In Part 1 of this series, we looked at how many middle class jobs and industries have been effected by the rise of computers and automation, based on a recent Newsweek Article on the Beached White Male, entitled “Dead Suit Walking”.  The bonus Part 1.5 discussed the role of Admins and the assistance we all need from time to time, no matter how many people think they can do it on their own. In Part 2, we’ll discuss resilience and the rise of personal branding.

At the end of the Newsweek article entitled “Dead Suit Walking”, they discussed the options facing many of the middle and upper management types that were currently looking for work:

Many of the newly jobless rebrand themselves as consultants. (Emphasis added)  The number of so-called independent contractors is up by more than 1 million since 2005, according to Jeffrey Eisenach, an economist at George Mason University. More than one in five of them work in management, business, or finance. Boutique employment agencies are springing up to exploit this labor pool, which is attractive to companies that would rather not shell out for benefits or a 401(k). The New York–based Business Talent Group has a deep bench of BWMs [beached white males] (and some BWFs) for hire, many of them M.B.A.s with two decades of experience as managers, directors, or C-level boardroom players. BTG is on track for record growth this year, says Jody Greenstone Miller, an ex–Time Warner executive who founded the company in 2005. “We want people who treat this type of work as a permanent career,” Miller says. It typically takes executives six to nine months of looking for staff jobs, she adds, before they come around to the idea that no matter what you were before, you’re now basically a full-time temp.

Personal branding Hits the Main Stream

Back in 2006, I remember one of the first sessions I attended was given by Mitch Joel and C.C. Chapman on the concept of Personal Branding. At the time, it blew the minds of many of the people sitting in the room, largely fledgling podcasters, video producers and bloggers, who had come together to learn and share about how to get noticed on the web with their creative projects. It seemed audacious to think of ourselves in terms of becoming a product that could be put on the shelf next to Coca Cola, or even “real” news and radio stations. Yet today, we do just that- iTunes is chock-full of podcasts by amateurs and professionals- the business person, the passionate mom, the NPR producer, the Radio Host- all share the same virtual shelf space. The web and having a blog or podcast is even more ridiculously simple than it was back then. With the rise of blogs and podcasts as personal communication channels alongside social media, being “found” on the web is easier than ever before. Google has even altered its search algorithm to take into account the authentic voice of what people say as being an important factor in determining relevance, rather than relying on “content farms” and other ways you used to be able to manipulate search results to rise to the top page of Google.

Developing a “personal brand” or online reputation is something that may be new to those people re-entering the job search and looking to shift careers, but it’s something all of us online have been thinking about and working on for years now. Lots of us even act as consultants to help folks get up to speed on these things, and learn from the mistakes and successes we’ve learned the hard way. But the thing that’s hardest for us to teach and for others to learn, is identifying the core message of who you are and what you want to do, or where you add the most value to any business or organization. This takes a lot of work and self-exploration, which is not something everyone is particularly comfortable doing, or discussing with their web designer, for that matter. But unless you know who you are, and where you want to go, personal branding will be nothing more than “new coke”- a temporary, new package that’s unlikely to please anyone in the end.

In order to build resilience and flexibility to change, you have to know who you are and what you’re about. What are you passionate about? What matters to you? What makes you want to get up in the morning and get started on right away? The answer to that question is different for many people. The web has allowed people to start to find their voices for the first time, and express their feelings in ways they are not always comfortable doing in real life. It allows them to unleash their creativity (and occasional vitriole) in environments where that seems more acceptable than during lunch hour with colleagues, even though a quick Google search will tell anyone just about anything they want to know about you, regardless.

The web allows you to establish a personal reputation in a more well-rounded and complete way than ever before. For example, while my resume may be on LinkedIn along with recommendations from clients and colleagues, you probably get a greater sense of who I am as a person by reading my blog, my tweets or becoming a friend on Facebook. These social media channels function like a coffee house or cocktail party, and provide a LOT of background information about me, long before folks ever meet me, for good and for ill. My information and thoughts are broadcast into public forums, forming a portion of my reputation and what people think I’m about long before we ever meet face to face. This self-revelation can be scary at first. You are going to be accountable for anything you put online, so that means you have to be okay with employers, friends, and family (Hi Mom!) reading what you have to say.

Living out loud, so to speak, has actually been incredibly freeing for me. I have to assume that people who don’t like what I have to say will simply ignore me, and those that are interested already have a sense of who I am and are engaging because they like what they see on some level. It pre-sorts folks and options, and frankly prevents me from ever really assuming some sort of persona online, because I have been a what-you-see-is-what-you-get girl for a long time.  It means my personal brand becomes an amalgamation of everything I post online, alongside what everyone else says about me.

With the Great Recession, many folks are being forced to become independent contractors and consultants for the first time. Developing a sense of who you are and what you offer, and why that’s vitally important is all about developing a personal brand and what makes you valuable, or as Seth Godin puts it, a “Linchpin“. As much as you can become your own business, or a “full time temp” as the article put it, the personal brand is only one part of your problem. Those of us playing in this world for a while know what every new entrepreneur and small business owner learns: You have to find a way to scale your resources.

As much as we may become a Country of Freelancers, even the freelancers are finding coming together in loose affiliated networks to capitalize on each other’s specialities and interests drives more business than going it alone. That’s why the employment agency concept works- think of it as a guild that will send out specialized craftsman to where they are needed, while handling all the back-end business such as identifying the needs of customers and placing the right person in the right job, while handling all the finances for a cut of the fee. This model helps businesses scale up and down when needed, while keeping a pool of talented and qualified individuals available when needed. Even this comes down to the individual making their own brand and skill sets (read: brand attributes) transparent to the agency, so they can act as a Yenta and make the best match possible.

Over time, we may find that a constantly shifting pool of worker resources- like the old “secretarial pool” of yore, may not be the best solution, as people crave the relationships and stability that more stable work environments provide. We have to find a way to blend a business’s need for talent with the flow of actual business and work, yet maintain our human need for relationships, stability and even social interactions. It’s going to be more difficult for everyone as the traditional concepts of work and workplace change with the ability to work from anywhere at anytime, and the need for actual bodies during certain hours diminishes.

This disruption will make us seriously rethink both who we are and what we want, as well as the tradeoffs we make between flexibility and stability. How much “slack time” is necessary in order to allow folks room to think, contemplate and innovate, and how much of that are we willing to tolerate in a world where six-sigma and maximizing resources to ensure maximum profit rules? When will we have to take the human factor into consideration when designing work and school for that matter? When will we crave the “face time” that helps create and maintain trusting relationships between co-workers and creates a sense of company culture and mutual dependence?

I know I’ve read tons of books on the subject of identifying your talents and how to best use them.  In fact, I’ve placed many of them in my Amazon Associates store for your convenience, if you’re interested. By figuring out what your greatest natural talents are, you can use that as a centering mechanism to help figure out what you do best and what you can add to a project, and also avoid the things you’re not great at. I know, for example, I need to let people know up front that I’m often excited and willing to help you on a project, but I will need reminders from time to time about things with no firm deadlines, because I tend to let those things sink to the bottom of my to do list and they can be overlooked.   This helps other people understand and “manage” me better, because we have a set of expectations we’ve disclosed up front. I know that I love doing research and love strategy, putting plans and pathways together for folks, so I need to search out opportunities where my skill sets are best put to use.  By knowing these things about myself, I can better choose my pathways, my clients, and what aspects of my business will require outsourcing or support help to handle the aspects I’m not as good at as others.  By knowing your talents better, you can refine and articulate your personal brand as well.

The growth of a Personal Brand is really all about growing a reputation, and maintaining and fortifying that identified reputation with your actions.  While we all need to have that sense of self as a brand, we also need to remember we are all people first. While I like to think about branding as a concept, especially as an analogy for reputation, in the end I know I need to be human much more than a product on a shelf, because that’s really how human business works.

*Note- If you purchase any of the books through the Amazon Associates Store, Amazon will pay me a referral fee, roughly under a dollar per book. It’s peanuts, but I’d appreciate it, if only to know that people do listen to my book recommendations.