Bento talks to Dan Cullen

Dan is a partner at the leading executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles based in Singapore.

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An interview with Heidrick & Struggles

For a consultant’s view of the right and wrong ways to promote a personal brand, we turned to Dan Cullen, a partner at the Singapore office of the leading executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles.

BENTO: Dan, we hear so much about the importance of “marketing yourself” lately. But how much is enough? Does someone who promotes himself too much put off recruiters and potential employers?

CULLEN: The way you communicate your personal brand matters. It is important to be noticed, but it is more important to be noticed in the right way. The way you communicate demonstrates your ability to interact with others. This is important to build trust with recruiters and employers.

It is important to be noticed, but it is more important to be noticed in the right way.

Any marketing of your credentials should be backed by evidence of what you have done and why you made certain decisions. Go beyond telling others about yourself and show them. Be original, understand the changing dynamics of your chosen industry, and demonstrate how your skill set fits.

BENTO: It seems that in the digital age, there are so many ways for prospective employees to promote their “personal brands.” Which ones do you find most effective?

CULLEN: The most effective way for graduates to promote their personal brands is to take what I call a “soft but aggressive” approach. That means creating meaningful content and sharing insights on blogs, micro-blogs, or LinkedIn posts. Facebook, Instagram, and other social media are also effective ways of showing your insights, interests, intellect, and credentials.

But while your brand should be present and visible to employers, a “hard and aggressive” approach doesn’t really work any more. Strategies like trying to tout every little achievement on your CV or LinkedIn personal profile, or putting your name here, there, and everywhere without any kind of rationale can be simply off-putting.

BENTO: Is there any point in having an old-fashioned CV or resume anymore? And if so, what are the new rules for what it should include?

CULLEN: The online version of a CV tends to be shorter and more to the point. Still, a CV is still the most effective summary of your background, experience and even your personality. It is important both to keep this up to date and to use key words and search terms.

You can’t stop at the CV, however. In this age of social media and widespread content sharing, it is important to go beyond the CV and put your creativity and insight on display. Social media is the most effective way to do this. Show your interest in social affairs, post travel journals to show you are open to new experiences and ideas, and use your online profile to position yourself effectively as a passionate, curious, and competent person, and as a prospective executive.

There is no doubt that marketing your candidacy to future employers and recruiters is important. Large companies use internal recruitment organizations to search for post-MBA hires and these organizations will look at your CV and your online profile and see how the two match up.

BENTO: How thoroughly do you examine social media profiles in evaluating a prospective hire? Is Facebook fair game, or do you regard it as personal space and out of bounds? Do companies you work with want this information from you? What about Twitter?

CULLEN: Media profiling has become much more important. It is common sense to think about your online profile and how potential employers will perceive it. Most large employers will check on this. Some will conduct background checks through third parties, depending on the sensitivity of the role. Social media is not out of bounds to build a more complete 360-degree view on a candidate.

BENTO: Any other advice you can give on “marketing yourself” to people starting their business careers?

CULLEN: Post-MBA roles give you an opportunity to implement ideas developed during academic study. Your studies and internships will have provided you with experience working with and leading teams in both strategy and execution modes. Highlight all these experiences.

Extra-curricular activities also come into play. Are you active in charities? Arts? Play sports? Showing your ability to communicate in multiple settings can go a long way in making the right impression with an employer.

And don’t be shy about networking. Use networking events and groups, all of which can provide opportunities to speak directly with people in the industry, and help you learn more about your prospective career path and any opportunities that may be available.