Career coach: Selling yourself as a brand

John Simmons is director of training and development at, and
author of The Invisible Grail: In search of the true language of brands

The only surprise was who said it. It was Hans Blix, the UN weapons
inspector who compared US President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair
to "vendors of merchandise trying to exaggerate the importance of what
they have".

The truth is, we all need to persuade others of the importance of what we
have if we are going to get on in life. We all have to sell ourselves to
further our careers.

But, and it is a big but, there are different ways of selling. The hard
sell, involving exaggeration almost to the point of mendacity, is not the way
to go. Perhaps the president and the prime minister might regret it in time –
if voters start to believe they have been sold snake oil rather than the pure
essence of truth.

Bear this in mind when you have to sell yourself. I am not going to withdraw
the phrase because I do believe that, like any retailer, we need to present an
offer in the best possible light. But there should be an honest approach to the

Your words matter. After all, words send signals about who you are and what
you’re like. Take a look at your CV: what does it say about you? Do the words
excite, do they distinguish you as a personality, do they make you sound like a
person it would be good to meet? What happens if, for example, we simply remove
(and then replace) the words and phrases that project a personality that is
really not you?

We are all having to think of ourselves as brands these days. How would you
define your personality? What are your values? What is it that you really want
to achieve with your life? If you can, first be clear with yourself about the
answers to those questions, then consider if the words you use – your tone of
voice – represent your personality.

To continue the analogy, let’s take a brand like hand-made cosmetics
maufacturer, Lush. Lush takes great pleasure in using words to sell soap,
shampoo, and skincare products. The words are often funny and always engaging
in their determina-tion to sell products without dishonest hype.

The words on a Lush carrier bag describe the way Lush sees itself and its
beliefs. "We believe in long candlelit bathsÉin the right to make mistakes,
lose everything and start again." Is that dangerously honest? "We
also believe words like ‘fresh’ and ‘organic’ have honest meaning beyond
marketing." There’s a refreshing willingness to risk your disapproval, as
long as you credit that they mean what they say.

We live in an age where we all understand marketing. We have come beyond the
point where we believe marketing is inherently dishonest. But we know the game
and we know we have to play it.

My advice is to take the Lush approach to selling yourself. Be engaging,
bring out your own personality and be as honest as you can. I can’t guarantee
that this will get you every job you go for, but I believe it works in the long
run. At the very least, it stops you pursuing a job in which you have no

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