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Hiding in Plain Sight

Invisible Man Ah Halloween and careers! In thinking about the symbolism connected with the season, I can imagine that there are lots of scary mistakes that run across the full gamut of job search and career management activities. It’s a fertile area for metaphor. Yet for me, I think the scariest mistake is to run your career, including your online presence, as if you were The Invisible Man.

In the classic novella by H.G. Wells, the main character, Griffin, is “…a scientist who theorizes that if a person's refractive index is changed to exactly that of air and his body does not absorb or reflect light, then he will be invisible. He successfully carries out this procedure on himself, but cannot become visible again, becoming mentally unstable as a result.”

Since this was published, we’ve learned it’s actually possible to hide in plain sight. In nature it’s called camouflage, and it allows organisms to blend in with their surroundings. While the survival benefits may work out in the wild, blending in is a huge disadvantage in the world of work. In fact, if you’ve attended to trends in career management, you know the emphasis is on standing out. In today’s competitive world, the thinking goes, you need to discern and leverage your personal brand across a range of media – and especially on line.

Yet, most people don’t do it. Even if they take the step of setting up an online profile, most typically at LinkedIn, they make three critical errors that virtually guarantee they remain undifferentiated, and hidden:

Cut and paste a resume or bio. Sure there are career coaches out there who recommend this, but it’s not the best use of online real estate. It may seem that emphasizing your transferable skills makes sense. It doesn’t. People simply don’t read resumes to understand your skill set, and they won’t read your online profile to evaluate your skills either.

Use a formal third-person voice. Probably an outcome of a resume or bio cut and paste, third-person sets a boundary of formality. A boundary that can block any chance your profile will help people find a reason for wanting to know, like, and trust you.

Emphasize corporate buzzwords. Sure there is a SEO value in having certain words and phrases show up on your profile. Still, it’s kind of like playing the lottery, you may come up in a search; you may not. When you do, however, your buzz-word laden profile can keep you undifferentiated and hidden just as effectively as Nature hides her creatures.

It can be maddening if you’re trying to move your career forward. Yet, unlike our pal Griffin, you can reverse the process. And to do that, start by learning how to stand out by constructing your profile with the following characteristics:     

Write in the first-person to engage others. Writing for the social web means writing in first person; so, you can use personal pronouns (“I,” “me,” and “my”) to convey who you are. Think of establishing your online presence as your way of introducing yourself at an event. You don’t use third person there, don’t do it on the web.

Use plain language.  You may think it’s a sign of professionalism to present your knowledge of industry jargon. It’s not. In fact, it’s a turn off. The mark of a true professional is ability to find simple expressions for complex ideas. As well, if you want to connect with other people, you must first be a person. And talk like a person.

Tell your story like …a story. Just because you are the focus of a written document, doesn’t make that document your story. Telling your story requires marshalling key themes that best represent who you are and why you’re compelling for your audience. It should start with one of your key beliefs or operating principles and tie in the distinct value you provide to others. As well, it should develop your backstory, including the key experiences – even the twists and turns – that made you the professional you are today.

Succeeding your career today is not predicated on your skill sets. By themselves they are simply plug and play elements that can be easily replaced. So, to be successful, you need to be differentiated and visible. So, stop hiding in plain sight. Tell your story.

Cross-posted at Threshold Consulting.

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More Stories By William Arruda

Dubbed 'The Personal Branding Guru’ by Entrepreneur magazine, William Arruda is a pioneering brand strategist, speaker, author and founder of Reach Personal Branding. He is credited with turning the concept of personal branding into a global industry.

William delivers keynotes and workshops on the transformative power of personal branding for some of the world’s most successful companies. He energizes and motivates his audiences—and his private clients include some of the world’s most influential leaders. As a thought-leader, William is a sought-after spokesperson on personal branding, social media and leadership. He has appeared on BBC TV, the Discovery Channel and Fox News Live and he’s been featured in countless publications, including Time Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and the New York Times. William is the coauthor of the bestselling book Career Distinction. He is a member of the International Coach Federation and the National Speakers Association. He holds a Master’s Degree in Education.

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