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Further Questions: Does Personal Branding Help?

Each month the ALA New Members Round Table launches a discussion on the NMRT-L listserv.  Discussions have been on topics such as interview preparation, getting published, and now this month, branding.  Inspired by that discussion, this week I asked people who hire librarians:
Personal branding has become one of the tools recommended by those dispensing job hunting advice.  
Have you ever hired a librarian who uses this strategy – developing and managing a personal brand in order to shape the image he or she presents on the job hunt and professionally? Do you have any thoughts about this trend?
(If you want to read more about branding before answering this question, there’s a recent-ish American Libraries article here.)

Marge Loch-WoutersI have not really had anyone come in with a particular personal brand for jobs we have hired for. I will say a lot of people develop brands as they go along in the job or their career.  When I am teaching MLIS students or mentoring younger librarians, I encourage them to develop areas of expertise and then blog, use tumblr or engage on social networks promoting their chops. I think social media makes it easier to put your message out there consistently. While you can’t always control your “brand’ you can show people the skills you have, how you approach a problem or other areas of mightiness by being out there and upfront!

– Marge Loch-Wouters, Youth Services Coordinator, La Crosse (WI) Public Library

Gina MillsapHere’s my take on personal branding.  It’s a balancing act.  What I’m looking for is a librarian who first and foremost wants to work at not just any library, but the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library.  She has done her homework and can make the case that she is the perfect fit for us because of her education, skill set, expertise, interests and drive. And we’re the perfect fit for her because we are strategic, innovative and driven to serve our local community, making it a better place to live, work and learn, and oh, yeah, be the best damn library in the country!  If the brand helps her establish her identity as that, great.  There’s potentially an opportunity to see what that person can do vs relying on traditional resumes and other information that in the final analysis may raise more questions than deliver knowledge about a candidate.

Here’s a cautionary note.  If the personal branding process is focused on establishing her professional reputation regardless of where she works, rather than what it can do to enhance the library’s brand, I’ll think twice before considering her as a candidate.  We’ve developed a bit of a cult of personality or celebrity in the library world.  While it can clearly build the reputation of and professional opportunities for the individual, I’m not sure it always serves the interests of libraries. And not everyone who writes knowledgeably about topics actually has solid experience in the field.

Business guru Tom Peters, author of In Search of Excellence, coined the phrase “personal brand” in 1997.  I remembered reading an article he wrote called The Brand Called You.   I went back and read it again. I don’t agree with everything he says.  But what jumps out at me is  that essentially, if you’re branding you, it should be to reveal your character, your values and your value to the organization.  Here’s what he says, “No matter what you’re doing today, there are four things you’ve got to measure yourself against. First, you’ve got to be a great teammate and a supportive colleague. Second, you’ve got to be an exceptional expert at something that has real value. Third, you’ve got to be a broad-gauged visionary — a leader, a teacher, a farsighted “imagineer.” Fourth, you’ve got to be a businessperson — you’ve got to be obsessed with pragmatic outcomes.” I’d hire that person.

So, that’s my two cents.  There’s nothing wrong with developing a personal brand, but it needs to be done right and for the right reasons.

Please note:  I used the pronoun “she” because I get tired of writing s/he, but no gender-bias intended!  🙂

– Gina Millsap, Chief Executive Officer, Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library

Emilie SmartIf I have hired a librarian who is personally branded, I’m not aware of it.  I’ve never interviewed anyone who had a personal logo (other than a photograph of themselves) nor has anyone in an interview presented or mentioned anything pertaining to a personal brand.  Perhaps I just missed it?  I polled a couple of my freshly minted librarians asking if they had a personal “brand” and they looked at me with confusement  (yes, I know it’s confusion but I like “confusement” — it’s amusing.).
The trend of “personal branding” as described in the article sounds like a rehashing of common sense approaches to professionalism.  I guess professionalism has achieved brand status!  Whatever it takes…
– Emilie Smart, Division Coordinator of Reference Services & Computer Services at East Baton Rouge Parish Library
Thanks, as always, to the people who hire librarians for their time and insight.
What do you think about branding?  If you’ve got opinions, you’re welcome to share them below, but I also encourage you to join the NMRT listserv (I think you may do so without being a NMRT member) and participate in the discussion there.

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Filed under Further Questions, Public