Personal Brand

4 Words That Ruin Your Personal Brand

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In order to stand out from the crowd, you need to have a strong personal brand. Today, it’s easier to build your brand than ever before. However, it’s also easier to ruin it.

One of the many things I appreciate about the web is the opportunity to connect with a really interesting and diverse group of people. Typically, we stay in the realm of cyber-networking, but occasionally we transcend the limits of the computer to connect in person.

A little while back, I had the chance to talk with one of my favorite bloggers, a finance executive who writes meaty articles on leadership, governance, risk management, staffing, finance – the nuts and bolts of what it takes to be in business. He isn’t afraid to challenge conventional wisdom, to ask the tough questions, to point out the nakedness of the emperor, and he isn’t afraid to create content that requires readers to exercise their scroll-down finger.

Could Have Knocked Me Over With A Feather

Eventually, as I always do, I turned our conversation to my favorite question, “What is your biggest challenge?” His answer, to use my son’s vernacular, left me gob-smacked. “My biggest challenge is convincing CEOs that, as a Certified General Accountant, I am just as good as a Chartered Accountant.” To understand my reaction, I need to provide some background details that perhaps verge into TMI territory.

When I was pregnant with our youngest child, my husband went through an archetypal mid-career crisis. After deciding he was unhappy with his job and not seeing a lot of opportunity for growth, he decided he needed a change.

Personally, I love change. Thrive on it, in fact. So, I was ecstatic, and encouraged him to figure out what his passion is, and go for it. Over the next few weeks, while he considered his options, I was already mentally making plans to sell our house and backpack with our kids around Europe. It came as a bit of an anticlimax, therefore, when he finally announced his life-changing plan, “I’m going to become an accountant.”

For the next seven years, DH balanced a full-time career with 30 hours a week of brutal and sweat-intensive study in order to earn his Certified General Accounting accreditation. All of which is to say, I have some inkling about what it takes to become a CGA, and have a tremendous amount of respect for the designation.

As a career consultant and resume writer, I have worked with 4,000+ clients over the past five years, including more than 200 accountants of various stripes. This gives me a unique perspective on how CAs and CGAs differ. The typical CA I have met has been an accountant, through and through. Accounting is all they’ve done since graduating university. It is a rare CA who has ever run a company other than an accounting practice, or even a department that wasn’t strictly accounting and administration.

CGAs, on the other hand, typically have five years or more of professional experience under their belt before they even start the program, and typically earn their accreditation while working full time. This means a newly accredited CGA probably has more than 15 years of business experience, both accounting-specific (a prerequisite to earn their accreditation), and more broadly based in operations, strategic planning, supply chain management, production management, and human resources.

Words That Can Ruin Your Personal Brand

So now, back to my Finance Executive. Unfortunately, he allowed himself to get dragged into a suckers game. I’m not talking about the territorial shoving contest that competing accounting bodies are currently engaged in for the right to be called Public Accountants in Canada. I’m talking about a no-win branding strategy that starts with the phrase, “just as good as.”

Any good marketing expert will tell you there is no credible way to end the statement “just as good as” except with the phrase “at a fraction of the cost.” Knowing what I do about typical career profile of CAs versus CGAs, I could see half a dozen stories my Finance Executive could use to distinguish his career brand, without ever having to resort to “just as good as.”

He could recount his superb track record for bringing companies back from the brink of bankruptcy, not only through good accounting practices, although they were definitely part of the picture, but through good financial and business practices. He could talk about cash-flow optimization and cost management strategies that make good business sense, and how he used them to drive successful turnarounds.

He could also discuss the company that called on his services too late to be saved, and what he can teach other companies from this experience. He could describe his understanding of the language of money – not merely from an accounting perspective, although he has that in spades – but from a business perspective: what it takes to attract investors, build confidence among creditors, safeguard shareholder interests. He could emphasize his approach to ensuring that a company doesn’t just look profitable, but is profitable, and stays profitable, both in the short term and for the long haul.

In professional branding, as in product branding, its all about differentiation – finding a way to make yourself stand out from the crowd. I’m a firm believer in the power of a good story for creating a distinctive brand. What do you have to bring to the table that is unique, one-of-a-kind? What stories can you tell to back it up? How can you make those stories relevant and interesting to your target employer, so that they recognize you as the perfect solution for their challenges?

If you can do this in your resume, your cover letter, your interview, your networking meetings, your blogs, your LinkedIn profile, your web presence – you’ve got it made. If you can’t, you may be left in the unwinnable position of trying to justify why you are “just as good as” the other guy.


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Karen Siwak

Karen Siwak is an award-winning Certified Résumé Strategist, Karen has crafted top calibre career transition packages for thousands of clients. Her specialty is helping people identify and articulate their unique brands and value propositions.

13 comments

  1. It’s hard to believe that you are a professional resume writer. I stopped reading after about 10 seconds because you took four paragraphs to actually get to the point (and I only found that after a quick scan). If this were an actual resume, it would have gone in the circular file.

  2. where can one go on the web to look at the do’s and don’ts of resume writing and templates or examples, of cover letters etc?
    Thank You

  3. I found much of what you wrote trite and filled with cliche. I did, I admit, like your analysis of why the phrase “just as good as” is self-defeating and a “brand” killer.
    I was interested in the point that those in accountancy can only do that one thing. I am a lawyer. We are found in every kind of business. Our training teaches us to describe in writing many diverse things – for ex.: how a locomotive works, the structure of a school system, what defect in a ladies’ undergarment caused an injury, etc. We are therefore in a position to approach almost any structure or system, analyze it, describe it, then make a decision on who or what worked or did not work. This gives us a very broad and interesting view on how the world works.
    Best of luck to you with your work and clients.
    Please do not send me further e-mails.
    Thank you.
    P.S. I appreciated you listed an address on your web site. Few companies do this. To me, it adds great legitimacy to what you are saying, which is one reason I took the time to give you this feed back.

    • The Halo Effect happens when people assume that somebody with high achievement can do anything. It causes problems when that assumption brings power and responsibility outside the achiever’s area of expertise. It creates the greatest problems, however, when people crown themselves with their own halos.

  4. Karen,
    I would love to improve my resume strategy and have been struggling with it for weeks now. Is resume writing/structure something you still do? What would I need to do to have you look at mine?

    Thank you,
    Lisa Dimmer

    • On every. Account. Life experience that read, I feel some the same things has happen to myself threw out my life time. If I could learn a wyay to better way of provide. A new life I need a change.

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