Today's post is a guest blog, where we'll hear from Michelle Stillman, VP of Enterprise Financial Reporting at HP.
At a recent forum for International Women’s Day, a group of amazing women shared their insights on career development and how to overcome not only the obstacles others put in front of us, but the obstacles we put in front of ourselves. We structured our discussion on the principles of Rebecca Shambaugh’s book “It’s Not a Glass Ceiling; It’s a Sticky Floor.” I was fortunate to be on a panel with this talented group, and share some of my personal thoughts about how we need to learn to market ourselves well in order to advance our careers.
Market ourselves? I know. You’re thinking “I’m not in marketing – I’m in _______ (substitute “finance”, “product development”, “supply chain” or other random careers not related to marketing)!” But it’s not an option these days – it’s a necessity. We can’t rely on just putting our heads down and doing a good job. In an organization our size, the work does not always speak for itself – at least not always loud enough for the right people to hear, at the right time.
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One of the best self-marketers I’ve ever known was one of the people you’d think was the least likely candidates to be able to market himself – my late father-in-law.
If I were to describe him in objective terms, I probably couldn’t sell him to you as a ticket-taker at your local movie-theater. He was legally blind, going deaf, overweight, diabetic, with numerous other health problems, and had zero fashion-sense. He didn’t have a college degree, held a variety of jobs over his lifetime (including a less than monumental stint as a self-employed upholsterer), and had been laid off from a lower management position at Home Depot seven years ago. I loved him dearly; I don’t know that I’d hire him with those qualifications.
But he was a gregarious, outgoing optimist, and he went to work at marketing himself. He wrote a book and paid to self-publish it. He sat in local bookstores with a folding table and tri-fold display with his marketing “collateral” printed with an inkjet printer and taped to the board, signing the four books he sold. He then offered to speak at the senior center in their retirement community for free – and marketed himself as a “published author”. He went around applying for public speaking opportunities that paid nominal honorariums, using the senior center engagements to market himself as a “public speaker”. He did a free internet radio talk show for the visually-impaired and . . . you guessed it: he sold himself to bigger speaking engagements as “a published author, public-speaker, and radio personality.” By the end of his life, he’d self-published another book, he was being asked to be a “guest lecturer” for several major cruise lines and taking all-expense paid trips around the world in exchange for a few lectures per cruise. He had friends from coast to coast and around the world who knew him by his pseudonym “Hunter” – a renowned author, lecturer, guest speaker, radio personality and humorist. When I met one of his gushing fans, I sometimes had to suppress a giggle. But when he passed away, the outpouring of sympathy and touching memorials from around the globe made me feel nothing but pride for the man who’d woven a larger than life tapestry of a persona out of sheer determination and the smallest threads of accomplishments.
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We can do that too. We can take the small threads of our everyday accomplishments and ordinary skills and turn them into an extraordinary package to sell to our next career opportunity. All it takes is a little creativity and a little practice.
One of the best pieces of advice in Rebecca Shambaugh’s book on marketing yourself was to develop your elevator pitch. Imagine that you had a brief elevator ride with a very important person to explain your job, your accomplishments, and yourself. How would you sell . . . you?
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I’m Michelle Stillman, and I’m a vice-president in charge of a group of 100 world-class finance professionals responsible for the consolidated worldwide financial reporting and compliance functions of the world’s largest IT company.
Who are you?