Author: Dean Malpass
When we are looking to advance our careers in the mental health sector (or in any sector for that matter) we tend to focus on what I consider short-term tangible ‘inputs’.
This means we do a job search and apply for suitable roles, we update our CV, we contact the recruiting manager and so on (see Top Tips for Preparing Your CV). These steps are essential, and often follow a predictable procedure across most organisations.
What if I told you that a key part of recruitment and selection for mid-grade and senior roles is actually based on something far more intangible…your brand! You might be thinking ‘I don’t have a brand, I’m not selling anything’. That’s not true. You are selling yourself and your potential to be the best person for the job.
It’s probably easiest to think about your professional brand as: ‘What do people think or say about me when I am not around?’ Still sceptical? Consider this statement: ‘One nurse is the same as any other nurse, in the same way that all cars are the same as BMWs.’ You could argue it would be preferable if this was the case, but we all know it simply isn’t true.
In career development terms we could think of our brand as our professional reputation, and this certainly makes up a large part of your brand as perceived by others. Managers and recruiters will often ask others in the sector for feedback about you and your career before appointing you.
Recruiting managers often consider a person’s reputation to try and identify any potential ‘red flags’ such as being unreliable, unprofessional or not working well with others.
Good brands are built upon solid foundations
With this in mind your first step should be to identify those ‘red flags’ first. There are many ways to do this quickly and with minimum distress. Consider completing a SWOT analysis on yourself, or Johari’s Window (I like the mindtools site for this, but others are available). Obtain feedback from trusted sources.
Another option which I often do with my clients is to complete a mock interview where the ‘interviewer’ only focuses on the areas where you feel less confident. For example, if this was your first step into management then the questions would be focused on your management experience and ability to handle management scenarios.
In this way you can identify the skills or experience you have but also those that you lack. Work to incorporate this understanding into your current supervision requirements and appraisals with clearly set goals. If this isn’t available via your employer for any reason, I recommend finding a trusted alternative such as a career coach.
This is what good brands do – they constantly seek to understand their strengths and weaknesses against competitors and put in place actions to address the weaknesses and maximise the strengths. It’s about taking ownership of the truth in order to start building your brand.
In this process make sure your foundations are strong. The most impactful aspect of your professional brand is to be good at your job and excellent at working with other people. Think about how simple this is in principle but think again of all the times you have seen a talented colleague lose their way because they lost sight of this.
Many might think of their brand as a bold, projected statement of their future brilliance (‘this is what I will be good at and where I want to be’). We certainly need this. But it cannot be at the expense of that core foundation of credibility.
I have found no better way to achieve this than by being good at the job I am employed to do and working well with others consistently.
Think about a brand that you really like - a car manufacturer, a jeweller, a restaurant. Whilst there might be many additional elements you like I am confident that they all do their core business really well and then build their value to you on top of that.
Word of mouth is the most powerful form of marketing for brands and for you
How many times have you recommended a product to your friends and they have immediately gone out and bought it, sometimes without bothering to do any research themselves because they have trusted your opinion?
Word of mouth is the most powerful form of marketing for brands and you must make it work for you similarly. You can do this by building professional relationships across networks. Mental healthcare offers a vast array of ways to do this.
When I was a junior nursing manager, I sat on a couple of national steering groups for the organisation that I worked for. The colleagues I met through the steering groups significantly boosted my professional brand, even though I didn’t know it at the time.
As a result, I was recommended for internal promotion based on the feedback from influential members of the steering group.
My advice is to never waste a professional interaction because you never know when the good impression you make on someone else will pay dividends. Build relationships, be collegial, help others whenever and wherever else you can. Be prepared to be other people’s champion first and your turn will inevitably come.
Remember your values and be genuine
You might have the professional brand equivalent of Rolex but if your values are not aligned with the role or organisation where you are working then your tenure is likely to be short-lived and your brand might also be tarnished.
My experience (supported by the works of Peter F Drucker) has shown me time and again that misaligned values lead to the inevitable separation of employer/employee. Understand your values, be comfortable with them and then be driven by them in all you do.
If you feel unsure of what your values are then consider this - what excites you and makes you happy in your work and why? What elements do you appreciate most in your manager or organisation and why? In simple terms, understand your ‘why’ and always be genuine about this.
Don’t try to deceive or manipulate others to secure a job or boost yourself – not only is it unethical but it never works and will only lead to poor career outcomes.
Take positive risks
Successful brands are always looking for ways to improve and boost the number of people that think positively about them. That can sometimes mean brave decision making – think of Apple’s decision to focus on just four products and user experience in the late 1990s when it was facing bankruptcy.
One of the best ways to do this with your own brand is to take a positive risk. This might be helping out another department outside of your preferred speciality for three-months to gain experience and contacts.
It might mean spending some time outside of research to gain more recent clinical experience. It might mean taking a sideways move or even a pay cut to work in a role you love and where you know you can make a difference.
Essentially what I am advising here is to avoid the temptation to play it safe and be overly cautious. There is far more to be gained in obtaining new experiences, than there is to fear. Be bold and put yourself out there!
Dean Malpass is a Registered Mental Health Nurse and Chartered Manager and was previously a regional nursing director (Midlands & Wales). He currently provides consultancy services (www.deanmalpass.co.uk).