Stand out in the HR arena

Author Simon Stephens
July 16, 2013

The current employment market for experienced HR professionals is overcrowded and overly competitive. What is more, given the economic climate of the last three years, it looks set to remain that way for some time. The market has of course always been competitive – HR is after all a pyramid profession with organisations having more HR Officers than HR Directors. At the top, the market is always ‘job driven’ – you can’t force a company to hire an HR Director, you have to wait until they need one. And then make sure that you are on the shortlist. 

If you are actively looking for a new job then you should be doing the obvious things: working your recruitment network (specialist and generalist recruiters); working your professional network (both HR and non HR); and keeping an eye on advertising in the media (magazines, job boards, HR news sites). 

However, if you are not actively looking but want to make sure that you are visible – both internally and externally – when the right job comes on to the market, then you have to consider a different set of challenges. These would include how to make a distinctive impression within the wider marketplace; how to be visible to the right recruiters and how to make sure that you are on that researcher’s target list.

Much has been written about Personal Branding, trying to articulate what your value set is as an individual and then creating, maintaining and evolving your brand.  As with many trends, the original concept is spot on. How do you differentiate yourself, how do you stand out from the crowd, how do you let your audience know something about you that makes you different? 

As with many concepts, the simple basics have unhelpfully been drowned out by countless articles entreating us to believe that ‘today you are a brand’ or that you should ‘sell the sizzle, don’t sell the steak’ or ‘if you don’t brand yourself first, someone else will brand you’.  

Every day I meet experienced HR professionals for whom this sort of terminology is completely alien, confusing and disenfranchising. Talk to them about branding and they just switch off.
Stripping away the jargon, personal branding means ensuring that you present a consistent message to the market. One that uniformly reflects what your skills and values are and that projects you in a three dimensional manner – not just words on a one dimensional CV. This message should consistently represent your real personality. 

So what practically can you do?

Social Networking Profiles
Make sure that you have a well presented LinkedIn site. In particular it needs to have no misspellings or bad grammar. Keep the recommendations down to a minimum. Look at it objectively or, better still, get a friend to critique it. Think carefully about your Facebook account. If you are on Twitter, decide how you want to use it. It is fine to blend the professional with the personal (within reason) but be very careful! 

Get Writing
A great way to be visible is to get your name in the specialist HR media by writing articles. Think about subjects that feel close to your heart. Be controversial if you want to be – and can get away with it! 

Attend Conferences
Conferences can sometimes be great – compelling speakers, interesting delegates, challenging topics. But they can also appear tired and a bit pointless, regurgitating the same old subjects. The trouble is you never know until you get there, so kiss a few frogs and you might be lucky and meet some great additions to your network!

Speak Out
Again, public speaking at conferences is not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you are offered the opportunity and have the enthusiasm it is a great way of connecting with a large audience. Sometimes being part of a panel, rather than the sole speaker, can ease the nerves. 

Again, this has its plusses and minuses but there are some good blogs around written by some interesting HR people. If you get the balance and tone right then it can be a powerful way of putting your views across to a wide audience. Good examples are Kate Griffiths-Lambert at  and Neil Morrison at . Just try and make sure that you are not too sweepingly critical or harsh. As with all things, work through the consequences of what you write!  

And finally…
In short, just saying in a CV that you are the best thing since sliced bread just doesn’t cut it any more in this very competitive world. Think about what you are saying in your CV, take advice from friends and contacts, persevere, don’t give up and eventually the right role will come your way. 

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