Don’t Polarize Your Professional Brand

We hear and see a lot of people taking sides these days. Making assumptions about those on the other side seems to be commonplace.

We have no control over colleagues on the other side of any position, so it is important to understand that we operate as leaders within a polarized world, and often within a polarized industry or workplace. In addition, more of what each of us says and does in the personal and professional realm is widely known. Cultivating a favorable professional brand has become increasingly complex.

The quickest way to solicit a negative reaction from a large portion of your target market is to tie your professional brand to a hot button issue. Managing how and when you communicate information about your education, beliefs, background and social communities carefully and intentionally.

Most recently, we have advised quite a few clients to refrain from communicating too many religious oriented affiliations on top of religiously themed community service. In the same vein, we recently advised another client to refrain from communicating too many women’s organizations and community service affiliations, on top of woman’s-oriented communities at work. Be careful to avoid being discounted, misunderstood or perceived as having a bias toward a specific community.

Community service is a great personal choice, but the organization and community that you choose to serve may not be everyone’s cup of tea. “Giving back” under the umbrella of a polarizing issue or to benefit an exclusive group may not be considered “service” by those who see your choice of “giving back” through a different lens.

Some of our clients who have achieved a very high socioeconomic status want to widely communicate their community service or volunteer work that indicates their status (e.g.: board positions at their child’s private school or at their country club). While it is understandable to want to identify your communities to make connections, we advise doing so in targeted venues where you have a receptive audience – like online alumni or club communities. Overemphasizing your socioeconomic status has the potential to turn off a good portion of your audience.

We all become attached to our existing brand, so these types of conversations are always delicate. In general, your professional brand should be free of the following:
• Hot button issues (i.e.: climate change, gun control, immigration, etc.)
• Political causes, parties, or candidates (unless your career is politics)
• Repeated references to your socioeconomic status, whatever it is
• Repeated references to your gender, race, ethnicity or religion

Community service and advancing your community are great ways to give back. However, if you choose to communicate polarizing aspects of your personal brand as a part of your career-branding message, you will limit your visibility, likability and relationships. In today’s market, your career brand should be as all-inclusive as possible.

Ask yourself, “Are you on brand with today’s market?” Communicating a desire to work within a diverse environment, with co-workers who think differently than you, have different backgrounds than you, and look differently than you, will broaden, diversify and grow the number of opportunities that come your way.

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