis of human nature was correct.

  1. Results:

One friend showed it to the Partnerships Director at my last company, where we had a very unique kind of success for about 12–18 months (a story for another time). Ultimately it’s not as glamorous as it sounds and; in fact, we did a lot of things wrong.

Nonetheless, one person showed my blog to another who wanted to talk to me right away. We spoke on the phone for a job (among several other things), but I actually turned him down the first time.

I turned it down because I was still figuring out which opportunity was right for me. Comfortable at the time, I didn’t need to take a risk. This was a modest pay-cut at the beginning (but with upside if I performed well, so I was told).

It just didn’t feel right at the time.

This mutual friend of ours came back to me and reminded me of what I wanted (see the list above), and it was clear that what I was doing was more or less unfulfilling (I worked at a bank).

Turns out that the Director had asked this mutual friend of ours for help. He asked him to convince me to go for the job. It worked, I got the job, and the journey started.

Connecting my story with our personal brands:

Personal branding to me was about publishing what other people wanted to read; in turn, those people would share the opportunities I wanted. While that’s been proven to work, it didn’t last.

What I needed to be sharing was a series of essays that made clear arguments by documented my journey, thoughts, values, and beliefs in a way that either helped people or inspired them to help themselves. For most people, essays are overkill. I get that, but that’s my approach. Detailed, precise, useful, and often a little “out-there” so I’ve been told.

Practically, because I’m focused on commercial opportunities, I see “personal branding” to help with that, and to help us achieve “success”.

The issue is that these individual goals have to be part of the journey, not the reason you start.

As a sneak peak to the full article, here how I’m (considering), Branding ought to be defined.

Branding: The median thoughts and feelings people have for a subject, like a person or a company; and, shaping people’s collective imagination on that same subject’s values, beliefs, and actions.

I believe strongly that branding is about sharing values and beliefs. That’s my good marketing looks at psychographics instead of demographics. That’s also why when we think about what a hotel from Nike might look like, we already have a lot to go on, and we can understand who might go there, what the amenities might be, what it might look like, and more.

That’s what Nike’s done with their brand. They’ve shaped our collective imagination on their company to the point where we can identify with their values so clearly that we already know what their hotel might look like (and who might stay there). More importantly, we can already see who wouldn’t.

How do you define branding?

Thanks for reading, let me know your thoughts.


Trying to find the words.