Building Your Personal Brand
by Cathy Lockman
Bob Daugherty knows his audience. As the U.S. Sourcing Leader for PricewaterhouseCoopers, he oversees campus recruiting, a responsibility that includes the hiring of more than 5,000 full-time employees and interns annually from 200 universities across the country. So when he spoke to students about "Positioning Yourself in a Challenging World" at the recent Accounting Lyceum, they got advice from someone who knows what they're up against.
It's an environment where, according to recent surveys, 6.2 million jobs have been lost since the beginning of the recession, some employers are estimating a nearly 20 percent drop in hiring numbers, and only one in five college grads have landed a job. Daugherty took his own informal but technologically savvy survey of the audience to see how Illinois accountancy students are faring in their job searches. Via text messaging to a prearranged number, students in the audience chose whether they: (1) had a job lined up, (2) had some prospects, or (3) had no prospects. The instantaneous results indicated that Illinois students are in a far better position than many others, with 42 percent already having accepted a job, 25 percent weighing prospects, and 33 percent without leads at the moment.
Daugherty had advice not only for that 58 percent without a job, but for those fortunate enough to know what they'll be doing after graduation. "Building your own personal brand is essential to everyone's long-term success in business, no matter what your job search circumstances are right now," he told the students. "You need to always be thinking of how you will add value, of what makes you stand out from others, and how you can differentiate yourself."
And just how can students do that? According to Daugherty, networking is crucial in not only enhancing your brand but improving your chances of getting your first job, and your second, and your third. "It's a highly competitive environment, and it will be for quite some time," he said. "If you're attached to a network, you will always be better equipped to deal with changing job circumstances."
Senior Rachel Liu found the discussion of networking and Daugherty's suggestion of creating and cultivating your own list of contacts to be especially valuable advice. "In class, of course, we focus on gaining the knowledge and getting the grades we need to be successful, but we don't talk about how important it is to establish a network and how to use it to help advance your career and to help others."
Daugherty also suggested that students "strive to develop a point of view." He explained that "organizations will expect you to have the initiative and the willingness to understand more than just your job. You need to also understand the industry and find ways to become an industry leader." Daugherty challenged students to educate themselves beyond the classroom by reading a broad range of business magazines and newspapers, joining online networks, and taking advantage of volunteer opportunities, "where you can reach out, meet people, help others, and develop new skills. These are all ways you can build your brand and open up doors."
And once you have that job, what then? "It's all about attitude," said Daugherty. "Talent only goes so far. When you do something mundane and you do it well, even if you don't like it, you gain trust and earn confidence that will translate into you getting more responsibility later. You have to be passionate about what you do and pursue that passion."
According to Daugherty, you also have to be open to change. "You need to be willing to reengineer your career," he told the students. "You need to manage your opportunities. Challenge your employer to allow you to develop new skills and explore new areas. This is how you create value in your personal brand. Your core values have already been built, but your brand is always evolving."
Daugherty points to his own career as testament to that. After five years in auditing with PwC, he went to company management saying he wanted a change. They suggested that with his skills the human resources department would be a good fit for both him and the company. Daugherty took that reengineering advice 27 years ago and never looked back. "You're the one who has to take control of your career," he told the students.
That advice resonated with Laura Davidson, a senior in accountancy who has an internship set up for the summer and then will be continuing school next year as she pursues her master's degree. "People today aren't as likely to stay with the same company or in the same career for 10 or 15 years as they might have been in the past," she said. "The economic environment changes quickly, and we need to be ready. The advice he gave of establishing a network and continually updating your skills will help us now and will also be valuable two or three years from now."
Despite the current employment situation, Daugherty told students the future is bright. "Coming from Illinois and from this program, you have a right to be confident in your abilities. If you match that talent with a willingness to try something new, to revise your skill set, and to be prepared for what comes next, you'll see success."