You can work hard and still not be successful. The key to catapulting forward in your career is standing out and harnessing your unique expertise. Personal branding expert Dorie Clark offers inspiration and simple tips to help you create big wins at work.
Dorie Clark has become the go-to expert on personal branding and reinvention. She believes we all have something unique and exceptional to bring to the table. Dorie is the author of Reinventing You and Stand Out. She offers insight and tactics on how to define what your special something is, and how to put it to work for you.
Listen to our inspiring conversation by clicking the audio player or the link to your favorite podcast platform above. Here are the key bits of advice I took away from our conversation.
Stand out with your unique story
Being successful means standing out above the rest. You could do that by, say, being the best widget maker amongst a sea of widget makers. But how demotivating does having all that competition sound? Imagine just how many widgets you’d have to make! And ultimately, it would be a losing battle for all but one maker.
In the same way that a goopy mess of eggs, oil, cocoa powder, and sugar magically become a brownie more delish than any one ingredient, the ingredients of your story can do the same for you.
A better way to stand out from the crowd, Dorie says, is to craft a powerful story of who you are. By combining the elements of your background, experiences, and the skills and relationships you’ve developed, you’re able to tell a story of what gives you a particular perspective to offer or contribution to make. In the same way that a goopy mess of eggs, oil, cocoa powder, and sugar magically become a brownie more delish than any one ingredient, the ingredients of your story can do the same for you.
“We are all the definition of normal to ourselves,” Dorie told me. There are so many things we choose not to tell because they seem uninteresting to us.
What pieces of your story have you not thought to share?
People who know my bio know my graduate work was in Organizational Psychology, and now I run an organization development firm. (Insert shock-face emoji!) What many don’t know, however, is that upon finishing grad school I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. So I took a job in Operations Management leading a team of 50 people on the floor of a warehouse distribution facility. For five years, I went to work wearing steel-toed boots and a hard hat and came home covered in dust.
Earlier in my career, I tended to skip over the warehouse chapter of my story because it felt like a divergence from the narrative. But over time I’ve learned that chapter is actually a selling point to my clients. Although my academic and corporate experiences are important, everyone in my field has the same sort of experience and education. Having spent time on the floor of a warehouse gives me a unique ability—I can coach and advise executives in businesses with a warehouse presence. I know that world, and its opportunities and challenges. I speak the language, and that gives me the upper hand.
What’s an offshoot of your narrative that you can bring back into the story?
Be a recognized expert
Your unique story represents who you are—the forces and experiences that have shaped you thus far. But who you are and what you do well aren’t necessarily one and the same.
The ideal area of your recognized expertise is the intersection between what you’re good at, what you enjoy, and what people seem to need.
What’s your expertise? What are you known for? When do people tend to tap you for advice or to lead a project or to answer an important question? The ideal area of your recognized expertise is the intersection between what you’re good at, what you enjoy, and what people seem to need.
I recently did some work with a company’s engineering team. Everyone I encountered was incredibly bright, detail-oriented, and attuned to problem-solving. During the engagement, I noticed one leader on that team seemed to be getting called on a lot by others in the organization—more so than the others on his team combined. When I asked him about this, he chuckled and told me engineering is his second career. He used to do account management.
“The reason I’ve been successful in this role,” he told me “is that I know the engineering like everyone on my team, but I also speak the language of those who don’t. So I can have a conversation with a sales or finance person, understand their issue in their language, and then translate that back to my team.”
This client’s recognized expertise is his ability to collaboratively problem solve. This is what he’s known for. It’s a huge asset in his organization, and his career is moving quickly because of it.
Not sure what your area of expertise is yet? Then think about what you might like it to be, and start raising your hand for opportunities to practice. Maybe you want to be a sales “closer” so can you start sitting in on client pitches and practicing what you might say if you were in the lead.
Recapture your creativity
Being good at things is important. Being creative in how you deliver is even better. Are you not creative? You may need to rethink that assumption.
“Ask any five-year-old, ‘are you an artist?’ and they’re like ‘yeah, I’m an artist.” Dorie believes we are all born artists, but we lose touch with our confidence in our creative selves as life teaches us to value the right answers and safe bets.
Remember the importance of your unique story, but recognize that you’re still crafting and telling it. It doesn’t yet have an ending, so how will you influence the next chapter?
Find your creativity as you go. Dorie encourages us to throw a lot of ideas against the wall and see what sticks. Try a quirky email signature. Collaborate on a project with someone totally new and unexpected. Leave your boss a voicemail (remember those?) instead of sending an email.
Doing small creative things will help you to stand out, leaving others to take notice and remember. And being remembered is half the battle. When a new opportunity arises, you want your name to be on the tip of people’s tongue.
Play more offense
Dorie offered all these amazing ideas during our conversation. But at one point I had to get real.
She and I recorded this discussion in the midst of the still ongoing pandemic. So I asked her, how do we harness these bold and brave parts of ourselves when we’re living amidst so much job anxiety? Isn’t it just safer to play it safe? Save the risks for 2021?
You can’t win a game merely by having other people not score.
Dorie’s answer was awesome. “You can’t win a game merely by having other people not score.”
She is down-to-earth and acknowledges the fear people are experiencing. But as someone who has conquered her own hard times, her advice is to take steps that lessen the power of the fear. If you’re truly afraid of losing your full-time job, then what can you do on the side to play some offense? To hit the ball forward instead of just defending the goal?
Are you a writer or a photographer? Can you start a small side hustle and bring in a tiny bit of extra income to provide a bit of comfort and breathing room? Or can you start learning a new skill on the weekends? That way, if a job loss does happen, you'll feel better equipped and confident to crush the job search.
Dorie doesn’t belittle fear. She just doesn’t kowtow to it either.
So build your offense and train hard.
Be vulnerable. Be bold.
And finally. Whatever your story, whatever your strategy, harness the collective power of those around you. Do you need testimonials or references? New customers for your side hustle? Someone to review your business idea and offer feedback? Or maybe you need introductions within someone else’s network.
Trust that people around you want to help and support you and ask for what you need. Be specific and be vulnerable.
Dorie encourages us all to be bold. You have to be ready and willing to put yourself out there. Trust that people around you want to help and support you and ask for what you need. Be specific and be vulnerable.
I hope you’re feeling inspired to take ownership of your brand. You’re the product in your own life. So take charge of the messaging and go deliver.