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Branding drives Volvo, FedEx and CIOs

In a tough job market, CIOs have to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack. A CIO coach recommends identity branding.

CARLSBAD, Calif. -- Quick! How can Volvo Cars and FedEx help you land a job? Well, it's not because they can get you to an interview in one piece or deliver your résumé the next day.

Both companies are each known by a single attribute, said executive career coach Kim Batson, who specializes in placing CIOs. Safety, in the case of Volvo; speedy delivery, for FedEx.

You must be different from the other hundreds of CIOs and IT executives out there. Branding is a way to differentiate yourself in the marketplace.
Kim Batson
executive career coach and
Batson, president of, said CIOs looking for a job or angling for a promotion should strive to do the same -- forge a "personal brand" that reflects the unique talent and value they bring to a job.

"Things are very different from the '90s, when you could stick a résumé online and get some calls," said Batson, who spoke at the recent CIO Decisions Conference here, an annual event for IT executives at midsized organizations. "You must be different from the other hundreds of CIOs and IT executives out there. Branding is a way to differentiate yourself in the marketplace."


The tactics most people use to get a job are all wrong, according to Batson. Tailoring your cover letter to the job description? Nixsay. Job descriptions usually are written poorly and don't really get to what employers are looking for. Whatever you write back is bound to be "boring and dry." "Companies aren't looking anymore for someone to come on board and conform," she said. Besides, that's what everybody does.

Looking through online ads, another job tool of the '90s, is a waste of time. Her firm's research shows that only 20% of jobs for senior-level executives are advertised online; less than 4% of job seekers get a job by posting on career boards. Networking accounts for 60% to 70% of the jobs offered; presenting yourself directly to the company you want to work for accounts for 25%. Her advice: Better to create your own Web site, the "new Internet wildcard" for job hunters, and have employers come looking for you.

As for the stellar résumé studded with accomplishments? In a competitive marketplace, companies are looking for people who can help them be more competitive, Batson said. Unless you can show how your career experience will help a prospective employer make money, save money, save time, or make work easier, the long list might as well be a laundry list.

"You have to tune into a company's pain and tell them what you bring to the table that can fix that pain. Connect the dots," Babson said. Plus, you can't write a résumé until you've found out what your personal brand is all about. "You really have to dig for that."

Finding the value

Conference attendee Flip Anderson, an IT executive for the U.S. military, said the concept of branding was new to him, and intriguing. "How do you determine your brand when most executives are jacks of all trades? By the time we get to the executive level, most of us are management-focused and have started to lose the technical expertise that got us there," Anderson said in an email.

Moreover, for Army officers the goal is to be as "well-rounded a leader as possible," rather than being pigeon-holed into one career or technical path.

CIOs, or any executives who get to their positions by being extremely competent at many things, can have a hard time digging for what they do best, Batson conceded.

For starters, it involves the often painful exercise of taking stock. As Anderson pointed out, what if you aren't known for one thing? Or you're known for something you don't want to be? Batson suggests you start by figuring out the one thing for which you would like to be known.

But you can't just make something up. A personal brand should not be confused with marketing spin, she said. Volvo became the safety brand because what it says about its cars is basically true. Personal brands have to be authentic, she stressed. And they are not about features, like Volvo's steel cages or car doors. Brands convey benefits.


Once the brand is established, Batson said, CIOs should start quantifying their "success stories," tying business benefits to achievements (generating revenue, profit, ROI, raising customer satisfaction, etc.) The project-based measures give you "braggables," Batson said, and sets off the "buying triggers," or reasons people hire. "Try everything you can to quantify," she said. The next step should be preparing your "value proposition," or the four or five reasons why you should be hired, backed up by your quantifiables and linked to the potential employer's needs.

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Finally, it helps to have passion for what you do. Passion accounts for 45% of the hiring decision, Batson said.

When applying for a job, Batson recommends a four-pronged "executive portfolio," consisting of a strong cover letter or "brochure" (even though many recruiters don't read them), a résumé, a "career bio" spelling out your personal brand and putting meat to the résumé, and a "leadership addendum." The last is aimed at the board of directors and talks about your leadership qualities. Don't make the mistake of letting recruiters write your career bio, the heart of the executive portfolio. "They are awful! Horrible, and not well thought out," she said. Plus, your executive recruiter will be happier to help you, because you have saved him work.

Once you're branded, be prepared to be shut out of a lot of jobs.

"It is very important to know that if you have a personal brand, you will not appeal to everyone, and you shouldn't. If you try that, you won't come to mind to anyone," Batson said.

Bob Dowd, CIO of Sonora Quest Laboratories LLC in Tempe, Ariz., was more familiar with branding, having read a recent article on the same topic. He found the advice on how to assemble an executive portfolio most useful, saying in an email that it changed his view on how to approach a potential employer, as well as evaluate job candidates. And he's already acted on Batson's advice about establishing an online presence. Said Dowd: "As a result, I registered a domain with my name for future use."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer

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