Try to avoid “zombie personal branding”

Zombie Personal Branding

I feel like the idea of “personal branding” is important — it’s basically what you show to the world, or what the world perceives of you — but the concept sounds very buzzword-y, so people that often talk of their “personal brand” seem a lot less authentic. (Also, if you know anything about psychology and confirmation bias, you also know that you may think your “personal brand” is one thing, but in reality everyone thinks it’s something else — and that “something else” category arose from the first few minutes of interaction they had with you.)

Personal branding, though, would seem to be a big deal during a job search process. I know a few things about job search processes, none of which are very good. There are probably about 190,000 articles written every day on personal branding, resume writing, how to “hack” the job search market, all that kind of stuff. Let me keep it really simple on that front: you don’t. It’s all a game. It’s mostly serendipity when it works. And ultimately, it’s a sale on both sides.

Here’s an article on Forbes — by Liz Ryan, a good writer on these kinds of topics — about personal branding and resumes. Here’s the part that will make you cringe:

Zombie branding is the traditional business branding that millions of job-seekers use to describe themselves. Most of us were taught to describe ourselves this way:

Results-oriented professional with a bottom-line orientation, skilled at multiple disciplines and experienced with cross-functional team. Motivated self-starter who works well with all levels of staff. Dedicated team player who meets or exceeds expectations.

This branding statement could describe anybody. There is no life in it. There aren’t even any complete sentences in it! The personality and power of the resume’s owner are completely hidden.

That’s miserable. You know what’s more miserable? That’s basically the NORM in most cases. This goes beyond ridiculous LinkedIn job titles, of which there are thousands. This goes to how people choose to describe themselves to potential employers. They choose buzzwords and one-off-maybe-it-sounds-good-OK-I-think-this-is-right expressions as opposed to actually explaining who they are. 

Now, like I said … the hiring process is insanely fraught. In reality, companies should be chasing curious people or people with self-awareness, but that’s not how the processes unfold. Rather, headcount opens, and people race to fill it. No discussions, no strategy, no context, no thought process. That’s the typical way.

But think about the above for a second: every day, in offices all over North America, people are hired from a process where they defined themselves as a “results-oriented professional with a bottom-line orientation.” It will happen this Tuesday somewhere. It will happen Wednesday. It will happen Thursday. So on and so forth, etc and etc.

That’s insane, if you really think about it: we’re taking a process that links a person to an org that will control about 1/3 of their life, and we’re defining and driving that process through buzzwords and empty expressions like “experienced with cross-functional teams.” That’s ridiculous, right?

Fixing the hiring process is hard because there’s so much human emotion tied up in it — and doubly hard because “fixing” any “process” for most orgs means “buying a new software tool,” and that stuff has absolutely murdered the HR side of hiring (Taleo, anyone?) — but I almost think we’ve reached a point where we need to completely blow up all the notions of hiring we have and replace them with full-team interviews, day-on-the-job demos, and screening for EQ and CQ. We can’t allow this zombie branding stuff — so, so rampant — to be the cornerstone of how we hire.

What do you think about the hiring process and how to fix it?

Ted Bauer


  1. In 2006 … branding did not exist. The game was different. In 2011 to now … this ‘branding’ took off. All of sudden, we all had to be salespeople. But what if your an ISTJ like me? What if the selling of yourself is instinctively repugnant? TO BAD FOR YOU! Hold your nose … ‘fake it to you make it’ … do lots of research to bring yourself up to par (if possible) to those who are natural salespeople … people that are literally my polar opposite from my personality. The whole job process is geared in favour of salespeople/ego-maniacs/extroverted candidates. Basically you have to adjust your style (personality) to match the interview process. It should be the other way around where the interview should be very flexible to match every type of personality it interviewers. That means you’ll have a different type of interview based on the Myer Briggs personality test. At the very least base the interview on how you see yourself … an extrovert, an ambivert, or an introvert. This is not rocket science.

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