Monday, 2 November 2009

Forget Job Titles And Tell It Like It Is

Business – and society at large – has always been obsessed with giving labels to people. ‘What does he do?’ we ask a friend who announces she has a new boyfriend; application forms ask us to put in our job title; and we exchange similar data every time we go on a date, to a dinner party or networking event.

10 years ago when I was Managing Director of a small business, I had that simple 1-dimensional answer for what I did; but now it’s much more complex we have become multi dimensional. Our professional identities need to reflect that plurality – we need to rethink how we describe ourselves. Look at your average Twitter bio and it’s plural not singular: a list of talents, hats we wear, balls we juggle. There are some more creative descriptions too: Kevin Spacey describes himself as the ‘Former shoe salesman now making a go at film and theatre’. Queen Rania is ‘A mum and a wife with a really cool day job’.

Rethinking our identity is at the heart of ‘Juggle!’; as we carve out portfolio careers our personal brands need to reflect and communicate our multi-dimensional talents to the marketplace. That means ditching one or two word job titles and coming up with a phrase or bio that tells it like it is.

The obsession with labels struggles with the notion that people may be talented at more than one thing. It’s like the sportsman and academic Myron Rolle who I heard on Radio 4’s ‘Saturday Live’ at the weekend. Myron was ranked as the number one high school American Football prospect in the United States in 2006. He is also a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University where he is undertaking an MA in medical anthropology. Myron said:

‘Society and people want to categorise you, compartmentalise you as either a jock, a sportsman or an academic, a nerd. Why can’t you do both? Why can’t you …marry both into a wonderful life?’

Gaby Hinsliff is also learning how to deal with her new-found plurality. Having just resigned as Political Editor of the Observer, she wonders how to describe herself now she is carving out a portfolio career. Indeed her blog is called ‘Used To Be Somebody’. She says:

‘The plan is for a portfolio career, juggling several writing and policy projects part-time, but that is still a tricky concept to explain. "I'll just put homemaker, shall I?" said the woman arranging our new mortgage, apologetically. "You don't fit any of the other categories".

So re-think how we communicate and promote our offering. Whether it’s a multi-dimensional sales pitch or a unique blog, we need to create personal brands that reflect our talents. It’s about going beyond a job title to describe ourselves. That may make form-filling in a little more difficult but dinner party exchanges a little more interesting. So tell it like it is!

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