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The Role of Human Skills in Personal Branding

Every data management professional should develop a personal brand for career advancement. Identifying strengths and human skills can contribute to an effective personal brand.

Introduction

Modernization, automation and transformation are creating a demand for data management professionals’ technical skills. However, while a technical toolkit and hard skills are important, cultivating a well-defined and unique personal brand that also incorporates more human attributes helps individuals stand out within their current organizations, as well as to their industry colleagues and potential employers.

In a professional environment, personal branding has evolved to more than a carefully articulated elevator pitch. It is an opportunity to tell a professional and personal story. A personal brand is a story that is unique to the individual and is a collection of professional DNA, character, interests and successes. While it will always be valuable to summarize skills and succinctly answer questions such as “What do you do?” and “Can you tell me about yourself?” professionals should strive to tell a story that leaves others with meaningful impressions.

Human skills, also known as soft skills and more recently as power skills, play an integral role in personal branding. These attributes enable individuals to interact with others in positive and effective ways. A few examples of these skills include creativity, persuasion, collaboration, adaptability and critical thinking, among many others. As automation and technology infiltrate the industry, skills such as the ability to work with different personality types, problem-solve and navigate difficult situations are becoming increasingly important. Conveying these aptitudes effectively sets professionals apart from others who possess comparable technical abilities.

Defining a Personal Brand

Whether it is intentionally created or not, everyone has a personal brand. What do people think when they hear someone’s name? Those with a well-developed personal brand can likely answer this question with confidence. Others may have an idea of what they would like people to think and some are unsure, leaving their personal brands to chance. It is up to individuals to actively manage and refine their brands in order to strategically and accurately reflect who they are within their professional communities. Understanding and embracing natural strengths (including both human and technical skills) and setting clear goals are at the hallmark of this process. Focus on specific passions and skills you want to be known for, and then align them to organizational and industry needs. Questions such as the following are helpful thought starters:

  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your passions?
  • How can these strength and passions help propel business forward?
  • What are your top projects and skills at this point in your career?
  • Where do you hope to be in one year? Five? 10?
  • How do you define success?

By answering these and similar questions, individuals will have a firm starting point for positioning themselves and their unique attributes in a way that distinguishes them from others. Keep it memorable by focusing on a few main points, rather than listing all the accomplishments. It is also advisable to tailor a brand story slightly, depending on the audience and environment. A personal brand should tell a story that is human and engaging, while providing a sense of who someone is and where they would like to go.

Incorporating Human Skills into a Personal Brand

As technology revolutionizes the industry, there is a growing need for skill sets only humans can master. In fact, a recent LinkedIn Learning report found training for soft skills was the top priority for talent development. Machines cannot accurately replicate these human skills, causing the idea of a sentimental education—or “life-wide” learning, focused on personal and heartfelt experiences—to be more prevalent.

The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2022, 58 million net new jobs will be created because of technological advancements. While technology may replace some jobs, it is likely the majority will evolve and require individuals who can interpret data, while being able to leverage the ability of machines and strategize to be most effective. In an interview published by Forbes, Joseph E. Aoun, president of Northeastern University in Boston, shared, “The context you learn from having global experiences and forging human connections will be the differentiators that make you robot-proof.”
There are a few skills that should be honed and if possible, mastered, during each professional stage. As individuals enter the workforce, skills such as time management, along with the ability to adapt to changing needs and responsibilities, are key to success. In a fast-paced business environment, it is rare for scopes and priorities to stay consistent throughout an entire project. Entry-level professionals must be able to easily adapt and refocus to add the most value, while identifying roadblocks and asking for help when needed.

Mid-level employees benefit from adding new skills to their toolboxes, in addition to those mastered earlier in their careers. These may include problem-solving, the ability to persuade and influence, advanced communication skills, and empathy. As individuals enter leadership roles, the ability to coach and engage employees becomes vital to success. By taking an inventory of existing human skills and gaining an understanding of where there is room to grow, professionals at all levels can build upon their natural abilities and hone skills that will propel them toward success. These unique attributes should be celebrated and highlighted within each individual’s personal brand.

Managing and Evolving a Personal Brand

While human skills are important throughout the entirety of one’s career, natural abilities vary among individuals. There is always room to grow; it is important to continually refine and improve human skills at all career stages. This can be done by seeking out professional development opportunities that align with set goals. It is important to step out of the comfort zone and attend workshops, meet with resiliency trainers and leverage training modules. Additionally, by networking and building relationships, individuals will actively exercise these skills, while also connecting with others who may have access to further resources and knowledge.

Displaying thought leadership and insights by staying active in the industry is also paramount to solidifying a brand. This may be done by connecting and participating on social media platforms, while also recognizing one’s social media presence may be the first or only impression others receive. Professionals can seek out speaking opportunities within the industry to talk about topics they are passionate about and further foster their human skills. Sharing expertise by authoring articles for industry publications or company blogs are other fantastic ways to strengthen a professional brand.

Conclusion

Each data management professional should challenge himself/herself to build an enticing and timeless brand that leverages and embraces human skills. Not only do these skills enable individuals to best relate to each other and tell their stories in engaging and effective ways, they are key to being successful in the future of work. By focusing on human skills as differentiators, one can showcase value and develop a personally-branded story.

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