Is Personal Branding Crap? (taglines)

In September I shared one of my favorite taglines I’ve ever heard in a post titled LinkedIn Professional Headline / Personal Tagline.

Last week I got a skeptical comment from Christine, who writes:

Perhaps I am dating myself , but it is not in my generations work ethic to brag , humor, or comply with the ADD issues of short one liners , bullet points or scanning databases of today’s resume.

A person may be perfect for the job and a hard worker , but the employer never sees the resume , because some twit thought you were “boring”.

It is a shame that the resume is only as good as the “CV”, (in old school it is called a SUMMARY ), and unless you can entertain their brain in less then 50 words, (in a FONT that resembles my granddaughters handwriting) forget it. No interview.

I find that many companies loose site of the professional aspects of a resume and would rather be humored with unusable tag lines or a personal motto.

If you own your business, use a tagline in your marketing, that’s great ! But in reality, when looking for employment with a fortune 500 company, where individuality and humor are not assets, the tagline should read:

“A subordinate that shows up for work everyday and will do what ever you tell them to do”
OR
” Have been employed for 3 decades. Ask me how!”

Is the professional headline / personal tag line for the employing company (they already have one) or for the bored recruiter?

I see nothing “professional” about it, and frankly find it embarrassing to use in a resume.

What do you think?  Is this tagline stuff a bunch of unprofessional phooey?

Here are my thoughts on her comment:

>> Perhaps I am dating myself , but it is not in my generations work ethic to brag , humor, or comply with

I completely disagree.  I think all generations can take to, or be offended by, the one-liners. I don’t think it has anything to do with age or generation.

>> the ADD issues of short one liners , bullet points or scanning databases of today’s resume.

“ADD issues” … funny, I have never heard it described like that. I haven’t done it but I’m guessing if you look up some older sales books you’ll find similar talk about creating a catchy, descriptive, engaging, etc. one-liner as an opener, or as a communication tool.  Also, these taglines are not only for “today’s resumes.”

>> A person may be perfect for the job and a hard worker , but the employer never sees the resume , because some twit thought you were “boring”.

I don’t think it comes down to boring or not boring.  I think it comes down to “ah, now I understand what you do for a living, or what you are passionate about, or what you can do for my company.”  The goal is not to out-wit, out-humor, or best anyone because your one-liner is more clever than anyone else’s.  I find most people’s one-liners are too witty and they lose me, become ambiguous, or are too filled with jargon or cliche.  I’m not an advocate of witty – I’m an advocate of clear communication.

>> It is a shame that the resume is only as good as the “CV”, (in old school it is called a SUMMARY ), and unless you can entertain their brain in less then 50 words, (in a FONT that resembles my granddaughters handwriting) forget it. No interview.

I agree, it is a shame that there are techniques and tricks that can lead to someone who is less fit to do the job than I am, but that’s the world we live in.  HR whines about being too busy and burdened, and they only give a resume a few seconds… this is a shame. But it’s the current system. Now, with automated “applicant tracking systems” a computer does the first round of weedout before that overburdened HR person gets to look at the computer-selected resumes.

>> I find that many companies loose site of the professional aspects of a resume and would rather be humored with unusable tag lines or a personal motto.

I can’t speak to what “many companies” are doing, or how they are making decisions, but I think a job seeker who can clearly, articulately, and clearly communicate what they need to has an advantage over those who can’t.

>> If you own your business, use a tagline in your marketing, that’s great ! But in reality, when looking for employment with…

Here’s where we really start to differ… I think that we ALL own our own business, and it is called Me, Inc.  We are all marketers of ourselves.  There is no “job” like there was 20 years ago… all we get now are temporary gigs, and we always should be working on identifying our next gig opportunities.  You say “if you own your own business,” I say “WE ALL DO!”

>> … where individuality and humor are not assets, the tagline should read:

“A subordinate that shows up for work everyday and will do what ever you tell them to do”
OR
” Have been employed for 3 decades. Ask me how!”

I read these and I wonder what that means for me.  Honestly, as a hiring manager, I expect you to show up for work, be a professional, do your job, add value, not be high maintenance, and not require lots of training and hand-holding. I expect you to have good judgement and to interact well with others. I expect all of these things, but I might not know how you are different than the 20 other resumes I’ve whittled it down to.  Can you tell me that?  Because if you think those are the differentiators, and the other 19 also show up for work and “have been employed,” you’ve lost me (especially when they start talking about their professional breadth and depth and expertise).  Your unique value proposition is not so unique, and you lose.

>> Is the professional headline / personal tag line for the employing company (they already have one) or for the bored recruiter?

The professional headline (in LinkedIn) and the personal tagline is for anyone who I meet, so I can communicate who I am, what I do, what value I bring to them.  It’s not for a bored recruiter, it’s to help any recruiter do their job well. If I say “I’ve been employed for the last 3 decades, ask me how!” … how does that help them fill some of their open jobs?  They can’t match that with an open job requirement, can they? But if I say “I’m every engineer’s favorite project manager” they can start to mentally match me to any open project management job they have.

Also, this tagline, which should not be gimmicky, would be used in network events, on a business card, in an email signature, in the LinkedIn professional headline, etc.  It is simply a statement to communicate something.

>> I see nothing “professional” about it, and frankly find it embarrassing to use in a resume.

If you don’t see it as professional then you are probably thinking of something too gimmicky.  Also, perhaps this “line” doesn’t show up on a resume… but it certainly should become a part of your language when you communicate to others who are wondering “what does Christine do for a living?”  Showing up to work for 3 decades is not “what you do” for a living, I’m guessing.

What do you guys think?

11 thoughts on “Is Personal Branding Crap? (taglines)”

  1. I’m with you Jason – and think we’ve both been writing on it for a while.

    Why wouldn’t a personal brand be of help?

    Yes, Ms hiring manager, skip over the code jockey to pick any one of the twenty four other candidates that says they have 4+ years experience in _insert the current programming language of choice_, already live in town, and want a challenging assignment…

    But hey, perhaps it’s only a fad.

    steve

    Steven Tylock
    The LinkedIn Personal Trainer
    http://www.linkedin.com/in/stevetylock

  2. I think personal branding is being oversold by many, but really all this (and most job hunting) comes down to is marketing. If the company you really want to respond is going to have a culture that sneers at things like personal branding then by all means stick to a traditional resume.

    If not, then use whatever techniques you think will prove effective.

    We’re living in an age where someone got a job by putting vanity ads up on Adwords for the leaders they wanted to work for – not exactly something out of the college placement office playbook, or what your average recruiter would recommend.

    All that said, I suspect that the power of the social web, including sites like JibberJobber and the rest, has probably made many job seekers more sophisticated (from a marketing perspective) than the average small business owner. I think Christine’s sentiments reflect that.

  3. Jason, I think you provide a great analysis. Yet, it seems to me the issues here go well beyond tag lines, and have more to do with the changes in hiring practices and job market dynamics. Yes, differentiation matters; yet, to focus on the tag line is to miss the larger need to take responsibility for one’s own career.

    It certainly can be frustrating to keep pushing out resumes that go unacknowledged and don’t lead to interviews. Yet, sending resumes is not the only method for job search. Fortunately, for people who want to get a better handle on job search, many communities have career related ministries that can help – usually without charge. My advice would be to forget about the tag line and take advantage of help to become an attractive candidate.

  4. @Steve Tylock, thanks for the comment 🙂

    @Steve Duncan, thanks for suggesting that sites like JibberJobber make the job seeker more sophisticated 🙂 I agree personal branding is being oversold by many, especially by people unqualified to sell it. You suggest it comes down to “marketing,” let’s make it more general and say it comes down to communication.

    The questions are: what are you communicating, how (effectively) are you communicating it, where are you communicating?

    I think Christine, Steve Duncan and Walter are talking about how the tag line ties into a resume. In my original post (and in this one) I’m .. which is funny because in the original post I’m talking about the LinkedIn Professional Headline, and in this post I’m not really saying this is a part of your resume.

    I agree with Walter that it sounds like there are other issues here… for me, it all comes down to COMMUNICATION.

  5. Here is a direct quote from a staffing agency CEO who has 13 offices under her command:
    “For people with 20 or more years of experience, DO NOT write that into your resume. Put a BENEFIT STATEMENT into your resume – something that speaks of how you
    1) made the company money,
    2) saved the company money or
    3) streamlined procedures.
    Years of experience is immaterial and may indicate that you are just “old.” Companies want to know what kind of contribution you can make to their success – not how many years you’ve been working.”

    Bottom line: clearly and concisely communicate your value in terms employers want to hear – numbers. Quantify projects using dollars and/or percentages. Dollars are always better.

    I’m reading a book now called “Career Warfare” by the president of John Hancock – the financial firm. One cannot get more conservative than that – and it is ALL about personal branding.

    Hope this helps and provides some insight.

  6. Thank you Jason, Steve, Steve and Walter

    After the in depth analysis of my post, I understand your point. Now, I see the position where personal branding needs to be placed and how to use it properly when communicating value.

    I feel that there is a vast misuse of taglines and therefore creating a group of frustrated followers.

    Thank you for the insight.

  7. @Christine – thanks for the kind response.

    I think the real issue here is the phrase “personal branding”… if we just think of it as “how I communicate what I do, or who I am, or what value I bring (as per Wendy’s comment), I imagine the concept would be easier to swallow.

    My issue with taglines is not a vast misuse, rather most people put too much cute, jargon or cliche to the point where it is not understandable (or misleading, or distracting).

  8. I think that 90% or more of the “personal branding” I see is inane, overblown, distracting, or all three. Look at a LinkedIn question with a good number of answers and scroll down, only looking at the tag lines. It’s a cacophony of vacuous claims.

  9. @Sophie – you know what? I agree with you.

    I think it is a good idea, but people are implementing it poorly.

    In my presentations I suggest that 99.9% of pitches (30 second elevator pitches, taglines, etc.) suck.

    But it doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea to do it right…. right?

  10. Jason, I just got around to reading this post and I have a couple of thoughts. What has been helpful to me is the language you use in your DVD I’m On LinkedIn, Now What? You frequently identify client profiles as being on brand or not. That phrase “on brand” has helped me discuss with clients the need to eliminate distracting and irrelevant information on resumes. Why point out to a potential employer that your BS was in Social Work (years ago) when you have created an identity in Financial Management and want to remain within that field? But clients don’t realize the distraction (off brand) such inclusions create. That’s how I find the concept of being on brand helpful.

    I am not a proponent of tag lines. Most are really hokey and add nothing to the professionalism of the individual. Even worse…hours and hours are spent on trying to create that perfect tag line. Should be networking, researching and enhancing knowledge, skills and abilities instead.

  11. It is worth remembering that beyond the resume there is google, and with 85% of employers admitting to googling potential candidates I would suggest that that is where you should compete.

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