Branding doesn’t really hurt

Branding. When you see that word, especially with the word “personal” in front of it, what do you think?

The columnist Liz Ryan had this to say about personal branding in a recent post of hers:

“The branding mistake 90% of job seekers make is this: they don’t brand themselves for the jobs they want. They brand themselves as collections of skills and credentials that don’t add up to a whole, strong and vibrant person.”

That is the crux of the matter with most people according to Ryan. And I share her thinking.

It is human nature to:

  • say what we have done, rather than who we are
  • be a jumble of skills and experiences rather than a curated collection of great things you are
  • want to say what someone else wants to hear, rather than stand out when it is needed

I have met a lot of people who don’t feel comfortable with the whole idea of personal branding. I get it. Most of us don’t learn a lot about branding in our schooling and work. It is not that different than personal investing. Many people are uncomfortable with personal financial planning, not necessarily because it is wrong, but because so many of the terms are foreign to us.

Think about it. Branding has a lot of definitions that “don’t apply to me”. Branding is what Coke, Nike or Budweiser do. We might even understand why people like LeBron James or Beyonce or the Kardashians brand themselves. Heck, it is what is done to cattle to mark them. Why would branding apply to me?

I think the simple answer is this. You are trying to clearly communicate to someone who does not know you why you would be awesome at what they are looking for. Let me make that simpler. You are trying to help a hiring manager find YOU, the right person for the problem they need solved.

That’s right. Your personal brand, in a job seeking role, is simply to HELP SOMEONE ELSE. Think about the overworked hiring manager or HR person. They have to look through hundreds of resumes for one job. Maybe they do a LinkedIn search and end up with hundreds of potential names. Now they have to sift through the proverbial haystack to find the needle they need.

Do you want to be the haystack or the needle?

I think it is critical to change your mindset about branding. It is not bragging. It is not restricting your options. It is not dumbing down your experiences. It is not “fluff”. It is your way of helping someone else understand you – and what you can do for them. You have what they are looking for. Tell them in clear, compelling language. Make sure they understand the opportunity.

Need some help with your career branding? I would be glad to talk with you.



Long days, short years

“The days are long, but the years are short.”

That is the ending of a short video by the author Gretchen Rubin. That got me thinking about the reality of that statement.

Life rushes at us in so many directions. We are always in a hurry to “do something” or “watch this” or “get on that social media platform”. On the other hand, some days seem to drag on forever. I think that for me, most school days seemed to never end. How about the day before Christmas when you were a young child? Unfortunately for many of us, most days at work seem so long.

That phrase that got me thinking was the “years are short”. A couple stories immediately came to mind that reinforced that sentiment.

I can remember driving my son, Nathan, his friend, Nick and a friend of mine’s daughter, Madeline, to school their freshman year. Nate and Nick were freshmen boys who had known each other a long time. Great kids, but a little goofy and perhaps a little immature (what freshman boy isn’t?). Madeline was new to all of us, having never met before we got in the car that first day of school. At first, the awkward silence was deafening. So, I would do my best to engage Madeline. I tried to learn about her and her family. Madeline’s dad told me he did the same with Nate and Nick when he drove. It was an awkward time for sure. I suspect those drives were really long for the kids.

As the school year went by, the three of them became great friends. The silence of September became the laughing, joking, rollicking March. Madeline “got” Nate and Nick for what they were, and she became part of Nate and Nick’s “group”. I did not need to ask questions, they conversed, joked with each other and were loud. I will never forget those times because of the transformation and growth of the kids. Once sophomore year came and they could drive themselves, the short year was over.

Rose was mentioning this same thing a while back. When our son Luke went to Butler University, he did not need a car. So Rose would pick him up when he returned home for a weekend or a holiday. She cherished those moments. “I had him all to myself for two hours and he talked about all kinds of things”. Luke being the youngest in a boisterous family, was always the most quiet growing up.  The opportunity to be alone and talk with him was a rare treat. Then he got a summer job at school, needed a car and those rides ended.

I could talk about similar stories with Courtney (soccer practices) and Stephen (basketball), but that is not the point. (However, if I did not include them in this post, I would be told I was “playing favorites”).

I hope you have stories like those in your life, too.

So what does this have to do with work and careers?


If you are working so hard that you never have these experiences, I hope you will reconsider. It is time to get some work/life blend in your life. If work gets you down so much that you do not remember good times, change needs to happen. Work should not be a drag on your mental state.

If you find yourself looking up from your desk one day and wondering, “how did I ever get here? And, why am I here?”, it is not too late to change. Yes, many years might have passed by, but you have a lot of years ahead of you.

If someone asks “what you do”, and you cringe at the thought of talking about your work, that is a signal. You have the power to change. Don’t let another year pass by. Use those “long days” to find a new path for yourself.

Same words, different interpretations. No job?

Do you ever think about how words might have different meanings depending on the person? And how that might impact your ability to get the job you want?

Here is a simple example. If you say the word “football” in the USA, most people will have the same definition. But around the world, football is a totally different game played with totally different rules. Same word, totally different viewpoints. Confusion if you are not clear. You might even be ignored because of your definition.

How does this play out in career discussions? You have one definition in your mind, the interviewer has a totally different definition in theirs. Guess what? Only their definition matters in an interview. You need to be conscious of that difference.

Some examples

  • You have a PhD, multiple degrees or lots of certifications. From your perspective, you are a life-long learner. You strive to know as much as you can in a particular field of study. Or, you decided to expand your knowledge in a new area. You believe it shows commitment to learning and a desire to better yourself.

Unfortunately, your interviewer, or the person screening applicants, might think that same person has a lot of potential negatives. You are an intellectual who is not grounded in real-world thinking. The PhD/multiple degrees person is going to want to be paid a substantial premium in pay due to their extra degree. You are not “practical”, you are too “theoretical”.

  • You like to talk about how you “assisted” in developing and delivering a marketing program. If you know anything about sports, the assist maker is a vital role. That is the person who sets up the other person to make the “score” happen.

But in the business world, “assist” can be doubt-inducing. Did you really do anything? Or, were you simply helping the real doers get stuff done. Did you have an accountability?

  • You talk about your experience “managing projects”. I have even heard people use the phrase “I get projects done on time, on budget”. You believe this shows you have the ability to gather a lot of inputs and get things done.

But perhaps your interviewer is looking for a hands-on project manager, someone who understands the specific tasks (and could do them if needed) as well as manages the full project. They think you have simply “managed” the project but did not have the understanding of what needed to be done. Or, their biggest concern is that issues get handled without escalation to senior leadership. The two of you have different definitions of “managing”.

  • You consider yourself a “good team leader.” You “get the most out of the people that work for you”. From your standpoint, this says you are able to maximize productivity. You know how to get people to work together towards a common goal. Certainly every good organization wants leaders who can get the most out of people.

For the interviewer, good team leader may simply mean that people like you personally. They might be concerned that you will sacrifice business goals in order to satisfy employee goals. Perhaps their organization has motivated, trained people who really need a manager who can speak the technical jargon with them. Maybe their emphasis is on a team leader who can translate business’ needs to the staff, not “get the most out of people”. If they think you are a “people person” when they need a “process person”, you are talking past each other.

So how do you ensure we are talking the same language?

Know your audience. The HR person is probably going to have a different perspective than the hiring manager or the boss’ boss. Try to understand their perspective.

Ask clarifying questions. Make sure you are talking about the same item. None of the skills I wrote about above are “bad”. They just may be misdirected or misinterpreted. Don’t allow that to happen.

Prepare ahead of time, preferably with a second person who can listen from a different frame of reference. Set it up so that the other person knows you are looking for them to have a contrarian viewpoint. Many people practice answering interview questions, but they play both roles – the person asking and the person answering. It’s hard to confuse yourself! Preferably, talk with someone who is trained in interviewing.

Ready for a Road Trip?

Doesn’t a Road Trip sound like fun?

One year when I was teaching, I decided to try something a little different. I convinced my students and superintendent to invest in a program called “Road Trip Nation”. The program was intended to help my students expand their thinking about their futures. Spending time listening to ordinary people achieving great things would hopefully inspire them. Seeing that you do not need to have a specific zip code to be curious was an important lesson I hoped they would learn. The chance to take a school period to explore their possibilities for the future seemed like a worthy use of time.

It fit my perception of what was need for our school perfectly. 

To be honest, our execution on the program did not meet my expectations. I put too much stock in the fact that my students would be open to introspection.  Many of them were not ready to invest in self reflection.  Perhaps it was about age and maturity.  For some of them, it was a defense mechanism.  When you are asked to consider what you are REALLY passionate about, it is hard to write that down sometimes. To try to acknowledge the “noise” you hear from others and from yourself – all of that self doubt and negativity that fills all of us – is not easy to write down.

Fast forward to now. Guess what? For many mature, accomplished, experienced adults, that same introspection is hard to do. Like my students, we are weighed down with the burdens of the past. What we have done, what roles we have played, are “who we are”. Taking a chance outside our comfort zone seems unattainable, if not downright ridiculous. We all experience the noise, self-doubt and negativity.

“Now” doesn’t feel like the right time to try to take a road trip on our career journey.

Add in the fact that many job seekers have the burden of providing financial and medical care resources to their existence. It becomes hard to introspect.

Our desire to get to the next step in life, now, is a strong one. In many ways it is logical. It certainly makes sense to be back working at some job (any job?) that pays the bills. A job gives us identity. Others can easily relate to working a job. We have been taught all our lives that “sometimes, sacrifices are necessary”. We tell ourselves that we will do something more interesting, “later”.

Think about this for a second. An acquaintance ask you, “what are you doing these days?” Which of these two answers is more comfortable to deliver?

a) “I am working at this company, doing this role. It’s not that great a job, but it pays the bills”

b) “I am working on plan deciding what is next for me. I want to do something that will challenge me. Would you be willing to hear what I am thinking and provide your reaction?”

Sometimes feigned comfort is not the best path in life. If you have ever lost weight, built some Ikea furniture or watched your child go off to college, you experienced discomfort. Upon reflection, after the fact, you hopefully get some gratitude that you “did it”. Stepping outside your comfort zone is a potential path to a rewarding future.

It is the same with your career. Three out of four Americans are not engaged at work. Their road trip is dull, monotonous or aggravating. It doesn’t have to be. Planning a road trip can be a lot of fun. Thinking about exploring the places you could visit. Finding hidden gems along the way. The freedom of the open road.

At what time will you commit yourself to exploring your career Road Trip Nation?

Go here if you are interest in learning more about Road Trip Nation  It has a lot of really cool short interviews and stories.

Give Thanks

The other day, I received a note that said:

Hey Dean. On October 22 I start a permanent job. In your class, I discovered I have an interest in community conversations. As I have gone through my temp work this year, I found more clarity on where I wanted to land. . . My new job will use every experience I’ve ever had in the way of work. You sent me in this direction and I wanted you to know that it had an impact. Thank you.

Simple note. Probably did not take her long to do. But it made a big difference in my day.

She had attended one of my workshops earlier this year. The goal of the workshop is to get people thinking a little more deeply about themselves and their career. I do not expect any miraculous changes. People don’t walk out of the sessions transformed. My hope is that I have helped them in some small way. There is really no way of knowing if anything we did in the session was going to grow to fruition. I just hope it does.

To hear that the reflection done in one of my workshops helped an individual is what keeps me going. That is my “why”, if you follow Simon Sinek.

But here is why all of that is important. We do great things when we thank people. And we do equally great things when we acknowledge and embrace those thanks.

You can make a difference

Telling someone “thank you” is a small, powerful message. So much of our life is a bombardment of negative messages. We experience noise around us all of the time. To take a little time to say thank you can make an immense difference in someone’s day. You never know if your kind words are the only kind words in another person’s day. Perhaps your words are a break from unrelenting boredom or negativity. They may be a small difference maker.

Equally important, it is vital as the recipient of a thank you note to be grateful. Thank you notes or compliments are a gift from another person. We need to genuinely, overtly and unequivocally accept that gift. I used to be the kind of person who was self deprecating when I received a thank you or a compliment. I would say, “oh, I didn’t really do anything” or “you were the one who did most of the work”. I might have genuinely felt that way. But that is NOT how the other person felt. So by not acknowledging their compliment, I was downplaying their feelings, not accepting their gift. That knowledge was one of the most profound gifts from my coaching training.

Today’s Challenge

Take a moment and think about how often you give someone a compliment or a thank you on a daily basis. Going forward, that needs to change. Whatever you think the number is, double it. At least.

Your statement does not have to be acknowledgement of a life-changing event. Simple gestures for simple events can brighten another person’s day. Thanks a waiter or waitress. Acknowledge a small thing at work. Tell your wife/husband/son/daughter/significant other “thank you” for a small chore or compliment them on their wardrobe for the day.

Next, when you receive a “thank you” or a compliment, truly receive it! Acknowledge the gift of gratitude that someone gave you. Don’t do it solely for yourself. Do it for them. The other person gave you a small gift for some reason important to them. Your recognition of that gift may make all of the difference in their day.

That is a win-win. Don’t we all deserve that?

(Not sure where to start with a thank you? I’ll give you a self-serving one. Thank me for my blogs. Better yet, pass this blog post onto someone else. Thank them for their friendship or support and tell them this post made you think of how much you value them)

Recognizing the Possibility of Change

“We do things not because they’re superior, but because they happen to be the default. We’re so used to doing things a certain way that we don’t realize the possibility for change. We stick with the status quo even when the benefits of innovation far exceed the costs.”- Ozan Varol

“Sticking to the default”. “Not realizing the possibility for change”. Status quo. Who among us is not guilty of thinking those thoughts?

I know I am guilty of this. It may because I am “too busy”. It may be that I am wandering through some part of my life, not even aware of what I am really doing. I get comfortable, telling myself that comfort zone is best for me. It may be because I have a fear of that word “innovate.” I am not an innovator! We think of innovators as someone who invents something new or extraordinary (Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Bill Gates). Whatever the reasons, I recognize this weakness in myself.

But unwilling to change in the face of a benefit exceeding the cost? That’s not who I like to think I am.

Let’s start by pealing that word “innovation”.

“Innovate” – make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products

The first part says, “make changes in something established”. That phrase does not sound intimidating at all. We all recognize a need for change occasionally. In fact, we are really good at recognizing the need for change in other people first!

How angry do we get when someone does something the same way, every time? Our favorite team sticks to a losing strategy. The lines at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles always seem to be long. The person who drives at the speed limit on a wide open road, thus slowing us down. Our friend who goes from one bad relationship to another. The husband who never asks for directions, even when you are hopelessly lost.

We ask ourselves, “Why won’t those people change when the benefits are clear?”

Ummmm, maybe because they are human? It is much easier to be on the outside looking at others doing things and recommend change than it is to look for change within ourselves.

“The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones,” John Maynard Keynes, economist

If we get angry with others for following a “bad” status quo, why do we accept it in ourselves? I think there are a few reasons.

Biggest among them is fear of failure. “What if I try and this doesn’t work?” or “What  if I make a fool out of myself?” We think everyone else is watching our every move. The slightest change will bring scrutiny. We will get noticed doing something different, bringing unwanted attention. We talk ourselves into thinking we are the center of other’s attention. Sorry to tell you this, but most people are not paying much attention to you.

We see someone else is “successful”, so we try to mimic them. This creates a built-in, foolproof excuse (“it worked for him”). But their status quo does not really work for us.

Worst of all, it is a not a conscious decision. We simply sleep-walk through life. We are busy. Our mind is conditioned to make some decisions unconsciously, otherwise we would be overwhelmed. But that does not mean we have to allow every decision to be unconscious.

There is always a tension involved in change. The mind and body resists change because it is filled with unknowns. We are preconditioned to lean in towards safety. Change can go wrong (just ask your friend who colored their hair a really bad color or the person who decided to run a marathon despite not being a runner). Yet growth only comes through trying new things. Growth is allowed to be painful.

This week’s challenge is to find some part of your life that is in default mode. What do you do the same, all of the time? Explore it. Innovate it. Change it. Need help? Ask someone to work with you.


Unfulfilled potential is one of the greatest disappointments in life. Ever witness someone that you know could be doing much more than they are doing? A song got me thinking about that.

The song “Settlin'” by the band Sugarland came on the radio the other day. These lyrics got my attention:

“I ain’t settling for just getting by
I’ve had enough so-so for the rest of my life
Tired of shooting too low, so raise the bar high
Just enough ain’t enough this time
I ain’t settling for anything less than everything, yeah”

Do you “Settle”?

Look up the word “settle”. It  has a lot of definitions. It includes “to be content with” something. It is okay to be content with something. But is that enough emotion for something really important? The song talks about settling for “so-so” and that is not enough for the “rest of my life”. Think about how we talk about something settling to the bottom of a river. It just drifts down and lays there. Not a great picture.

I think we all settle for “just getting by”. Life throws a lot at us. Our instinct is to just survive for another day. Maybe you keep your head below the cube walls so no one will notice you. You might tell yourself that you are satisfied with the current status. Nothing wrong with that, to a point. You can convince yourself to settle today but start anew tomorrow or next week or next month or next year.

We can’t be great at everything. I get that. No one has the time and energy to be at the top of their game on every aspect of life. But something has to be worth raising the bar higher. What is that for you? Otherwise, we all go to our list of excuses to explain why we cannot improve in that one aspect of life.

Maybe it is time to throw away the excuses.

“A lot of the entrepreneurs who are doing crazy things in Silicon Valley are not different from you. They’re not smarter than you—they just tried when you sat still.” – Adam Grant, professor and author

I work with people who settle for that job that is no fun, not challenging, or sucks the energy from them. They accept the status quo because they need the pay or the benefits. Perhaps they think “this is all I can do” at work. Maybe there are a lot of other things going on in their life, so they settle for something that is sub-par at work. Boring is better than the drama or stresses in other parts of life

On a temporary basis, this may be acceptable. But permanently?

Here is your challenge for the week. Sit down for a minute and think. What part of your life are you “settling” for “so-so”? What is the thing that you are “shooting so low”? Once you have thought about that life event, take a moment. Isn’t it time to “raise the bar high”? You deserve to be advancing in life. You are capable of doing it. Start now.