Memorable personal brands are built on authenticity, not posing and pretending.
The other night I was at The Mondrian Hotel in Los Angeles. Located on the famed Sunset Strip, it’s a scene. Everyone wants to be someone and they’ll say what they think you want to hear to impress. So when Sergio introduced himself as “The Man From Milano” and began belting out a few notes from Don Giovanni, I humored him and played conductor. However, it only took a couple of drinks for Sergio to admit he was actually Arminian and owned a parking lot. Did it matter to me what country he was from or what he did for a living? Frankly, I couldn’t care less. Regardless, the real Sergio thought his life was lackluster and that he had to make up a story to compensate.
Why is it that so many people think they need to trot out an alter ego when they feel that their authentic self isn’t good enough to bring to the party? Struggling to get comfortable in their own skin and embrace who they really are deep down, they hide some of the most interesting aspects of themselves in an effort to be accepted and fit in.
When someone says to you, “Tell me about yourself,” how do you respond? I start at the very beginning – sharing that my dad was a single parent who raised two little girls on his own and taught us the ad business at an early age. He used to take us to pitch meetings and we would layout ads together at the kitchen table. Then I give a quick overview of my days working in radio, newspaper and finally television, where I helped launch TNT and turn CNN into The World’s News Leader. To conclude my story, I tell them briefly about the work I do at Big Fish reinventing brands and reigniting professionals.
Here’s what I don’t do: whine about not having a mom growing up, elaborate on personal challenges, complain about difficult clients, lie about my accomplishments, go off on tangents, diminish my talents, overstate what I do or drone on without focus.
To arrive at your answer to the question, “Tell me about yourself,” it’s important that you think deeply to uncover a time when you overcame adversity. This could be the beginning of your signature story – the one where you played the superhero.
When creating a signature story that reinforces your personal brand, make sure that it reveals something about your true character.
At a recent workshop, I challenged everyone in the room to write their own stories. One of the participants said she couldn’t think of anything about herself that might be interesting to others. I asked about her parents and the influence they had on her growing up. She quietly revealed that she was the daughter of two blue-collar workers from a small town in Michigan. She was the first to go to college in her family and the first in her town to become a top executive at a major corporation. I thought her story was great and told her so. Her eyes welled up with gratitude. She had stuffed the truth for so long and now she could own the superhero quality within herself. Everyone in the room admired her even more for the challenges she overcame to get to her current position.
Your signature story may not begin at childhood. It could land somewhere in the middle of your career or express who you are right in this moment. What’s important is that you don’t lead with your title or the company you work for, which could diminish your power and possibly pigeonhole you in a way that doesn’t illuminate your talents, passions and strengths.