Personal Branding for Communicators July 21, 2016

By Maryanne Rainone

Back in June, a major sports apparel brand had to cope with the fallout from misspelling Colombia with a “u” instead of an “o” in an advertisement for the national soccer team’s jersey. Steve Harvey had the same problem with an apology tweet at the end of last year, misspelling Colombia and (for good measure) the Philippines. It goes to show that professionals who deal in words don’t always act like professionals who are, well, dealing in words. If you’re in a field like communications, the media, marketing or advertising, then language is the coin of the realm. A typo, especially one that glaring, can overshadow your intended message and even become an above-the-fold story in its own right. That’s earned media nobody wants.

One reason these gaffes got the press they did is that this sort of thing doesn’t happen very often. Blue chip messaging typically crosses the desks of multiple fact-checkers and proofreaders before it goes out the door. As an executive recruiter who places top communicators, it surprises me how many job seekers do not take similar care with the resumes, writing samples and thank-you notes that are supposed to convince prospective employers to hire them.

And that shouldn’t be a comfort to anyone. Yes, plenty of candidates miss errors they should catch, but plenty of others don’t. Even one or two of them in a resume could disqualify the person when other candidates for the same position approach the process as if it were a million-dollar campaign.

It can happen at any stage of the process, too. I’ve seen finalists for jobs lose out due to less-than-stellar writing samples. My colleagues and I can also point to more examples than we’d care to of thank-you/follow-up notes that torpedoed a candidate steps from the finish line because words were misspelled, misused or missing altogether.

Our clients are demanding. They aren’t looking to eliminate someone from the process on a technicality, but defective written work is no small thing – and not even because it brings a professional communicator’s writing ability into question. Poor judgment, lack of attention to detail and failure to gauge your audience are the bigger red flags.

To be fair, candidates for any executive-level position are usually working 60-hour weeks at their day jobs. They are preparing application materials at all hours, sometimes at the expense of sleep. How do you overcome that? The key is to acknowledge that you might not be at your best. Plan ahead. Take some personal time to focus if you can. Review what you’ve written a few more times than might be necessary. Even ask someone else to proofread your work. You wouldn’t send out any job-related work product without putting in that sort of effort. The same standard should apply when you are promoting your own personal brand.

When communications is your profession, any writing you do to win a new job features as prominently as a jersey does on a soccer star. It speaks volumes about who you are and how you approach your work. Make the most of that opportunity to look your best. Many people don’t.

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