Why career-aspiring Gen Ys need to “think brand”

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By Shetil Rastogi

After a recent lecture to a mostly Gen Y MBA class at a leading business school, I held a Q&A session with 15 aspiring young marketers.

They were a bright bunch that spoke to me repeatedly about skill development, future opportunity, geography and salary as key criteria in making their next (and in many cases, first) move into industry.

Few if any, however, spoke to me about considering the market reputation (or brand, as I’ll refer to it here) of the company they were looking to join.

A quick aside about the “target market” of this article. If you wish to make a career in the corporate world or “sample” the corporate world as a springboard to an entrepreneurial career, then keep reading; you may benefit.

If your journey does not route through the corporate world, then stop; it’s less relevant. If you’re not sure, then also keep reading!

Why is it important, especially to Gen Y, to consider the brand when making a career choice?

If you envision a corporate career, experience at a “brand name” company in your chosen field gives you credibility in the marketplace that will open more doors later in your working life. If the corporate world is a “stop-gap” to entrepreneurialism, the brand of the company you join is important in that the more recognized brands generally provide you with the quality of functional training and industry knowledge that better your chances of success on your own.

So then, to what extent should you consider the brand of your next destination? From time to time, I informally ask your generation and find that I get two extreme answers.

The first is that the brand doesn’t enter into the consideration set at all. It falls secondary to title, salary and skill development. While these are no doubt important, by taking this position, you do your career an injustice. Specifically, how well are you branding yourself for future opportunities, especially if you already know what field you want to enter?

Take my experience:

(I’m a younger Gen X but my example illustrates the point.)

When I left school, I was so enthused about being in industry that I didn’t pay much attention to the brand of my first company. After all, I had a great title, visibility with senior management and a rotation program where I could build great skills.

To my surprise, however, soon after leaving this company I learned that future employers didn’t appreciate and in some cases, didn’t even acknowledge, these skills because the company at which I attained them had little brand recognition (even within its own niche segment).

It wasn’t until this company was bought out by a high profile multinational (two years after I left) that people began to notice and respect the skills I had acquired there. In hindsight, I might have been better off to have found a role at the multinational in the first place. Yes, it would have taken me longer to learn the same skills, but it would have also made my later career progression easier.

Some of you have taken the other extreme. That is, making brand the foremost criterion in your decision making almost to the point of excluding other criteria altogether. The challenge here is that you risk setting yourselves up for unsatisfying, and therefore, short-term career moves. The company’s brand may be respected but will the role within that company do justice to your strengths, the skills you want to build, your desired career direction, and your value system?

Take the example of a friend of mine, a bright marketing professional:

When she started her career, she had a burning desire to enter a particular consumer goods company. At the time (and still today), this company is respected for having stellar products, a fun and collegial work culture and a competitive compensation package. Somewhat “blinded” by these qualities, she paid little attention to her most basic professional need: a strategic role to satisfy her strategic business mind. Instead, she took a highly tactical marketing support role with little connection to strategy.

Disappointment and frustration set in within two weeks. She left three months later. As opposed to the career asset that she was hoping for by having this name on her resumé, it became a career liability, raising “red flags” for future employers.

So, what’s the point here? There are two:

  1. The brand should be a conscious criterion in your decision-making and;
  2. The brand should neither be the most important nor the least important criterion in your decision-making.

By the way, these rules apply as much to more experienced professionals looking to change careers as they do to your generation. However, I would encourage you to think about them now to minimize future dissatisfaction.

Great. If not first nor last, then where should the brand fall in my thinking? For your generation, I think it should be between the third and fourth (right after quality of training and fit with career goals/value system) criterion. As professionals become more senior, the brand tends to become a lower consideration if it is considered at all. Note that these professionals generally have something that you don’t: years of experience (that may mean already having established brands behind them) and strong individual reputations that make the brand names on their resumé less meaningful.

Finally, remember that a strong brand doesn’t necessarily mean one that is recognized and respected by the masses (e.g., BMW in the automotive sector or Apple in the technology sector). It means one that is recognized and respected in the type of role that you are targeting in the field that you wish to enter.

How do you find these brands? Once you have determined this field of choice, ask seasoned professionals in the field to identify them for you. Be sure to question them as to why they have identified the brands that they have. You want to look for answers like high-quality training, development of people, etc.

Note that people like to be asked for their advice – so don’t hesitate to reach out to these professionals (it may seem daunting at first but will become second nature in no time!).

Good luck and stay tuned for the next article in this set which will talk about things to look for in assessing a prospective employer’s brand.

Shetil Rastogi, a big believer in the power of brands, is with FusionPoint, a brand consulting firm that helps leaders grow profitability by seamlessly integrating its two brand assets: the market brand and the employer brand. In addition to working with companies in marketing and business development, Shetil has helped companies define and articulate unique brands in their space. He also writes and speaks about branding at every opportunity. You can reach him at shetil@fusionpoint.ca.

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