When I speak, I talk about a “personal branding secret weapon,” which is your email signature. It’s a secret because even though we all can have an email signature, many of us don’t, or we mess it up. And, it’s a secret because even though people see our signature all the time (or, every time they read our emails), they don’t think “oh, that’s a personal branding ploy!”
I’ve talked and blogged about this a lot over the last few years. You can see some great links below. In this post, I want to boil my thoughts down to help you optimize your email signature. I could critique email signatures and go into more depth, but these are the four things I want you to know. Note that I go into this in my Developing a Killer Personal Brand course on Pluralsight, which you can get for free (and if you watch it, you can get free premium upgrade on JibberJobber). See the short video at the bottom to see how that works.
First, have a clean, clear, usable name. If your name is Robert, but NO ONE calls you Robert, then put Bob. Or Bobby. Or Rob. But if no one calls you Robert, don’t put Robert! Also, unless you have a good reason to do otherwise, don’t put your middle initial. Your email signature is not a government contract… put what you want people to call you! Nothing more, nothing less.
Second, have what you might call a tagline, or a value statement. This is a jargon-free, cliche-free line that says what you do, or what value you bring to the table. A job title is not typically the right thing to put here, unless you are comfortable assuming (or, taking upon yourself) that every stereotype that is associated with that title, then you should not use the title. Instead of Product Manager (which can probably be interpreted ten different ways), how about something more simple and to the point, like “I help companies take something from idea to product, and share it with the world.” Okay, that’s kind of lame, but it’s different than a title. Realize that coming up with a short, impactful tagline could take a lot more time than you think… but it’s time well-spent!
Third, have a link, or a call to action. I have at least six websites I *could* point you to. But there is only one I want to point you to, which is JibberJobber.com. This is my business. This is what I do for a living. This is my passion. Every once in a while, I might point you to another site, but it depends on who you are (the audience) and the purpose of the message. Combined with your tagline, this link or call to action invites the reader to take the next step, learn more, etc.
Fourth, consider not having anything else. Every single character or pixel beyond that has the potential to distract from your brand messaging. Don’t put fax numbers or street addresses… don’t put a quote from some smart person from 100 years ago, don’t muddy up your signature with a cute drawing of a turkey, or rainbow colors. Yes, I’ve seen all of these things, and they are all distracting. More is not more. More can discourage people from reading any of your signature.
Quick, what are the first stereotypes that come to mind for these five labels:
Republican business owner
Democrat who volunteers time
Person with bad spelling on her resume
What are the five things that came to mind? Perhaps it was:
nerdy, not good with social skills, sometimes rude
cat lover who puts cats, trees and stuff like that in front of human needs
unqualified and not smart or caring enough to deserve this job
Now, I’m not saying that the people from the first list always, exactly, or ever match the descriptors in the second list. But….
You see, our world is rife with generalizations, titles, categories, stereotypes. We like to take something complex and simplify it… and have a name for it. We like to say “he is ______” and then everyone can say “ooooooh, that explains everything. I get it now.”
It’s like when I was talking to a recruiter and he asked me about my education. I said I got a CIS degree and an MBA, and he said “oh, I know everything about you. People like you are a dime a dozen.”
Yep, he said that.
Externally I’m sure I just looked at him… internally I was really quite bothered (furious would be too strong of a word).
I had been stereotyped, categories, generalized.
I thought “I’m so much more than that!” Let me talk with you for a while, whether that’s five minutes of five hours, and you’ll learn that I’m not the dime-a-dozen CIS/MBA kid!
The world is full of quick-thinking categorizers (as a blogger, I’m entitled to make up words. Wait, did I just generalize all bloggers as pompous word creators?).
I know YOU are a categorizer (which is a lot softer than saying you are biased, a stereotyper, or the very harsh word: a racist).
We all make these quick judgement categorizations in our head. We meet someone and based on what we take in (see, smell, touch (strength of handshake), etc.) we generalize.
We learn about where they are from and make generalizations.
We hear their job title, or where they went to school, or even what state they live in or are from, and make generalizations.
I LOOK AT YOUR BUMPER STICKERS ON YOUR CAR AND I MAKE GENERALIZATIONS!
Our brains are just wired to think this way. It’s not necessarily right, it’s not necessarily fair, but it’s the way we all think.
So, how do you fight being stereotyped while you are in a job search? Because we all know that job seekers are, for one reason or another, pathetic, right? We know that if you were really “that good” then you wouldn’t have lost your job in the first place… right?
Oops, there I go generalizing again.
Okay, here are my thoughts on fighting the stereotypes:
Accept that people will, and do, stereotype. The biggest bias I hear about in my travels and at my presentations is that of age discrimination. Here’s what I’ve learned: if you are “older,” it starts around 35 or 40. If you are “younger” in the professional world, it will last until you are about 30. But trust me, even those who are between 30 and 40 will have age-based bias and discrimination. IT JUST HAPPENS.
Understand that you can break out of the stereotype. Sometimes this is easy, but sometimes you will be fighting stereotypes in someone’s mind that are impossible to fight. It might just take sitting over lunch with someone, while they get to know you, and having the right conversation. Once they know you as a dynamic human, instead of a prejudged (fill in the blank), then you are breaking out of the stereotype. However, some will not be broken. Like the woman who said “I will never hire a women in childbearing years.” Illegal, for sure. But something had happened to bias her against hiring someone who might have a kid. Fighting that stereotype with that person is a losing battle.
Breaking out of the stereotype takes consistent work and use of tools. Tools like a blog, where you can wax eloquent about your virtues, your experience, your value add, etc. Tools like a strong and appropriate LinkedIn Profile. Tools like a tagline or value statement. Tools like a catchy or effective business card. Tools like your choice of clothes, or how you do your hair or makeup. Word choice, etc. How you present yourself should be aligned with what your brand is. Don’t assume that your resume is your (only) branding tool.
You can control what your brand is. Did you see how we shifted from “stereotypes” to “branding?” They are pretty much the same thing. You either have an unintentional brand, usually based on stereotypes and generalizations, or you have an intentional brand, which is how you want others to perceive you. You need to think about how you want others to perceive you, and then actively work on your messaging, and help them perceive you that way.
These are four ideas to get you pointed in the right direction with taking control of how others perceive you. I know this can be a lot of work, but it should be who you are. In other words, once you understand this stuff, it shouldn’t feel like it’s a lot of work. It’s just how you act, what you do.
Once you have broken out of the stereotypes, and your brand is louder than those generalizations, you will have an easier time with all-things-career, including networking, interviewing, switching jobs, etc.
There was something I meant to mention to this executive, but I forgot. I’ll share that with you right now.
During the consultation, I got a feeling of being overwhelmed with everything that he had to do. While his Profile was pretty good, there was plenty of room for improvement. I suggested he do a little here, a little there, but not even attempt to do it all in one day or week. This was the other thing I was going to tell him:
“The process of enhancing your Profile will better prepare you for networking conversations and interviews. It will help you have a better website, resume, and cover letters.”
Critically thinking through the things he need to go through would take him to a place that he needed to go to have better marketing communication (written, like a resume, and verbal, like an interview or a network meeting). This process would bring clarity on what parts of your history become the parts you bring out, as your brand.
You could wing it, like many people do, but going through this process should benefit you in your future communications.
And what you gain from that, I think, is more valuable than the hour we spent on the phone together.
Note: I am not opposed to hiring a professional to write your Profile for you. I do feel strongly that if you go through the process, even perhaps with the professional writer (many times they do it with you, or they give you forms to fill out), you’ll be better for it.
If you want to get better at LinkedIn, you could buy my LinkedIn course for $50, or you could watch two courses I created on Pluralsight for free. The courses are:
Two very short questions that can have very long answers!
I’ve written a bunch on blogging, back in the olden days (2006, 2007, 2008). I think that blogging is a terrific tool to help people understand your personal brand. And, there are many ways to do this – there’s not necessarily a “right” way, and what might be right today could change tomorrow.
For example, some people might get value out of blogging regularly, like I do (almost daily). Other people might be able to throw up a few pages, and a few blog posts (note: posts and pages have different purposes, theoretically), and be good. Some people want a lot of readers, other people will be fine if NO ONE reads their blog (except a hiring manager!).
Here are a few thoughts, although this is not a complete response. That could take pages and pages or hours of discussion.
First, how do you start a blog?
Well, you just start blogging I would get a free account on a site like wordpress.com. There are a bunch of wordpress competitors… and many are fine. I recommend wordpress because I know and trust the company enough, and apparently, so do a bunch of people on the internet.
If you want to look a lost more sophisticated, you could spend a nominal amount of money and (1) get your own domain name (usually your own name, like JaneDoe.com), and (2) have that domain point to your blog. This could be your wordpress blog, or you could get a bluehost account and have your own virtual server.. and with a few clicks turn on a more robust version of wordpress. If you know what I’m talking about, consider that. If you don’t, just go to wordpress.com.
Once you get your blog up, you have the “honor” of writing your first blog post. It’s a weird one, for sure. It might be an introduction to who you are, or your good intentions and plans for the blog… or it might not be introductory at all, it might get right into the meat of your content. But write the first post. And the second post… and keep going. In about two years your writing will have improved to a point where it’s actually pretty good. I thought I was a good writer back in 2006, but I look back at those posts and realize just how poor my writing skills were (or, to be more positive about it, how much I’ve improved in the last nine years!).
Second, what do I blog about?
This is a great question. Better than that, this is the right question to ask.
You can blog about anything… but you shouldn’t blog about anything. I would suggest that you blog about things that will help people understand your professional breadth and depth. The blog is a unique environment where, unlike a resume, you can expand and expand again on your breadth (for example, different skillsets) and your depth (for example, experiences with those skillsets that will exemplify how expert you are at a particular thing, or in a particular field).
Think about how you want others to perceive you. Let’s say you are a senior level product manager. You should brainstorm what the breadth is for a senior level project manager, which might include:
working with highly technical people who are expert in their area (engineers, developers, etc.)
Those are a few of the things that might be your breadth, and these might be the categories of your blog!
Essentially, you have a kind of an outline that you can now work from. Can you write three posts about one of those topics (like negotiating)?
I recommend you brainstorm stories and examples, words of wisdom and things you’ve learned over the years, about any of those areas… and just start writing. You don’t have to do things in groupings, or in order. You can have series of related posts, of course, but you can intersperse non-related posts in-between.
I have other advice, like don’t write very long posts (this is getting long). Instead, break it into two posts. And, I personally think it’s more important to write consistently (1 to 3 to 5 times a week) than to write a really long post once every six months.
Not to be a Debbie Downer, but when I saw this headline this weekend my first thought wasn’t “congratulations!!!!” If one school graduates almost 6k people in May… how many new grads are getting dumped into our economy?
To the almost 6,000 new graduates (from undergrad to PhD)… welcome to the “real world.” This is the real world your professors and adjuncts talked about for years… you see, there was this illusion that you were not in the real world while in school.
At least that is what I was told: “when you enter the real world…”
What a load of bull.
Here’s the deal: you’ve been in the real world for a long time. And you made a business decision. For many of you, the degree will be instrumental in helping you get your first or next job. For many of you, it will settle in sometime in the next year that the degree was not helpful at all. Looking at the years to pay off your student loans, you’ll wonder if the decision you made was a good one. Yes, going to college was a decision… it was a business decision. The college sold you a package, you paid for it (mostly likely financing it, like a business might). Now is not the time to have buyer’s remorse!
So don’t get discouraged that over 2 million people will earn degrees this year (1.8M undergrads alone, according to NACE). Don’t be discouraged that there will many many hundreds of thousands of people who will get laid off, otherwise lose their jobs (companies dissolving), change companies, etc. Don’t become disheartened because many jobs have bounced out of your country to other, cheaper countries (and sometimes bounced back). It’s not that you aren’t more talented or qualified for a career-level job, it’s just that, well, I guess, this is the real world.
Here’s something I learned, after having gotten a degree in CIS and an MBA, and having had job titles including manager and general manager: your education is about to begin.
Most of the facts and stuff you learned at school can be filed into the trivial pursuit box in your brain. You won’t use much of it.
What you will use is the collection of skills that helped you get that degree. Hopefully you worked hard, and pushed yourself beyond what you thought you could achieve. Hopefully you learned about negotiation and persuasion, two key skills when working with others. Did you learn anything about time management, while you juggled classes and work and social responsibilities? Did you learn about leadership, and how to be a follower, and team-player? Did you learn how to communicate effectively, whether that is written, verbal, etc.? I hope you learned how to research, learn new things, find practical applications, and just dig in and study.
Those are the skills that you’ll need to tap into now.
You see, once you land your job, no one really cares where or what you studied. They want to know what you can do, and if you’ll carry your weight. That’s about it. The other stuff is fun, but trivial.
Maybe your degree will matter for a little while, but the romance of it all will wear off. If you are a crappy worker, no one will care (but they will think that your alma mater puts out crappy people – so now you have the burden of not tarnishing the brand of the school that you paid so much money to). If you are an exceptional worker, people won’t care where you went to school, or what your GPA was.
I know, there are certain companies and industries that do care. But those companies and industries probably don’t offer much more “job security” than any other company. If you can’t do the job, are distracting, inflict their culture with garbage and pompousness, then you’ll find yourself polishing up your resume.
I don’t mean for this to be a discouraging letter. I just want to welcome you to the real world. This is a world where what you can do, and how you communicate your brand, and how you nurture personal and professional relationships, is the new job security. Or as I like to call it, the new career management.
And of the 2,000,000+ people who will graduate like you did this year, I guarantee that most will not get it. I’ve seen this for years… they’ll take years, or decades, to figure out personal branding and networking. If you want to have an easier career path, it’s time to transition into taking personal responsibility for your career, and get serious about your future.
The great thing about this is, if you start now, you won’t have to get student loans for this next phase of your education.
This is a course on what to do with your resume… how to use it to self-market, and basic understanding of the resume as a marketing tool.
Remember, for any Jason Alba course you watch on Pluralsight, and as many times as you watch it, you can get an additional 7 days of JibberJobber Premium… no limit! Follow these steps (or scroll down and watch the new video below the image to see exactly how to watch this for free, and get additional Premium on JibberJobber!).
Here’s Pluralsight’s announcement on Facebook:
Not sure if I’ve had anything on Facebook associated to me with that many likes!
I got this email from a sales professional last week:
My initial response was, YES, definitely do this.
I’ve been marketing myself, as a job seeker, and then my business, for 9+ years. What I’ve learned is that if you do not put yourself in front of people, they forget about you. You are responsible for getting and staying in front of your audience.
I’ve also learned that the initial contact is just barely breaking the ice. They key is to get in front of them regularly, as appropriate. That is one reason why you have CRM systems. If your company doesn’t provide a CRM system to you, then use JibberJobber. If your company does provide a CRM to you, but you are making great friendships and professional contacts that you want to take to your next job, then use JibberJobber
Here are my specific thoughts and reactions to this person’s questions:
Is this going to be okay with your company/boss? I can’t imagine a sales professional getting into trouble for sending this type of email, but you might want to check with your boss. They might know something about a customer they fired (that you shouldn’t get in touch with), or they might point you to some tools or queries to make what you want to do easier.
Should it be one bulk email (BCC, of course!) or multiple individual emails? Pros and cons of both. I would say it depends on a few things… where are you sending it from? If you send from a Gmail or Verizon or a personal account (which I wouldn’t recommend), they have daily sending limits. Going over those limits might get you in trouble (ie, getting locked out of sending email for 24 hours). If you bulk send from your work account, and your email server is on blacklists, count on maybe 5% of your emails getting through (I don’t know the percentage, but just assume hardly any get through). The idea of doing one bulk email is nice because it’s faster, but I’m not convinced it’s that reliable.
Sending individual emails is more reliable, I think, and you might do 20 – 50 each day. This will even help you manage the responses, over days, instead of all in the first day or two. But it will obviously take more time. The real question is how many emails are you sending? If it’s 10,000, do bulk and go from there. If it’s just a few hundred, send a few dozen each day until you finish.
About the “personal touch,” you can easily do that with individual emails… but you can also do it in bulk. There are programs you can use (like mailchimp, and even outlook) that can merge names with a general body of text…
What information should the email have? The number one purpose of this email is to introduce yourself. In doing that, you’ll reinforce the branding of your company (in other words, remind the customer that your company exists and has stuff for them). You should give them contact information… work and cell # (that’s how salespeople roll, right?). Keep the email short… don’t go into new products, etc. I would let them know I’m the new rep, I’m excited to be there, and I’m easy to reach (and I’m responsive). I want them to know that I’m their partner and want to help their projects be successful. I will include a one-liner about my company, like “we manufacture the best widgets for the _______.” so people can remember where I fit into their life. And, as overwhelming as this might sound, I invite them to call me in the next week (or two) and tell me what projects they are working on, what they have coming up, any issues from past projects with our stuff, etc.
I want this email to start the relationship, and invite them to let us take it to the next level. That might be a emails, it might be a phone call, it might be a face-to-face… but let me introduce you to me and let’s start a relationship.
How often should I follow-up? What should the follow-up have? Make sure this first email is not the last email. As a customer I know I need multiple communications before I trust you, and I need you to hit me at or around the right time (or, when I’m in the market to buy your stuff). I suggest doing a blast, en bulk, each month. This can be short, it can talk about new products, or it can talk about case studies where your products/services helped other customers. The last thing would be the most interesting read for me. It keeps me engaged (because it’s fun to read), and shows me that you understand that my success is important to me, and it’s also important to you. I’m not just a customer to help you meet your quota, but you really care. The key? MONTHLY.
How do I justify future follow-ups? What if I have nothing new to say or report? Then create something. Talk to your customers and ask them if they could share some of their wins with your list. If you don’t get those stories, then create information that will help others… suggestions, tips, best practices, industry news, etc. Don’t write too much – we all suffer from information overload, and you don’t want to be that email that I’m sure to delete.
Is that it? Will I be successful with this strategy? I don’t think so. I think you need to have an integrated sales/marketing approach… that is, pick up the phone. Meet customers in person. Don’t just rely on email. But you already knew that.
Now, get your email constructed, proof it for type-os and grammar, and make sure the messaging is exactly what your customers should understand, and then send it.
You have to understand, Pamela Slim is a rockstar. She has authored multiple books on careers… she lists her customers as Google, Dell, Harvard, etc. and she is a TED speaker. On Pam’s speaking page there is a section at the bottom titled Crafting the Story of Your Personal Brand. In that section she has these two bullet points:
Creating a full-color, full-contact communication plan
Sharing your story with the world in a way that gets results
Why am I sharing this with you? Because there is a fact that is often-times overlooked: developing your personal brand message is HARD. Even experts, people who live and breath this stuff, find it hard!
Did you know that for 2 years I could not give you a one-liner about JibberJobber? It probably took another year before I could give you a one-liner about myself!
The same reason it is hard for you:
You don’t want to mess this up.
What if you say too much? What if you say too little? We are so complex, how could we possibly put all of our awesomeness in one line??
Sometimes we come up with something really cute, clever, or catchy. That usually has cliche or jargon, which does nothing more than confuse our brand.
Sometimes we get into analysis paralysis, and don’t come up with anything (which is another way to mess up our brand).
As important, you need to understand that our brand statements can and should be FLUID. I’m sure that Pam has half a dozen taglines that she has used over the years…. but “bumbling through” this conference, with this type of audience, at this stage in her company and career, made her rethink each of those taglines she has used.
It’s okay to change your tagline. It’s okay to let your tagline grow with you.
If it’s hard, that means you are thinking about it. Keep thinking… keep trying. If someone like Pamela Slim needs to rework her personal branding statements, and she gets stuck and confused, then please know that this is hard stuff.
Keep working on it, and come up with something that is true to you, and easy for others to understand and communicate!
A few weeks ago I asked my daughter to take the car she drives all over town to get the tires rotated. This is a simple procedure, and helpful to lengthen the life of tires… and I’m now bought into the idea that we need to do this. I’m also bought into the idea that she should do it, and learn about vehicle maintenance by doing it.
So, she comes back to me and says that the tire tech said the two front tires needed to be changed, and that they they were running thin… I was kind of ticked (not at her) because these are less than a year old. Even though they have a warranty that should cover them for years, I’m sure the tire people would say “well, sorry, but the alignment is off, and you haven’t rotated them lately… so it’s really all on you.”
I was not excited about spending a couple hundred dollars to get new tires. I was not excited about the time it would take to do this (I didn’t trust the salespeople with my daughter, who has never bought tires before). And frankly, I just wasn’t finding the time to get this task done. The car doesn’t spend much time in the garage, and I have been very busy lately.
Last week my wife called me from school, where she was mentoring a class, and my daughter had come for a class… she said that the front tire was leaking air pretty bad. I knew the time had finally come, and I had to table what I was doing and get the front tires replaced.
The thing is, this was admittedly stupid.
I should have taken care of this before… my daughter drives on the highway every evening to go to stuff, and if she had problems on the highway, it would have likely been a blow-out. My mechanic told me that too many accidents are a result of bald tires that blow-out. And the anguish and cost could be much worse than $200.
Long story short, I left work, took care of the tires while they were in school, and we’re all good.
Driving home I was thinking about how I didn’t make the time to fix the tires… there really was just not a good time to do it for me. Just like when we have a job, and we put of career management stuff because we are too busy working, or resting from our work. We neglect it. The timing just doesn’t seem good enough.
And then, if you are like me, you are told that there is no more job, and all you have is time. And then you wish that you would have addressed it earlier… but you were “too busy.”
Let me invite you to rethink what job security is. It might have been a degree and a work ethic back in the 1990′s, but today it is the strength of your network (which is not how big your LinkedIn network is), and what people understand about you.
You can work on that, right now. Today. And tomorrow. And the next day. A little bit every day, whether you are in transition or not.
We were lucky to have avoided a blow-out on the highway. Work on your network and brand, and you might avoid a blow-out in your career.
From the Office of Face Palms at LinkedIn comes another ridiculous move to make you upgrade. Have you heard about this? You will only be able to search a certain amount of times, or see a certain number of search results, and then you are cut off. Here’s my message, right in line with the search results of a name:
Are you kidding me?
Here’s what I did: I did a search for a name on Google… and then clicked on the LinkedIn result that would show me all of the people with that first and last name. I scroll down and bit and see that in fact I have been penalized for clicking on that link.
I do this regularly.
This is seriously dumb. Unless you are at LinkedIn, and want to force people to upgrade, but with the alternatives that are coming out, and the change in direction and value that LinkedIn has, I think this is one more thing that will drive usage and value down.
I was on a call with some career center directors today from a school that everyone’s heard of and we spent too much time talking about how LinkedIn has decreased in value for people who want to network.
That’s what they were set up for in the first place! To help people network!
Things have changed. Networking is harder on LinkedIn. And people have noticed, and they are tired of it.
This limit is one more thing that makes me think “okay, if I can’t find it on LinkedIn, I’m going to go somewhere else.” Which is exactly what I’ve been hearing from recruiters… they are going somewhere else.