By Jim Hasse
Last spring, Josh had just graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.S. in English literature. Deaf since birth, he had visions of following in his mother’s footsteps. She was a high school English teacher.
In fact, he wanted to go even further than his mom – maybe like a professor of English at a small college some day. He enjoyed good writing, and he liked crafting a good piece of writing.
But, he soon found his final grade point average was not high enough to qualify for grad school. The truth is Josh had spent more time down at the Disabled Student Services (DSS) center, helping deaf students with a range of assistive technologies, than studying during his six years at Michigan.
By June, Josh was in a panic. What was he going to do? He never anticipated that he would be at such a crossroads. He assumed he would have a straight shot at his Ph.D. in English lit.
His mother introduced him to a private career counselor, who, over the summer, coached Josh into identifying three things about himself: his strengths, his passion and his weaknesses. And, he learned how to build a job marketing campaign around them.
In a nutshell, Josh discovered his uniqueness and how to leverage it within the current job market. He knew how to write well. He enjoyed helping others learn. He knew adaptive technology (AT) for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. And, he had experience as an AT volunteer at a large university’s DSS center.
He was vulnerable on two fronts: his disability and his grade point average. But, both, he discovered could be neutralized or turned into advantages, if he framed them appropriately.
Being deaf became an advantage, he found, when he decided to target companies which developed hardware and software for hard-of-hearing people. His grade point average became less important when he emphasized his AT volunteer work while in college. In fact, his volunteering gave him work experience, knowledge about the needs of future AT customers and a network of contacts that outweighed his mediocre grades.
Within a year of his graduation (a year of intense networking and company research), Josh landed a job as an assistant brand manager for a company which specializes in hardware and software for deaf and hard-of-hearing people. He’s traveling to schools and colleges across the U.S., demonstrating the company’s latest product offerings. And, he has started writing a blog and a forum for the company’s web site about those products.
Notice how the demands of Josh’s new job match the attributes only he can offer. That match doesn’t always happen, but, when it does, take a closer look at the jobseeker. Chances are that he or she has had some coaching in personal branding.
I believe personal branding is especially important for you, as a jobseeker with a disability, because it helps you and your potential employer to realistically answer these three questions:
Will your every-day tasks tap and stretch your key strengths as a new employee?
Will your new job motivate you because you’ll be carrying out tasks you love to do?
Will your disability really matter in carrying out the duties of the job at hand?
Personal branding is a strategy for taking ownership of who you are. That means discovering and claiming your own uniqueness in a popular culture that often stresses conformity. It’s usually a gradual journey in finding your best opportunities for reaching your full potential. The concept started with executives in the 1960s but became popular in the late 1990s when business author and speaker Tom Peters became one of its most famous evangelists.
Susan Chritton, author of “Personal Branding for DUMMIES” (http://susanchritton.com/) writes that personal branding is no longer an option (it’s a necessity) for individuals who are serious about managing their careers.
In this new economy, she points out, companies are developing more project-based work (within and outside of the work site), assigning full-time employees to work with temporary workers.
That means you are entering a workplace where there’s more employee turnover. As a result, you need to be known by what you can do (not by a job title). That calls for a personal brand that is portable, constant and recognizable wherever work carries you.
I believe you, as a jobseeker, need to register your name as a dot com domain and build a simple web site where you explain who you are and what you offer prospective employers.
First, do a www.whois.com search to see if the version of your name (full name, nickname first initials with last name etc.) you use most often to identify yourself is available as a domain name for your site.
Once you have settled on a domain name that includes some form of your proper name, always use that proper name version in identifying yourself on anything you write for publication, in your social media profiles, on your resumes, in your portfolio, in your e-mail signature, etc. That’s the first step in making your personal brand consistent.
For an example, see my personal web site at www.jimhasse.com. JRH.com (my initials) had already been taken when I launched my personal web site in 2010.
You can use a domain hosting service such as www.godaddy.com to register your domain name and build a simple, not-costly web site like I did. Your site can display your offering statement, your resume, your portfolio etc., and you can set up an e-mail address that is unique to your web site.
Notice I brand myself as a “disability employment expert who helps individuals put disability to work as a competitive edge in today’s job market.” That’s my 15-second elevator pitch, a reply I can use when I’m asked, “What do you do?”
My statement often leads to question in reply: “How do you do that?”
My standard response: “I walk the people I coach through a series of career builders so they can gain the confidence they need to deal effectively with disability employment issues.”
For those who are really interested in my services, my two simple branding statements set the stage for exchanging contact information and for further discussion within a more appropriate venue.
Of course, discovering my personal brand and putting it into two simple sentences did not happen over night. I’ve had career coaches and mentors help me in that discovery over many years.
But, now’s the time (while you’re still in school and with the help of a coach) to start discovering what makes you unique. What is your passion? In what situations do you find yourself most comfortable, authentic and likable?
I wish you the best in your personal branding journey.
Copyright © 2012. Hasse Communication Counseling. All rights reserved.
Jim Hasse, ABC, GCDF, (www.jimhasse.com) has compiled and edited the recommendations of HR experts and the personal observations of both job seekers and hiring managers into Perfectly Able: How to Attract and Hire Talented People with Disabilities (www.perfectlyable.com), a comprehensive disability recruitment guidebook for hiring managers published by AMACOM (September 2010), the publishing arm of the American Management Association. Lighthouse International (www.lighthouse.org), New York City, is the author of the 272-page hard-cover book, which continues to evolve online on Hasse's forum, Timely Tips for Retaining Employee Talent (forum.perfectlyable.com). Jim is founder of www.cerebral-palsy-career-builders.com, the comprehensive career coaching guide for parenting youngsters seven to 27 years old who have cerebral palsy.