You’ve heard about personal branding and its importance. But new research suggests that to thrive in your career, your branding must be even more unique than you may have thought. You need to put distance between yourself and others—in your team, your department and even your company.
Of course, you want to cooperate effectively and it’s true that “birds of a feather flock together” so you may prefer to work with people like yourself. However, this can be damaging if your skills, talents and contributions are perceived to overlap too much.
This was the outcome of new research published in Science Advances journal based on a study of 9 million workers. When people worked with team members who did not replicate their skills, but whose skills were necessary to complete a team, they earned higher wages and realized better returns on the investment they’d made in their education. In addition, working with those who had complimentary (rather than overlapping) skills contributed to greater productivity and to employees who stayed longer at their companies and successfully built their careers.
While realizing this dynamic in teams could motivate cut-throat, zero-sum office politics and a dog-eat-dog kind of environment, it’s useful to consider how you can build your brand for success, in addition to how you can successfully coordinate with others, rather than compete.
Here are five tips for building your brand to ensure career uniqueness and success:
Learn from others, but don’t copy them. Perhaps Oscar Wilde said it best, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” You are smart to learn from others and emulate their strengths but stop short of trying to replicate them entirely. Your own unique skill set will be what sets you apart and if you mirror another’s skills too closely it will be difficult for others to determine your particular contribution.
Learn broadly, but select a focus. The book Range by David Epstein makes a brilliant case for building a broad range of skills in order to be more effective overall. This is based on the ability to think, solve problems, apply previous learning and consider context. But as you’re building your skills broadly, you’ll want to build your brand more narrowly. If you’re known for having skills in everything, you may have a tough time getting noticed for any one thing. This can hamper your ability to get selected for the project or tapped for the promotion. It’s a balance: Be broad in your knowledge and fluid in your learning, and at the same time be clear about the special value you bring to the team.
Find advocates. Build relationships, develop your network and most of all, nurture advocates. You must be clear and articulate about your own value, of course, but you also need people who will actively advocate for you. These are people who go beyond offering you valuable coaching and guidance behind closed doors or over coffee. These are people who will recommend you, publicly talk you up and make a case for you.
Support others. In the same way you’ll find advocates for yourself, be an advocate for others. If someone has similar skills to yours, it is a benefit for each of you to find places to contribute apart from one another. Recommend and refer colleagues with similar skills so you can carve out space for both of you in your industry or area of expertise. In addition, support team members who bring forward different skills than your own. By assembling a team with the exactly-right set of complementary skills, all of you will be more effective.
Keep things moving. Your best opportunities to build your brand will come from having multiple people vouch for your skills and contributions. Make a substantive contribution to a project, but then be willing to move on and stretch to the next opportunity. By working in different departments and on various teams, you’ll get greater visibility to more people who can be supportive and value your unique contribution.
Ensuring your skills don’t overlap too much with others’ may seem like a recipe for competition which could compromise relationships. But it can actually be a great incentive to clarify your unique skills and brand yourself in a way that gets you noticed and enhances your effectiveness. Learn from others, select a focus, find advocates, support others, and keep things moving to successfully to thrive in your career.