Controlling your personal career brand is essential in the public sector

By Sue Parker

Monday January 25, 2021

Adobe

While many may consider personal branding and career promotion scary or even a tad boorish, it is essential. Sue Parker shows how to create a personal brand.

Perception is reality unless disproved. Taking control of your personal career brand and impression management is, therefore, essential.

Prejudices and narratives originate from personal experiences and/or populist hearsay trussed by conscious and unconscious biases. The latter, known as cognitive, comprises 10 erroneous biases that distort judgement.

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The hiring ecosystem is subverted by biases despite legislation against age, gender, race, sexuality and other forms of discrimination. No sector or vocation is exempt from this, and misconceptions and stereotypes run amok internally and externally.

The Queensland government’s employee portal sums up well the impact of unconscious bias:

“Where there is bias (conscious or unconscious) in the workplace, we continue to recruit, promote, allocate work, and manage performance with filters on our thinking.”

And:

“Unconscious bias in the workplace can mean that talented people are left out of the workforce or not allowed equal opportunity for development, and career progression and creativity and productivity of teams or the organisation may be compromised.”

Across the public sector there have been numerous programs and initiatives to identify and address diversity and recruitment bias, including the Victorian Recruit Smarter and the Human Rights Commission’s Willing to Work, on disabilities and ageism.

Intra-public sector prejudice

But there is one bias missing in the mix: intra-public sector prejudice (IPSP). It rarely gets oxygen to mitigate, yet is as widespread as it is pernicious. Most professional and executive job searches and career planning run into competition and bias. Adding in IPSP to the mix sees a firestorm of frustration.

In recent discussions with a few current and ex senior public sector leaders on the issue, I received generous feedback but no one was willing to be attributed publicly. This speaks sadly to the trepidation of calling out the bias, but I was given permission to quote anonymously.

One very senior ex-high office leader commented that state government considers local government the poor cousins, with an ingrained perception of incompetency from federal levels down. And given that the C-suite in local government holds real power for change, the negative perception does not meet reality and media often drives that narrative.

Another commented that women can particularly be reticent to challenge the IPSP and are encouraged to build greater confidence in communicating their leaderships skills of influencing, negotiating funding and pitching major programs.

It was also tendered there is a perception of a reality disconnect towards federal from state and local levels and from federal to state.

Circle of reference

A particularly salient conversation was held with a senior leader who moved from state to local government. Whilst acknowledging the challenges and need to convince cultural flexibility and aligned transferrable experiences, the leader admitted they too once held a snobbish, almost disdainful attitude towards local government. More so, they saw how their hiring had been impacted by the bias.

Yet it was only when a role within state government required them to have direct relationships and negotiations with local government leaders that the bias was nullified. Disdain turned to respect and seeded a desire to move across to local government to make a larger impact that was meaningful.

This outcome is what I refer to as a ‘circle of reference’ moment. This result is derived from when direct experiences lead to deep insights, knowledge and empathy. So, it poses the question of just how much talent and opportunity across public sector levels are missed from both hiring teams and candidates themselves.

Delineation of level

The public sector has distinct responsibilities across the three levels of governments, agencies, commissions and authorities. A government talent recruiter shared how they are viewed broadly as:

  • Federal — policy and forecasting
  • State — industry and governance
  • Local — community and delivery

When moving across government levels, it is important to talk to the ethos from your vantage point and your transferrable skills that align. The recruiter also suggested that in deciding if an intra-public sector move is right for you, a review of personal preferences, career goals and purpose is essential prior. And she hopes to see greater movement in 2021 given the opportunities from the Work for Victoria program.

Why you must control your brand narrative

As stated upfront, ‘perception is reality unless disproved’. No one else can control your own story and brand impression more than you. While many may consider personal branding and career promotion scary or even a tad boorish, it is essential.

Taking control not only elevates your own career value and goals but chips away at the overall biases and perceptions impacting more broadly.

Elements of a personal career brand

Before I share a few general branding and bias-navigation tips, let’s look at what a personal brand is. The chart below comprises the core elements of a personal brand.

The last rung is ‘perceived and experienced’, and is foundational to trust as brand rhetoric must meet reality. But storytelling and professional narratives sit across all pillars, barring the visual. Understanding how to align your answers to your career goals is vital. The essence of ‘brand you’ will rarely change over time, but your goals might, and therefore how you communicate your brand will shift.

Tips for building and controlling your personal career brand

1. Reflection

Review your own perceptions and any biases broadly. You may have been in the hiring seat and so as the role has switched, you have insight to reflect.

2. Talk to the perception

In your CV, a cover letter and your LinkedIn profile highlight the aspects that address biases and perceptions. For example, if you are keen to move across from state to federal government, reference your skills in policy and research. If from state to local, you need examples of community and stakeholder engagement. It is almost calling out the elephant in the room in a very elegant and non-threatening fashion.

3. LinkedIn profile

A LinkedIn profile is a high-value career asset ranking on the first page of Google search. No one does what you do in the same way you do it, and this is communicated by DARE to be direct, authentic, real, and engaging. A compelling LinkedIn profile is written in the first-person, and covers personal brand elements and future direction.

Focus on the problems you solve and what you are passionate to create a brand narrative that inspires. Irrelevant of where you work, all roles are designed to solve a problem so emphasise that clearly. And have a recent and clear photograph, a strong headline of your skills and purpose, and a visual banner representing your career goals or profession.

4. LinkedIn content

As a leader and manager you have enormous experiences and expert value to share. LinkedIn is like a personal website where everyone has the opportunity to publish their own articles. Content demonstrates expertise and creates engagement that elevates your brand value. Publishing articles on LinkedIn is a proactive career marketing exercise. Career impression management is part marketing, part goal strategy.

5. Visibility

Embrace good opportunities to share your expertise, values and personality. It may be on subject matter podcasts, interviews, speaking events, or where you have a platform to make an impact and inspire.

The competition for professional public sector roles will be stronger than ever in 2021 due in part to the new hybrid workplace model that opens the gates to wider candidates.

It is never easy to job search and transition careers. But taking control of your brand ensures imaginations don’t run wild, as a blank or minimal canvas gives rise to divergent conclusions of that might thwart progress.

The more you raise your visibility and back yourself with confidence, the greater success you will achieve as you control your brand impression.

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