There was a time when it was cool to ask someone “What’s your sign?”, meaning, what’s your sun sign – say, Aries or Virgo – and knowing this might account for someone’s personality or behavior. Today’s popular culture seems to key in more on the generational than astrological……so, are you part of the Baby Boom set? Generation X? How about a Millennial? Generational differences have been reported to have an impact on nearly every aspect of career management, from attitudes towards authority and company culture, to expectations about work-life balance and employee loyalty.
What’s in a Name?
Baby Boomers, that huge cohort who are now in their mid-40’s to 60’s, arguably the late stage of career. Boomers will all reach the traditional age of retirement – 65 years – over the next fifteen years. Many will continue working well into their 70’s and beyond, not surprising for the group known to have defined “workaholism”.
Generation X are now in their 30’s and early 40’s. They came of age as we ushered in a new century and have faced a stagnant job market, corporate downsizing and limited wage mobility. In the face of these turbulent economic times GenXer’s are known for the qualities of being entrepreneurial, pragmatic, technical and creative.
Millennials, aka Generation Y or the Digital Generation, are now in their 20’s and 30’s. This group grew up at a time of extreme technological gains; they are characterized by their ease with communications and media among other things.
So, what do these ages and stages mean for your career?
In working with Darden alumni across each of these generational groupings, I have found that the concept of “personal branding” is approached very differently. Personal branding is a key element of executive success and a foundation for effective career management. When it’s done well, a personal brand can enhance your career progression, open doors to new opportunities and give you the foundation for positive job change when the need arises.
Your personal brand is simply who you are and what you stand for. It’s what makes you different, special and valuable……it’s made up of your personal attributes, your skills and abilities, and the roles that embrace in your career and personal life. You convey messages about your brand in countless ways. In the everyday world of work you project an image through assignments you seek, the relationships you nurture and the choices you make about how to spend your time. You send a specific message through your bio and resume. You build on that message by attending conferences, through speaking engagements, and affiliating with particular groups and organizations. Today’s rich social media environment offers many platforms to shape and grow your personal brand message, whether it’s a LinkedIn profile, an online blog, an active twitter account, podcasts, or videos…and the list of platforms continues to grow.
At any age or stage you should follow these steps for personal branding –
- Be deliberate about your brand – what do you want to be known for?
- Be aware – take stock of your image – do others really see you in the way that you want to be seen?
- Be selective about the methods and tools you use to project your image
When you work on your brand message, think about your age/stage and consider these tips:
Early Career – this stage if often characterized with more experimentation, trying out new roles and building skills; remember your brand is portrayed first and foremost in your everyday interactions and the things you accomplish; be ready to explain your motivations for trying new things; be cautious when embracing new online platforms (do they really build your brand?) and be consistent across social media platforms. Self-reflection before self-reporting will give you a chance to anticipate how your message will be perceived.
Mid Career – generally by your 40’s you’ve laid a career foundation, and it can be a time to find your focus and deepen your meaning; make a realistic assessment of your short and long term career goals and consider how your image building activities facilitate these goals; choose online platforms when they advance your message, not simply because of trends. This is the time not only to grow your network using tools like LinkedIn, but also to engage by promoting your key accomplishments and activities.
Late Career – your priorities may shift at this stage creating a gap between what you were known for and what you want to do now; or it may be time to update your skills, learn new things or change your focus; whatever your goal, understand that new media plays a vital role in networking. Ask younger colleagues how they use various platforms and what works best – showing a willingness to understand these tools and reveal more of yourself in this way will keep you fresh in the market.
While your zodiac may not change, and you may identify with generational qualities that don’t match your age, your personal brand is in your control. As your career progresses, your brand will evolve. Keen self-awareness and a drive to project a positive and professional image can be career enhancing.
ACS helps Darden alumni at all ages and stages of career – contact us for support in managing your career!
If you find that you’re struggling with the question of “what’s next?” in your career, check our workshop Finding Fit – A Career Transition Workshop.
Marty Speight (MBA ’96), Associate Director of the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.