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Young Professionals Forum Report: Building your personal brand

BritCham / CBBC
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Che Diego! Argentinian bar and restaurant in Sanlitun was the aptly sophisticated setting for our latest Young Professionals forum on 25 September. HR specialists spoke to budding stars of the future about building a "personal brand" to enhance their career prospects.

We were fortunate to have two highly experienced professionals to give presentations to members. Tracy Driscoll, who now works at Management Development Services, has been in China for 17 years, during which time she has been responsible for recruitment, consultancy and coaching. Susie Bates of Interpublic Group has spent 32 years here working in HR.

If there was one message to take from the forum, it was: be yourself! No one - especially a recruiter - likes a fraud. And anyone thinking of sneaking untruths into their interview, or embellishing their CV, ought to note that recruiters DO check Facebook, LinkedIn and those other sites that lay your personal life bare. But it's not just the snaps of holiday revelry or weekends with your hair down - recruiters also want to check your everyday personality. Are you who you say you are?

Bear in mind that there's nothing wrong with being wild and wacky, nor with being quiet and retiring - but whichever you are, say so. Most companies want some of each to cover the differing roles in their organisation. What's more, those hobbies that you think are too weird to bring up at interview... they're exactly what the recruiter wants to hear about. Stand out - and don't be afraid to surprise the interviewer (in a good way)! But note that there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance; the former is attractive, the latter repellant. 

Tracy's presentation covered personal branding. What image do you project? How do others perceive you - and how do you perceive yourself? What is your "authentic self"? Considering these questions - which not many people actually take the time to do - can open doors and help your career progress in the right direction. Tracy identified what makes a good brand:

  • Vision
  • Design
  • Quality
  • Consistency
  • Good communications/marketing
  • The ability to stand the test of time.

You can apply all of these characteristics when forging your own brand. Think about people you know - or celebrities - who project themselves well, and consider why. Contemplate what your dream future is, and work backwards from that to see how to achieve it. There are several ways to present yourself to prospective employers (who you could bump into any time, at any social or business event, remember!). It may be through a CV or portfolio; your personal appearance; your actions and attitude; or via your network.

Speaking of CVs, Susie Bates began her presentation - "Being your authentic self: the recruiter's perspective" - with an important point: many people are quite unlike the impression they give on paper. Sometimes a CV cannot capture your creativity, for example - but you should think of ways to make your application eye-catching (according to your line of work). The cover letter is far more important than many people think, and applicants frequently neglect it - but many recruiters will not even open your CV if the cover letter doesn't arouse their interest.

Two contrasting types of cover letter were proposed by the speakers. One would be formal and divided into four parts as follows.

  1. I'm applying because…
  2. My strengths are…
  3. I have experience in…
  4. I will call you in the next week to follow up this application.
The other would be brief and out of the ordinary (eye-catching and creative), but it must still cover the bare essentials of what makes you suitable for the job. Whichever style you use, you must be able to demonstrate your strengths succinctly to the employer.
Susie also covered a number of the traits that make many foreign candidates attractive to employers in China. They include emotional traits such as intelligence, intuition, innovation, ingenuity and (non-)indoctrination; their articulacy in describing a vision; their management or leadership skills and ability to generate loyalty in a team; their ability to plan a whole project through to implementation; and their understanding of service excellence (preferably in a form that translates into Chinese culture). The latter trait is especially important as this is an area in which many Chinese employees are still lacking.
Our attendees had all kinds of questions for the speakers. They included:
  • How important is fluent Mandarin in securing a job in China?
It is not crucial provided that you can show a desire to keep improving and achieve fluency eventually, as well as a commitment to staying in China for a certain period. Learning the language is not just about linguistic ability, but also about coming to understand Chinese culture and being able to integrate, which are equally important to many employers.
  • Is is worth using platforms such as LinkedIn?

While it is important to use them, it's equally important to spend time updating and perfecting your profile (all the while bearing in mind that you need to be yourself). A half-hearted profile tends to indicate a half-hearted person. Your profile should also be something that people want to read.

  • How can I get an interview over a zillion other applicants when applying via LinkedIn, and how do I prevent being eliminated at the first hurdle by automated keyword filters?

You shouldn't rely completely on LinkedIn to get an interview! It is a useful way to find links to people and companies you are interested in; thereafter you should branch out and do your own research to find another way in. For example, you might contact the recruiter directly, perhaps with a handwritten note or via an online request.

  • Is networking really as crucial in China as people say? Can't I just find a recruitment agent?
Yes, networking is key in China! Most jobs are not advertised, but spread by word of mouth. Recruiters in China receive so many CVs that it is impossible for them to place you unless you have met them face to face. You should not just attend every networking event, however, but choose the productive, professional and amicable ones. Be selective. In short: do not just rely on recruiters.
Our session ended with informal canapés and drinks at Che Diego! and time to mingle with other attendees. Thank you to those who attended, and to Tracy and Susie for their presentations.


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