Tl;dr: curating a professional brand is not for the faint of heart.
As part of my corporate objectives, I needed to write a blog post. Writing doesn't scare me, I'm at my root an English Lit concentrator after all. However, I haven't written anything for public evaluation since grad school, and it was a heavily cited journal style paper. This was another beast requiring a skill set I didn't quite have. The irony here being that the post's theme was acquiring a new skill set! I guess I'm getting 200% of the skills out of this? I digress.
This highlighted my lack of a professional brand offering. I'm used to being the defender of a corporate standards guide, but I hadn't bothered to create one for myself (future passion project forthcoming). I know I need a portfolio to get any coworking space cred as a UX practitioner. I've had a few false starts on creating one based on the need to find new and exciting work in the past. However, since much of my work may not be shared in a portfolio from previous engagements (consulting and financial services NDAs are a killer), I made excuses so I could limit myself to a standard LinkedIn profile.
To break down this concept of a professional brand into something manageable, I'll approach it as one might approach password security. You can secure something (maybe anything) by:
- What you know (e.g. PINs, passwords)
- What you have (e.g. keycards, random number keychains)
- Who you are
What I know
From a professional brand perspective, there are big questions here. What do I know about myself that is relevant to put out into the professional world? What's something that differentiates me from others who have similar backgrounds? What are the most important questions to answer up front before ever engaging in a more personal way?
I'll artfully dodge some of those questions as, honestly, I can't know what a stranger is going to find interesting. A professional brand doesn't exclude what you personally are. Maybe you'd be interested in my favorite NHL team, or my undergrad minor, or perhaps what I see coming next. That's up to each individual to decide and actively ask for. What I can know and address are the things that I want to share. I can share my professional philosophies and supporting portfolio pieces. These portfolio pieces can show flat views of what I've done and some supporting commentary written from my perspective. Whether that's enough to start a conversation or end it is up to you.
What I have
What I have are opinions and supporting documentation (portfolio pieces). Whether I can or want to share them depends on a few other parameters.
Type of work
Ideally I'm sharing something that saw the light of day, but as anyone who has worked in a large company knows, lots of great ideas stay just that, ideas. Realistically, I can only show the work that was shipped, built, and launched, which might be the best example of work anyway. The kind of work that lives in the world and real people use is perhaps the best example of good UX work.
The sticky part of this is related to my skill set. There are few places that share their brand book publicly. One of my deeper skill sets is centered around creation and evolution of brand standards. It centers on deep knowledge and understanding of the rules the company has set forth, how to interact with groups of stakeholders in ways that don't alienate anyone, and how to offer solutions for when things get contentious. All that combined doesn't make for something easily shared in a portfolio. So instead, I sidestep and share the deliverable that I helped influence and explain my role in its creation. I can explain why the decisions were made in the way they were (assuming it was recent enough and I remember).
Do I want to do more of this kind of work? Have I done enough work in this field at the right level that I can share it? Those are the questions to be answered here.
If I love doing something and I'm new at it, maybe I show my most recent work with that skill. Assuming I've done a metric ton of it, I can be more selective about what I share. If I hate doing it... you're probably not going to see anything around it.
A skill I shall not return to
I know how to manage a team's administrative functions and calendars, but I'll never show off anything about Outlook calendar management since that would be A) completely off brand B) totally irrelevant and C) make me sad. I'm not meant to be someone's admin, but I'm happy to try to make Outlook work. Although, that might be an impossibility. 🙂
A skill I will share with wild abandon
So what will I share? I would love to share a standards guide or app walkthrough I just made since it's more interesting, relevant, and sparks some joy in me (#mariekondoatwork). So long as I believe it was good work and it made it to the real world, it's something I should be comfortable talking about.
Age of work
This one can cut both ways. Maybe I should show off a progression of work to show my own growth. Perhaps it should only be my most recent work in that field. I don't have a good answer for this, but I do know that I'm no longer showing off any of my super sweet (ancient) grad school portfolio work. I'm probably not going to put anything with skeuomorphic Rich Corinthian Leather unless you ask (and if you do, it's going to be something I make special on the fly).
Other supporting works
Perhaps it's an outdated adherence to a similar (in my mind) grammatical rule, but if one should only use bullets if the list has multiple examples. Portfolio projects that exhibit a single skill that is unrelated to any others are likely not going to be the best example for how you work. I'd rather show off work I've done that combines multiple skills so that it strengthens the overall message of the brand.
This isn't to say that showing work that displays a bunch of already displayed skills and adds a totally new one isn't appropriate to include — that's even better. It shows personal evolution and revolution toward broadening skill sets. Also, it shows you are willing to grow in new, relevant directions. Basically, it shows commitment to yourself in a professional manner.
Who I am
Now to the hardest question for which there is no clear answer. Who I am depends on who I'm working with, the audience I'm presenting myself to, or what day of the week it is. Or some other factor (I'm looking at you Boston winters).
There isn't a right answer for how to create your professional brand based on who you are. There is only a personal answer for that. It's up to each of us to know what we want to share, how much of it, and we all have to accept the consequences of those decisions.
My professional brand is evolving constantly. Just publishing this post is something that has been a large scale change on how I think of how I present myself to a professional audience. Depending on when you look at this, there may or may not be a picture of me attached. There could be references to specific work I've done. I'll admit that I'm still tuning in on how to present myself and whether I'm going about it in an approachable, relevant way.
So pardon the navel gazing you've just endured, but that's how I'm going to approach my professional brand. Personal, deliberate, and intentional is what I'm shooting for.