Tag Archives: personal branding

Personal Branding Lessons from Taylor Swift

I remember the first time I heard Taylor Swift’s first hit, “Tim McGraw.”  It was almost summertime and I was going through a breakup myself, so the lyrics were especially poignant. Back then, Taylor had long, curly hair and wore cowboy boots exclusively. Since then, Taylor’s style has changed in many ways and so has her personal brand.

Taylor as a Country Princess


In 2007, Taylor Swift exploded into the country music world. With songs that name checked country music stars like Tim McGraw, it seemed as though she was destined to become the next female country star. From the beginning, however, her style veered a little more towards a fusion of country and pop. In rapid succession, “Tim McGraw” and her next hit, “Teardrops on My Guitar” were remixed to be more pop friendly and were in regular rotation on country and pop stations.

What does this teach us? Figure out what makes you unique–then use it.

How many of us have preconceived notions of what a lawyer looks like, how an artist should dress or how accountants act? Taylor is an example of an unconventional young female artist and an unconventional country (or pop) star. Many young female stars who come up in show business go in one of two directions: rejecting or rebelling against everything that made them popular as a child/teen actress to illustrate that they’ve grown or proclaiming their innocence (read: virginity) a la an early Britney Spears.

Which leads to lesson 2: Evolve your brand slowly.


If you listen to Taylor’s Album “Fearless,” specifically songs like the title track, you can see hints of what was to come with her next album, “Speak Now” (in particular, the song “Sparks Fly”).  From songs on her 2012 album, “Red,” such as “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “22,” you can see the beginnings of her newer songs like “Shake It Off.”  Some people decide to do a complete 180 to change their image–they go from uber professional to bohemian artist or sweats wearing college student to conservative button downs. This can be a jolt for the people–your colleagues, friends, supervisors, etc.–who have grown accustomed to who you are (your brand or image) and can come off as being insincere.  Allow your personal brand to grow and evolve like you do–organically.

But–Have a Plan in Mind.


I’m not naive enough to think that Taylor Swift’s newer image–from her fashion choices (straight hair! heels!) to her latest album–aren’t in some way calculated.  It’s important to have goals in mind and retool your brand in ways that feel authentic to you and are in line with your goals. So you want to be a manager? That doesn’t mean you start bossing around your co-workers. Instead, begin adding more managerial type clothing to your wardrobe (if you’re insure how, check out what the heads of your department wear) and begin taking on projects that require a higher level of responsibility.  Very few people can go from undergrad to CEO overnight. Always make sure that your image, or personal brand, is in line with who you are–and who you want to be.

And remember:



didn’t become this–



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Filed under Career Tips

What Kind of Life Do YOU Want?

When choosing a career, most people consider these things: What they’re passionate about, how much money they’ll make, and what they’re good at. These are great starting points, but they are not the end of the career exploration journey. The following questions will help you determine not only what you’re good at or will get paid for, but what kind of LIFE you want.

 life two

Questions to Consider When Choosing a Career:

  1. Where do you want to live?
    1. Close to family? In a rural setting? Somewhere international? Determining where you want to work geographically will help you determine what kind of work you want to do.
  2. What kind of people do you want to work with?
    1. Laid back? Introverted? Type A? People who joke around? People who take their work very, very seriously?
  3. What kind of supervisor do you want?
    1. Do you want a supervisor who doesn’t mind when you take a couple of hours for doctors’ appointments or your kid’s recital? Do you want a supervisor who is quick to praise? Do you want a supervisor who gives you honest feedback? A director who is very clear about expectations?
  4. What do the hiring trends for the careers you’re considering look like?
    1. Considering a PhD in 1840s British literature? Great. Will you have a job once you get that doctorate? Maybe not…
    2. Know how fast the jobs you’re considering are growing and what the education requirements will be in the future.
  5. People, things, or ideas?
    1. Meaning, do you want to help people? Come up with new ways to do things? Work with your hands or use machinery?
  6. What DO you want to do all day?
    1. Do you want to be behind a desk? Working outdoors? Networking with lots of people? Do you want a job that ends a 5pm?
  7. What do you really freaking like to do?
    1. Confession: I really like to sing. I have fun singing with my friends or just in the car by myself. Problem is, I’m not so great at it AND I don’t have the passion to devote to a singing career. We often think that, just because we like to do something, or just because we do something well, means that we should turn it into a career.  Hobbies are great—they provide a wonderful break from your 9-5 job. So maybe I’ll never be a famous rock star—I’ll always have my car radio…
  8. What are you really freaking good at?
    1. Like I said, I like to sing. Sadly, I’m pretty certain no one will ever pay me for it. Why? Because I’m no Christina Aguilera.  You can really love anything: soccer, psychiatry, mechanical engineering, but if you don’t have the talent for it, you should probably consider another career path.
    2. Speaking in public? Taking care of children? Conducting chemistry experiments? Racing motocross bikes?
  9. What kind of life do you want during the workday?
    1. Do you want to be outside most of the day? Are you perfectly happy sitting in front of a computer all morning? Do you want to attend daily meetings? Do physical work? Have close friendships with your colleagues? Never come out of your cubicle?
  10. What kind of life do you want, period?
    1. Do you want a big house, expensive vacations, and financial security? It’ll probably require working 80-90 hours a week as an investment banker or a surgical intern? If you don’t mind, then you may have found a great career path. Do you want 4 kids and plenty of time to take them to Little Gym? Perhaps you should find a company or career that provides more work/life balance. Are you a night owl who’d prefer to work 3rd shift? It’s important to understand yourself, your needs, and the needs of those you love when considering a new job or a career path.

life one


Filed under Career Tips, Life advice

How Social Media Can Advance Your Career

Job seekers are often told to safeguard their social media accounts to insure that they aren’t viewed during the job search.  While this can be wise advice, there is another side to the story:

Using social media to ADVANCE your job search (and your career).

With the majority of professionals (and people in general) on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. these days, being “unsearchable” via social media may be more trouble than it is worth.  When I can’t find someone through social media, I sometimes wonder why–are they making all accounts super private because of something inappropriate? What’s going on?

While it is a great idea to “clean up” your Facebook or Twitter accounts so that potential employers don’t get a negative impression, you can also use social media to your advantage.  I use my Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts to post (publicly–so that “everyone” can see) any major accomplishments, such as receiving a promotion or presenting at a conference.  I also post information about events that my office organizes or articles relevant to my field.

I work in a field that offers great work/life balance but also a good integration of professional and personal life.  Many of my colleagues are Facebook “friends” so I post appropriate personal information as well, like recently buying a home, becoming engaged last year, and birthdays of my nephews and nieces.

I’ve had many Proactive Professional readers find me on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.  I’ve also received emails from professionals who Googled me and found my website and Facebook page.  When this occurs, I am grateful that my public Facebook reflects positive things in my life, an interest in my field, and the work I’m doing in career counseling.

Consider going beyond protecting your Facebook from colleagues, supervisors, or potential employers.  Instead, use social media to your advantage by creating a “brand” for yourself online.  Using social media proactively may convince potential employers or current supervisors that you’d be a great fit within their company–or are ready for a promotion.

Make sure that how you're viewed on social media is in alignment with who you are and how you want others to see you.

Make sure that how you’re viewed on social media is in alignment with who you are and how you want others to see you.


Filed under Career Resources, Career Tips

Top 5 Tips for Utilizing Your University’s Career Services–from a Career Coach

I often hear complaints from new college graduates that career services didn’t get them a job.  Something many students don’t understand is that career development centers are not placement organizations.  Career services professionals are there to help provide you with the tools to figure out what you want to do professionally and how to best market yourself for the job search.  With that being said, here are my top tips for effectively utilizing the career services offered at your university.

Image(Cheesy, I know)

Keep in mind: career service professionals are not there to give you a job or place you in a job.

Consider this: if you wanted to get married in the next few years, would you really want a dating service to handpick your future spouse, or even give you a half dozen to choose from? Perhaps that sounds better than going out on dozens of blinds dates, but really think it through.  Before you can have a successful relationship, you must have a deep understanding of who you are (your likes, dislikes, needs, deal breakers, future goals, etc.) as well as the necessary tools to make a relationship great (trust, open communication, intimacy, etc.).

In the same way, career development offices are here to help you figure out the kinds of careers you’re interested in based on your values, interests, and personality and how to pursue those careers.

Think about what you’d like to get from your meeting before the appointment. 

Many times, I’ve had students come in and ask for their resumes to be critiqued.  Twenty minutes later, they admit that they’re unsure of their major or feel they need practice interviewing.  There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having several needs, but it will make easier for everyone if you consider what those needs are before heading into your career coaching session.  We don’t always realize we have more than one issue and that’s completely fine.  If you can, though, consider how you’d like your career adviser to help and what areas you feel need the most attention.

Realize that career development is a process.

I think of our lives as being in a constant state of evolution.  Our wants, needs, and goals change based on our experiences and the things we learn about ourselves.  The mistake I see so many people (not just students!) make is feeling like a failure for changing their career plans.  It is not uncommon to realize you don’t fit in with the culture of a company or professional field.  It is not strange to figure out that you don’t have the skills necessary for the job your friends or family are pressuring you to take (an example of this would be an artistic student realizing they have no skills or interest in the field of medicine).  You are not a failure for realizing a career path is wrong for you in your senior year.  You are not useless because you don’t know what you want to do with the rest of your life as a college freshman.

Come back for multiple sessions.

In the same way that career development is a process the job search does not end when you submit your resume.  The career path does not stop when you figure out your major.  Career services can help you edit your resume, prepare for interviews, understand your personality type, and deal with the stressors that come with choosing a profession.  Develop a relationship with a career coach and maintain it through your time in college.

Don’t be afraid to utilize alumni career services.

Most colleges and universities have programs, career advisers and assistance for alumni.  Sometimes these services cost money, but they can help you tailor your resume to the different organizations or career fields you’re pursuing and learn to be a proactive professional.

Bonus Tip:

If you meet with a career adviser and don’t feel like they are listening to you, or you don’t feel comfortable speaking openly with them, ask for another career adviser! Every student and every adviser is different–sometimes one person isn’t the right fit for you and that’s okay.

Finding the right career can be one of the most rewarding things you do in life.  Many students believe that college is a time to go to class, go to parties, and be involved in student organizations.  While these can be great experiences and teach you so much about yourself, don’t forget to plan for your career.  We spend so much of our lives at work—it is my opinion that figuring out what you want to do with your life is as important as knowing who you want to marry or the kind of person you want to be.  Career advisers are here to help you make the journey from college to career a rewarding one.  Take advantage!


Filed under Career Resources, Career Tips

The Face is the Thing

Recently, I read an article that theorized we all have one fatal flaw that holds us back.  I immediately began to think about my flaws and how they might be fatal—until I read the next sentence.  It said we all have this one fatal flaw that holds us back in some way(s)—work, relationships, parenthood, health—and that we probably think we can list our flaw, but we can’t.  We are too close to it to be objective, so we must find a friend—not a parent or a partner—who will be truthful and objective, a friend who can pinpoint our fatal flaw.  While I have yet to do what sounds like a really fun exercise, I have been thinking about things that hold me back and ways I can improve.

So, let me move on from the drama of a FATAL flaw and talk about a minor flaw.  Instead of fatal, maybe just a food poison flaw, or touch of the flu flaw.  For me, I can pinpoint my under the weather flaw—it’s my face. No, I’m not saying that I’m so terribly unattractive that my face holds me back in life. Or that I’m one of those incredibly lucky people who believe they’re so beautiful they simply can’t be taken seriously.  Instead, my face is too expressive.

My facial expressions are (in)famous and often project my every thought to the world.  I’ve given this a lot of thought over the years and have concluded that this happens for two main reasons:

  1. I am often in my own world of thoughts, so my facial expression is related to them, not what’s actually happening.
  2. I have no poker face.

Sadly, I’m not exaggerating. My facial expressions have been commented on by friends, family, supervisors, co-workers, professors, partners…this list is endless.  This, combined with my often off beat, sarcastic sense of humor, can taint others’ perceptions of me. In my early 20s, I had little issue with this. If someone is going to judge me based on my face, then I don’t care to know them. I felt like people should take the time to get to know me, to form a true impression of me, not an idea based on a scrunch of my nose.

In my late 20s, however, I was presented with a mirror. Two of them, in fact. Colleagues who had similarly sarcastic senses of humor and questionable narrowing of the eyes or turning of the mouth. At first, I couldn’t understand why this was disdainful to me—yet oddly familiar and uncomfortable. So, I did what any reasonable person would do and avoided tem (in a polite, collegial way) whenever possible. Until the night I was required to work closely with one of them on a project. 

To outsiders, the scene may have looked like a standoff from an old Western movie.  Facial expressions drawn. Arms crossed with immovable body language. In real life, though, we were having a good conversation. And that’s when I realized: you’re like me!  I hadn’t taken the time to really try and get to know this person because I assumed this person didn’t want to be known.

So the next time I saw my other colleague with the dubious expressions, I asked how their day was going and struck up a conversation. Turns out, they actually weren’t very nice.  That sucked, but it made me realize that regardless of the outcome, the only face I can control was my own.  I shudder now to think of how many people may have become important connections or even deep relationships in my life, if only I had gotten out of myself a little more and focused on the outside world instead of my own thoughts.

And the poker face? Well, I’m still working on it.

My nephew Shelton: (clearly he inherited Aunt Candace’s penchant for making faces)


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How the Workplace is Like High School: Cliques

Like many teenagers, you probably wanted to fit in somewhere in high school. Perhaps you had been a “good girl” your entire life and decided to become friends with the “trouble” kids.  So you smoked in the bathroom (almost coughing up a lung in the process), skipped class (making sure, of course, to get your homework from a responsible classmate), and maybe even changed the way you dressed or how you interacted with teachers.  Or perhaps you were tired of being a “nerd” or outsider and decided to become friends with the popular kids.  You watched “Mean Girls” and “She’s All That,” taking notes like an anthropologist studying a foreign culture.  You began shopping at the trendy stores in the mall and listening in on the cheerleaders conversations in class, hoping to get the inside scoop on their hopes, dreams…or maybe just what they’re doing Friday night. You got the right clothes. You mimicked their behaviors. You said the right things, went to the right places, kissed the right football players. 

So why do you feel like you don’t belong??? The answer is fairly simple: fitting in is not belonging. That phrase is important enough to bear repeating: Fitting in is NOT belonging.  Trying to fit in with a high school clique or a workplace culture that does not reflect who you really are may work temporarily but you’ll probably never feel authentic.  Belonging means that your values, personality, skills, etc. is reflected and complemented by those around you.  You don’t have to pretend to get a joke, feel uncomfortable during meetings, or be exhausted by acting as though you’re someone or something you’re not.  Belonging means that you are accepted for who you are and what you bring to the table.  


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Filed under Career Resources, Career Tips, Weekly Series

What Personal Branding Is–and ISN’T


In recent years, personal branding has become something of a buzzword for creating the professional reputation you want.  Some people, however, seem to get personal branding confused with creating a fake persona or image, acting in a manner that is incongruent to who one really is.

Personal Branding is:

  • Your self impression=how you are perceived by others

Oftentimes, we have an idea of who we are–kind, a workaholic, witty, shy–but that idea doesn’t always mirror how others see us.  One person’s “kind” could be viewed as another person’s “pushover.” “Witty” for some might be “biting and sarcastic” to others.  When understood and used properly, personal branding can be a tool to help your colleagues, clients, supervisors, etc. see you the way you see yourself.  Being aware of your strengths and weaknesses, how you communicate and express your personality to others, and utilizing this awareness to ensure that your self image is reflected in your actions (and interactions) is personal branding done RIGHT.

Personal Branding is NOT:

  • Pretending to be someone you are not

Personal branding is not, for example, worrying that you will be fired because of tardiness or laziness and deciding to pretend you are more professional by dressing differently or telling people how responsible you are but not following up with action.  Instead, personal branding is being aware of who you are and doing what is necessary to ensure that this awareness is congruent in all parts of your life.  If you want to be a responsible professional, do not post pictures of yourself on Facebook or Instagram partying every week.  On the other hand, if you’ve been told that you come across as too serious at work and that is keeping you from creating stronger relationships with professional connections, be intentional about mentioning your life outside of work (to an appropriate degree, of course!). How do you do this? Talk about the softball team you’ve recently joined.  Tell funny stories about your nephews and nieces.  Ask your colleagues about THEIR lives.

To recap, personal branding is being aware of who you are and who you want to be and making sure that matches up with how others see you.

Personal branding is not, pretending to be something you aren’t to impress others or make up for bad behavior.

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