AS RECENTLY as the mid-1990s, getting a job, starting a business, or switching career paths weren't overwhelmingly difficult challenges. Since then, however, the global jobscape has changed dramatically. Economic pressures have forced companies to cut staff and to trim merit awards, bonuses, raises, and benefits. The pressure of competition for fewer jobs now forces you to prove your value and unique talents. Despite a nursing shortage, the recent recession ushered in a trend of hospitals becoming more selective in choosing new hires and demanding more from staff.
Sadly, although job openings have become scarce, most people seeking jobs still rely on submitting generic résumés to Internet job boards. They mistakenly believe they can compete successfully with an ever-growing number of job seekers with this approach, but the real problem is that it delivers miserable results involving little or no human-to-human interaction, networking, or relationship-building. And these skills are at the root of all successful business ventures.
Instead of tossing your résumé into an immense black hole and watching it vanish, rethink your approach.
The new paradigm
Who are the most important people in your personal life? Most people would say their family, the people who believe in them and depend on them. Now, think of your family as your personal board of directors, or the people to whom you have the greatest responsibility in your personal life and who will benefit the most from you successfully managing your nursing career. They're also the people who will endure hardship if your career is unproductive. Your personal board of directors deserves to have you working at your peak level.
The key to developing your healthcare career as a business is the concept of Me, Inc., which reframes your self-image from a powerless employee to the powerful, in-charge CEO of Me, Inc. (See The Me, Inc., pledge.)
Driving the business through networking
My wife took her wristwatch to the local jeweler for repair. The store was very busy, but eventually she found her way to the glass display case with a smiling salesperson behind it.
“How can I help you?” he asked.
What a brilliant question! “How can I help you?” “What can I do for you?” “How can I help you achieve your objectives?”
That's right—the secret to great networking lies in what you can do to help others! But many people still cling to the belief that “networking is all about connecting with others so they can help me find a job.” Unfortunately that's not networking, that's spamming a fellow human being. Think how you'd feel if the roles were reversed.
To be an effective networker, follow the golden rule of networking: Discover what you can do, offer, or share that makes others genuinely look forward to meeting you again. Doing this consistently brands you as someone who's worth knowing. As you consistently treat people this way, they'll look for opportunities to reciprocate. You can network while exchanging information about clinical skills or patient care with nurses on other units and in other facilities. Sharing solutions builds the trust and relationships so crucial to networking.
Characteristics of a great employee
Corporate management agrees that employees with these characteristics stand the best chance of being selected for a position. Such candidates:
- project an attitude of confidence and pride in whatever they do.
- display a positive mental attitude at all times, but especially while confronting difficult situations.
- demonstrate mental toughness in dealing with challenging situations.
- are articulate, clear, and concise in oral and written communications.
- can multitask while delivering high-quality performance.
- are open, direct, and honest in all interactions with others.
- show a distinct talent for teamwork and working well with others.
In today's demanding business environment, employers will be looking for clearly demonstrable skills, talents, characteristics, and personalities to fill their highly valued positions. The items listed above represent a kind of “inner core” of these essential characteristics.
The following “outer core” characteristics relate to how you execute your plan. These important things employers look for in an employee include:
- a demonstrated flair for networking and relationship-building. Successful businesses in the 21st century will place a much greater emphasis on establishing sound relationships to sustain business growth.
- mastery of social networking and an understanding of the important contribution it can make to business success. You need to understand how and why the dynamics of social networking support modern-day business objectives.
- an attractive brand and value proposition, including all of the ways in which you differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack.
- fluency in communication skills, information technology (Internet and social media and social networking skills, or Web 2.0), and global business operations. A keen knowledge of cultural differences and an awareness of global business trends are also highly valued.
Nurses must also focus on delivering superior patient care. Soon a percentage of Medicare reimbursement will be derived from patient satisfaction.
Become an “untouchable”
In The World Is Flat, author Thomas Friedman presents a view of the future in which evolving technologies will level the playing field for business owners worldwide. Traditional corporate hierarchies will likely be replaced by highly specialized online communities sharing similar business interests.
According to Friedman, to survive in this ever-flattening world, individuals must diversify their skills so that they remain viable competitors across many different careers. Those who attain a level of specialization that can't be outsourced are, he claims, “untouchable.” So if you want job security, join their ranks. Become an “untouchable” now. You can do this by pursuing professional development opportunities and obtaining appropriate specialty certifications.
To win the race for 21st century jobs, you must understand personal branding. Branding is all about image and perception. When McDonald's marketing team first thought about a logo for their company, they had to choose between a sketch of a hamburger with a bag of fries or a sketch of two golden arches joined together. McDonald's went with the arches. Why? Because it was unique, bold, and attractive. And that's what made it memorable. The McDonald's marketing team knew how customers thought and how they reacted to certain visual stimuli, color preferences, and shapes. As it turned out, their assessment was right on the mark!
Branding basically asks this question: What is it about you that's unique? Either no one else does it, or no one does it better than you. When you have that answer, you have the beginning of a powerful personal brand.
A personal brand helps you break away from the pack by telling everyone who you are, what you do, how you do it, and what makes you different from everyone else; in other words, how you create value and benefit in a way that no one else can.
In short, a personal brand is a mixture of perception and promise that describes the other person's experience of having a relationship with you. For example, as a direct patient caregiver, your brand is directly related to the quality or value of your patient care and skills. Skills that can set you apart include precepting new employees, participating in research and education, and publishing in your area of expertise. Many business and marketing experts consider a brand to be an experience, a promise, or a warranty. Still others regard a brand as simply a type of “value shorthand.”
Successful businesses have mastered the art of branding to expand their customer base and remain dominant forces within their industry. Generally speaking, powerful brands are associated with powerful imagery that includes a distinctive logo, corporate title, and punchy tagline. Look at the list of companies below and see if a mental image is formed as you read the name—if so, branding has been extraordinarily successful:
- Morton Salt
In the healthcare world, these brands could include:
- Mayo Clinic
- St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
- M.D. Anderson Cancer Center
- Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Many people read a list like this and can almost instantly visualize the company logo and tagline. But if reading the company's name also gives you an almost instant perception of value or benefit, then branding is heavily responsible for the success of that product or service in the marketplace.
How can a personal brand help me?
Previously, we established a new paradigm for your job search built around the idea of being the CEO of your own nursing career. If you're taking this ownership model seriously, you must also give a substantial amount of thought to how you'll brand your career—that is, the “trust mark” that differentiates you from everyone else.
If you make a conscious decision that branding isn't a worthwhile investment of your resources, then you'll end up being branded by others. Their “brand stamp” may be far less flattering than anything you could generate on your own.
Through branding, you establish your value, consistently deliver that value, and, as a result, establish trust. You can now negotiate because you have a very high level of market value credibility. That means when it's time for an interview, you can look forward to having the leverage to ask for a salary level that you believe is both fair and genuinely deserved, instead of being forced to accept whatever's offered.
Plan before you brand
Cattle branding meant putting a unique mark on an animal that represented part of the rancher's assets. Branding was both necessary and permanent.
Your personal brand carries the same impact. Once established, it's permanent. Whatever else happens after you brand yourself either reinforces your brand or contradicts your brand. Because of its ability to form permanent impressions in the minds of consumers, branding must be preceded by the development of a brand strategy.
A brand strategy involves:
- determining your brand expectations (what do you want it to achieve?).
- evaluating any existing brand-related assets or collateral.
- determining the costs for developing a brand.
- understanding how branding affects the development of a career plan.
Your specific branding goals will probably include answers to how your personal brand will build awareness (perhaps through a blog you write, or articles in a local newspaper or organization newsletter); create an emotional connection with the business community; accurately deliver your true distinguishing characteristics; establish credibility, trust, and confidence; and generate buyer preference.
Marketing Me, Inc.
The total relationship people have with you gives them a certain perception of you. This perception is your brand. Your brand helps others decide if they want a relationship with you or not.
Here are some of the hallmarks of brands:
- You get credit only for what you do consistently.
- The reliability of your behavior establishes your brand.
- Brands are based on actions rather than intentions.
- Inconsistency weakens brands and suspends belief.
Your brand affects your career management by establishing your value and establishing trust. If you consistently deliver value, you can negotiate!
Remember this important marketing principle: Benefits always trump features. A car dealer who tells you about 8-cylinder engines, state-of-the-art emission controls, moon roof, and racing stripes is describing the car's features. A dealer who tells you that the car will save you over 50% on gasoline, or that the car has front and rear sensors that warn you if you're too close to another vehicle, is describing the car's benefits to you as the potential owner.
Because you're the CEO of Me, Inc., always try to emphasize how you can solve someone's problem or save them money, rather than going on and on about all the achievements you've racked up in your professional career. If people begin to associate you with consistently providing benefits, that will become part of your brand, and you'll be remembered for it.
Learn to differentiate yourself from your competitors. Always provide value. Bring something to the table your competitors can't. Find a niche that shows the world you're someone with unique skills and talents and that you know how to use them! Although nurses are required to have core competencies, think outside the box for examples that make you extraordinary—for example, a powerful patient story or passion for helping the community.
A final word
To run a Me, Inc., business successfully, you have to be excited about the product you're offering, which is you. If you're not excited, how can you expect others to be? Why bother to sell, brand, and network if you're not excited about your own business? Become excited about yourself, your business, and your place in the 21st century jobscape.