Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future

by Dorie Clark

This book is about making a career change. It starts with understanding your transferable skills, identifying how you are different as a competitive advantage, then establishing a narrative to make sense of your transition.

“The concept of personal branding gained currency in the late 1990s, after a famous Tom Peters cover story ran in Fast Company (‘The Brand Called You’). But really what we’re talking about is something that’s always existed: your reputation. What do people think of you? What do they say when you leave the room? Understanding that, and identifying any gaps between the current reality and where you want to be in the future, is critical to beginning your reinvention process.”

Clark suggests building a “personal brand inventory” using self-assessment questions and feedback from others. “One of the key questions to ask yourself as you plot your reinvention is ‘What skills or experiences do I have that can be translated into my new role?’”

DIFFERENTIATION

“The secret to your success centers on your difference. You shouldn’t even try to compete head-to-head with people who have been working their way up in your new arena for the past ten or twenty or thirty years. Instead, focus on what makes you different and unique. What’s the skill you possess that no one else does? How can you translate your past experience into your new realm? That will be your calling card and path to advancement.”

“Too often, outsiders will dismiss your previous experience as irrelevant. We’ll show them how your diverse knowledge and skills bring something new to the table, and make you far more effective than anyone else in the room.”

“Sometimes, there may be a temptation to fix what others might perceive as a physical shortcoming. But proceed with caution. It turns out that those elements may actually be a crucial part of your brand, making you memorable and likable.”

“In a competitive marketplace, no one is interested in how you’re the same as everyone else. Though it may be human to want to downplay your differences, that may actually extinguish part of what makes you successful. Embrace your differences, and you can turn them into your strengths.”

NARRATIVE

“People want to understand who you are, so we have to craft an explanatory story that makes sense and shows continuity from your past to the present. Most importantly, we have to explain why your transition adds value to others and is an authentic extension of your true nature.”

“Others will tune out if they don’t understand the rationale behind your transition. Find a way to make the connections obvious between your past experience and your future goal… Find the hidden, underlying themes that connect your professional experiences”

The following exercise can help to flesh out your narrative:

  • Write down your explanation—no more than two sentences—about why you’re making a transition. Stay away from self-indulgent story lines: highlight how you want to apply your skills to new domains or learn new things.
  • What’s the value you bring? Write down one or two sentences identifying the unique knowledge or skills you have that others in your new domain might not.
  • Find your common thread. You’re not rejecting one identity in favor of another; you’re transitioning across an isthmus linking the old and new brands. How can you articulate that commonality?
  • Practice telling your story to close friends. Does it sound plausible? Responsible? Strategic?”

“The first caveat: you can’t be who you aren’t… There are limits to how far your brand can stretch… At that point, you’ve lost all credibility.” Be honest with yourself about your real interests and personality.

“The second caveat: you have to believe in yourself.”

“Sometimes, your narrative reveals a linear transition… Other times, it just doesn’t. Your transition may be harsh, abrupt, and shocking, and the only explanation you can offer is the truth: something powerful changed in you.”

VISIBILITY

“Next, you’ll concentrate on building a portfolio—both online and offline—to demonstrate your abilities. As a knowledge worker, it’s sometimes hard to show people what you know and can do. That’s why it’s so essential to create intellectual property that others will want to read, share, and comment on. Whether it’s through a blog, a video blog, or a podcast series, you can find the medium where you’re most comfortable.”

Clark notes that video blogging can improve your search engine optimization. “Forrester Research discovered in 2009 that Google prioritized video over traditional text-based web pages—dramatically. In fact, videos were fifty-three times more likely to make it to the front page of a Google search.”

“Next, you’ll want to explore the possibility of blogging or writing articles for prominent media outlets. Readers may not come to top business websites looking for you, but if they enjoy an article of yours they encounter, they’re likely to visit your website, start following you on Twitter, or otherwise engage… Industry trade groups are also frequently hungry for blog and newsletter offerings, and are a prime way to reach your target audience.”

Get involved with your field’s professional association. “The secret, which most people don’t realize, is that they should aggressively seek out a leadership role…  While most of your peers are halfheartedly attending meetings or trading business cards at the back of the room, you can become a connector and power broker—knowing everyone, and at the center of the action. Leading the group means you not only have an excuse to talk to anyone, but they’re simultaneously seeking you out.”

Clark practices what she preaches and has successfully reinvented herself from journalist to political campaign spokeswoman (for Howard Dean and Robert Reich), to her current roles as marketing consultant, columnist, author, and adjunct professor of business.


Clark, Dorie. Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future. Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2013. Buy from Amazon.com