“Put your head above the parapet”; “Stand out from the crowd”; “Put yourself in the spotlight”. You may have heard some of these phrases during personal development or career education training sessions that are focussed on helping you to raise your professional profile, network with employers and create job opportunities.
The advice is good and should be heeded. These behaviours have been shown to work better than simply applying for advertised jobs. However, increasing your visibility goes much further than this. It doesn’t just serve to bring you into contact with potential new career openings, it can also offer advantages in many areas of your professional life (some of which may, incidentally, lead to a new job). Showing interest in what others are doing, engaging in conversations, offering support, getting involved in new initiatives, and generally being curious about the world around you brings you into contact with people and information that could lead on to new areas of interest. It’s the happenstance of life (see a previous blog on this subject).
Your increased visibility makes others aware of you, which places you on their radar so when they’re considering, for example, who to invite to give a talk at a conference, who to nominate for an award, who to collaborate with, or even who to put forward for a new job opening or promotion, your name/face pops into their head.
So how can you work on your visibility and take advantage of these more indirect opportunities? Obviously, it’s important to be present, but make sure you’re presenting ‘Quality You’, not just ‘Quantity You’. What I mean by this is, think about the image you’re presenting of yourself: Do you want to be characterised as an intellectual, an academic, a dynamic innovator, a technical wizard, an empathetic leader, a creative disruptor, a stable reliable pair of hands? This may seem like rather casual and blasé labelling, but it’s what happens when you stand out from the crowd: People judge you, albeit unconsciously or consciously.
Just like celebrities (although, not as extreme), you need to control your image. Let me explain this in the context of the PhD world:
Consider this: What happens when you present a paper at a conference? You stand on a stage, you’re in the spotlight, people are looking and listening to you. But not only this. More importantly, they’re reacting to your presence, looking at your image, forming an opinion about you, weighing you up. Ask yourself: How do they see me? Are they taking me seriously? Are they impressed? Can they see themselves working with me in the future?
If you watch politicians and other public speakers in action, people usually comment afterwards more on what they looked like and how they sounded, than on the details of their message. This is the same for you and everyone else who puts themselves in the spotlight. So, the next time you present a paper at a conference (be it in person or on-line), pay as much attention to your presence as to the content of your talk. Consider your body language, your clothes, your stance, your tone of voice – these will all speak to the audience, as much as, or even more than, your voice. [It also means you need to come out from behind the lectern/switch on your video.]
Making a formal presentation is a more extreme example of how you are perceived by others; consider the more everyday interactions that you have in more informal settings and be aware that similar appraisals will be made about you and, of course, vice versa. Think about the people you work with and the corresponding fleeting images and opinions that form in your head.
And don’t forget about social media. Paying attention to your online visibility also plays a crucial role in honing your professional image. A fully completed profile, including a friendly confident looking you, a succinct and genuine summary of who you are, what you do and what you have achieved in the past will demonstrate your credibility. Contributing to discussions and sharing useful information and commentary will help to consolidate your position in the community as someone who is worth following or linking with. See a previous blog on this subject.
So, I hope I have shown you, to some extent, the value of being visible both in person and on-line. And remember, if a more senior/elderly colleague tells you otherwise, it’s very likely that they have already earned their place in the spotlight by paying attention to their visibility in the past. If you’re at an early stage in your career, you will still need to illuminate yourself 🙂