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Personal Development

Experience and Networking

Promoting your brand online is crucially important. But it’s even more important to have something of real value to promote.

Your brand – your professional reputation – is at one level the sum of all your professional accomplishments and experiences. Keeping track of your accomplishments is a useful way to demonstrate your strengths to the world. But it’s also useful to be aware of your weaknesses.

Are there holes in your resume? Does your dream job require skills that you simply lack? Is your path to the top blocked because you lack key credentials? Building your brand means having a strategy to fill those holes, and gain the skills and credentials you need to meet your career goals.

First, you need to identify your weaknesses. Not all of them will necessarily be crucial, but inevitably there will be some deal-breakers that need to be addressed. Decide which weaknesses are critical, and then devise a strategy to deal with them.

There are five major ways to strengthen your brand by filling critical gaps in your experience:

Ask for new challenges at work

Nobody ever made a name for herself by doing the bare minimum. Request new challenges and volunteer for new assignments – you’ll gain experience, and you’ll also gain a reputation as a go-to person in your company.

Consider freelancing or consulting

Taking on side-work that’s not directly related to your full-time job allows you to broaden your horizons and gain new skills—and also pick up some extra cash.

Volunteer

There are countless organizations and agencies out there, from homeless shelters to schools to senior centers, that could use your help. Volunteer work helps you hone your skills and burnish your resume, while actually doing some good in the world.

Invest in education and continued learning

Additional education, training, and certification can be costly and time-consuming, but it’s almost always worth it—and educational credentials are easy-to-understand markers for prospective employers or clients. For those who are still in school, internships provide another way to gain new experience.

Find a mentor

The late Yogi Berra once observed, early in his career, that a veteran catcher was “learning me all his experience.” Syntax aside, that’s often the way the business world works. Finding a respected, veteran employee who’s willing to take you under her wing can give you the benefit of her accumulated experience, expand your circle of contacts, and maybe even lend you some prestige-by-association.

Expanding your experience is crucial to strengthening your brand, but by itself, it’s not enough. After all, it’s axiomatic that “business is about personal relationships”—and that means you need to reach out to other people, both at work and outside the job, to expand your circle of relationships.

A lot has been written about the need to reach out to “influencers”—that is, people who can influence your career path by influencing the decision to hire or promote you. That’s a definite understatement: you want to do more than just reach out to these people. You want to develop a close personal relationship, even a friendship, with them.

But it’s also important to reach out to people who might not influence your career path—yet. You should think of every potential relationship as an opportunity to advance your career goals. The larger your circle of relationships, the more such opportunities you will have over the course of your career.

There are plenty of easy ways stock your list of online contacts, but expanding your circle of real relationships involves—well, real work. It’s called “networking,” and here are a few pointers:

Networking Pointers

  • attend local events
  • join organizations
  • read industry material
  • maintain relationships
Networking pointers.

  • Attend local events. Chances are there are lots of organizations in your city or community that are open to business professionals, whether specific to your industry or not. Most will be listed on the Internet (or even in your local paper!)—find them and go
  • .Join. Whether it’s an industry association, a charity, or a local service group, joining an organization of like-minded people is one of the best ways to connect with those who may be able to help you down the line.
  • Read. Keep an eye on industry trade journals, blogs, and similar publications. When you see an article or post that strikes you as insightful, get in touch with the author and let him know that you share his interests and appreciate his perspective.
  • Stay in touch. Making contacts can be easy, at least for some people. Maintaining relationships is almost always hard; it takes time and effort to stay in touch, even if it’s just a weekly email. But keeping a large circle of real relationships is worth the extra work.
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