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Posted March 26, 2020
The New York Academy of Sciences
Establishing a successful career in science, engineering, or other STEM fields requires more than “book smarts.” Success at work, both in and outside of academia, requires you to take control of your image by creating a personal brand. In doing so, you maintain a professional reputation that highlights your skills, experience, personality, and more.
On February 8, 2020, the Academy’s Science Alliance hosted “Building Your Personal Brand,” a workshop designed to give you the skills you need to develop and refine your personal brand, specifically as it pertains to STEM Professionals.
Learn the best practices for effective personal branding in this summary of the workshop.
Career Expert, Monster
What is a Personal Brand & Why do I Need One?
At the start of the workshop, career expert and columnist Vicki Salemi emphasized the importance of having a personal brand. Currently, STEM is one of the largest growing fields, but there is a labor shortage of STEM professionals. Companies need employees with science backgrounds, and cannot seem to fill the jobs fast enough. “You are all highly intelligent, highly skilled,” Salemi said. “We’re hoping today to put the package together, to make you not only marketable but comfortable and confident in presenting yourself to the world.”
Salemi noted that all kinds of interactions could be considered networking. So everyday conversations and even what you post on social media can be a form of networking. You never know who you may encounter at the airport or the doctor’s waiting room, but your approach to conversation needs to be tweaked depending on the person with whom you are interacting.
She encouraged participants to feel more comfortable talking about themselves positively. Confidence and knowing your self-worth plays a huge role in being able to negotiate as well. So professionals should get used to “humble bragging.” As Salemi explained, it is not considered boasting if you make a confident statement about who you are and what you offer. When socializing with friends, it’s often easier to brag about someone else’s accomplishments instead of your own. Why is it so easy to promote someone else, but not yourself? Get over that hurdle and pretend you are someone else describing you.
When defining your personal brand or professional reputation, you should be asking yourself how you want to come across to others. Your brand should be consistent and include your appearance, speech, and enthusiasm. Salemi reminded everyone that these elements can be self-controlled and shaped, but you cannot control how others perceive you. “This is the telling of your story—you get to shape it!”
The Communication Imperative
Studies have shown that a significant part of communication is non-verbal. Social skills play a huge role in how you are perceived in networking settings. Salemi provided a few tips: stand by the food or a high traffic area where people will walk; make sure people see your nametag; and try to approach small groups of two or three people if you are alone. The easiest way to break the ice is to find something in common. The commonality may be obvious at a job networking event or alumni event where you immediately have something in common. As STEM professionals, attending scientific conferences is a major form of networking. When meeting someone new, make eye contact, and offer a firm handshake. However, Salemi did recommend that when you feel you are not getting anything else out of the conversation, move on. Your time is valuable.
Usually, the personal details you share with someone are the most memorable and provide a common concept for bonding. Salemi noted that it’s important to have a short, memorable elevator pitch. Too much detail will make you difficult to remember, and you want the listener to be able to retain information. Whatever information you are sharing, “say it with passion, enthusiasm, and authenticity,” Salemi said. She then encouraged everyone to make themselves stand out in some way. Even at work events, you can find ways to talk about personal stuff, but then connect it to your technical skills or public speaking abilities. The key is to find parallels between your hobbies and skillsets for work.
One workshop participant asked how to discuss scientific topics that she is passionate about, but are sometimes considered controversial. Salemi explained that the discussion of controversial topics—politics, climate crisis, food science, bioethics, or sports—is best done in person with a non-combative tone and never discussed over written communication because it may be taken the wrong way.
Creating Your Elevator Pitch
When attending conferences or science meetings, you should come prepared with an elevator pitch. Salemi advises to keep it simple and succinct (KISS). When speaking, your words should be clear and said with passion, but not rushed. The elevator pitch should not exceed 30 seconds. Another strategy is to bring personal business cards along, asking if you can give them out and receive someone else’s in return.
Salemi also mentioned the importance of a mission statement. Like companies, individuals can also have a mission statement. Mission statements highlight your vision, core values, and an overview of your goals and objectives. This 1-2 sentence “motto” should not include details, but can consist of business as well as personal information.
Social Media and Your Digital Footprint
In today’s society, most people have multiple social media accounts and spend many hours per day online. When applying for new positions, it’s important to note that recruiters may search applicants on Google and look them up on social media platforms. The recruiters may be evaluating your online presence for grammar, content, and typos. Most professionals use LinkedIn and recruiters look for keywords on users’ profiles when doing searches. Your LinkedIn profile should mirror your resume.
Salemi believes that you can post both professionally and personally from one account, though many choose to keep Facebook and Instagram personal and LinkedIn professional. Posting not only about you, but also sharing interesting articles and liking and commenting on others’ posts will keep you in touch with more people. The same goes for Twitter, where you can easily retweet a colleague’s work. By posting the same content on multiple forms of social media, you may reach different audiences and receive varied reactions. This will help to expand your brand and influence.
Resumes & Your Unique Value Proposition
Salemi also discussed how to improve resume content. Words from the job description can be used in your responses and useful for organizing the page. “You want to get very quantifiable,” said Salemi. “What is measurable, and what is impressive?” Mention how many cells you used, how many people you managed, and the number of presentations and publications you have. Previous experiences and volunteer work should be included, as Salemi advocates for promoting all your prior accomplishments and showing how your skills can be transferable to a new job. It may make you more marketable.
Your Brand and Your Future
Throughout the day, Salemi touched on interview tips, resumes, and cover letters. She ended the workshop by asking participants to take the same survey they did at the beginning of the day. Overall, participants felt that they had a better grasp of their personal brands and how to convey them to a public audience. Additionally, they felt more comfortable utilizing their social media accounts.