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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

3 Subtle Ways You're Making Yourself Look Amateur to Other Professionals

I help people nail their branding—it’s what I love to do, and I’ve helped hundreds of professionals get their message right. The thing is, it doesn’t matter if I’m chatting with a freshly-hatched graduate or an executive of 20 years: Everybody has a blind spot. An area where they’re not “talking the talk.”

And yes, this still matters even if you’re not in the heat of a major career move or business launch. And double yes, if you’re the type who thinks you can get away with an email address and bare bones LinkedIn profile, it really matters.

So, how do you know if your personal branding is a hit or a miss? Be on the lookout for these issues:

1. It Has a Big But

“Big buts” often show up for career changers and younger professionals. They come in the form of statements like “I’m a writer, but right now I wait tables full-time” or “I’ve spent 10 years in education, but I’m trying to start a health coaching business.”

The problem is that most people stop listening as soon as you say, “but.”

You might be describing yourself this way because you’re worried about getting busted for not telling the whole story, or not being an expert, or good enough. And it’s OK to secretly feel that way—keyword: secret.

Remember, just because you’re new to something doesn’t make you a fraud for talking about what you do with confidence. Own it. If your day job or background doesn’t build interesting context around what you’re doing right now, give it zero airtime when you’re describing yourself. So, in each of the examples above, you’d cut the extraneous info and say, “I’m a writer,” or “I’m starting a health coaching business.”

2. It’s Inconsistent

If your branding doesn’t connect the dots for people in an obvious pattern, it’s not working. Confuse people; you lose people. In addition to clear, simple messaging, the following elements of your personal brand should be easy to follow:

Career Timeline

Ideally your timeline has a logical progression that explains why you’re where you are today. But, for many people, this is not the case. If you’re making a career leap or returning to the workforce, tie it all together with an anecdote about your motivation. It sounds like this, “I decided to jump back into the advertising game after repeated success promoting my church’s annual Harvest Festival.” Answer questions before they are asked. Like I said, connect the dots for people.

Job Titles

Edgy titles like “Growth Hacker” and “Chief Everything Officer” sound cool, but what do they really mean? Honestly, these make it impossible for people to know what your expertise is. Keep them on track with one that builds context around what you do. If you’re dead set on going edgy, try using a dual tile to create clarity. For example: “Growth Hacker (VP Marketing)” or “Chief Everything Officer (Community Management & HR).”

Profile Pictures

Think about it: If you saw someone laying claim to having a wildly successful six-figure business, but his profile picture was a fuzzy, outdated selfie—you’d question his credibility. Your profile picture should reflect the level you’re playing at. It doesn’t have to be an expensive headshot (you can get a professional-looking photo for free!), but it does need to be a picture that reflects what you look like when you’re on the job.

3. It Doesn’t Sound Like Y-O-U

Nothing pulls a brand down like impersonal, overly formal language. If your LinkedIn summary reads like the back of a book jacket, or your cover letter sounds like an invite to the governor’s ball, you probably come off as bush-league at best.

Wanna seem incredibly qualified?

Put down the thesaurus, and write in your natural voice, free of stiff phrasing. You’ll actually seem smarter by making your communication clear, relatable, and easy to digest. Seasoned professionals explain what they do in plain English and in their own words.

Look at these two cover letter introductions and ask yourself: Which candidate would I rather chat with?

  • “It is with considerable interest that I submit my resume in response to the PR manager position as posted on”
  • “Pinterest is known for turning the digital advertising market on its head and I’d love the chance to contribute to this reputation as your next PR manager.”

We’d all rather speak to the candidate who reeks of passion and understanding the company—not the one who sounds like Emily Post. You have a matter of seconds to make an impression.

Here’s the thing: You probably put a lot of time—and effort, and maybe even money—into your personal branding. So, you want to get it right. Walk through these blind spots to ensure you’re talking the talk, consistently, in your own voice, with confidence. Do that and there will be no question as to how fabulously talented you are.

Photo of co-workers talking courtesy of Shutterstock.