On Personal Branding and (Not) Being Fake

I started thinking about fakeness today after I had a job interview. I know that sounds bad – like it’s somehow implicating me in this guilty contemplation of what’s fake. Actually, I didn’t feel fake during my job interview, because I was truly talking about myself as the person and candidate I’d previously represented myself to be – through my other blogs, through this website, and through my resume.

But how much was I loosening the fetters of my biz lady clothes and letting my true self show a little bit in this, or any other, job interview? I can be sharp, critical, ironic, vulnerable – not just bubbly, hardworking, earnest, smart, and expert. I can NOT know what the heck I’m talking about, and NOT know the answers you’re looking for. How exactly do you tell your interviewer that you just “don’t know” but could probably figure it out? You don’t.

My friend Charlie Hoehn recently wrote a brave blog post about know-it-all adults who don’t question conventional assumptions and then distill their status quo ‘wisdom’ to everybody else. Dangerous.

I got to thinking…

Am I one of those adults that Charlie’s talking about?

My confessions:

I’ve pretended to know things I don’t really know.

I’ve implied that I’ve had answers to problems that really had no answers.

I’ve told kids ‘how it was’ when my version was only how it is about 60% of the time (with a HUGE margin of error).

I’ve filled in blanks with guesses and estimates, and then acted like they were Truth.

I’ve said stuff like “Everyone knows that…” and “As you know…”

I had a friend review my writing yesterday and he said:

“Mostly great, but it’s a little too marketing and sales-y! No one’s going to believe you in these sections.”

Why do I say those things or write that way? When it comes to work scenarios, I’m pretty sure it’s because I get the distinct impression that I’m supposed to be caring for my ‘personal brand’ at all times.

While being your own PR agency can help your career in some ways, it’s also pretty tiring and – in most cases – pretty obvious/transparent. I know there are PR professionals who will argue the virtue of their industry, but no matter how ‘2.0’ public relations become, I’ll always remember something a top PR executive at a leading Web company told me:

“I make bad things go away.”

Well, if we’re all supposed to be acting as personal PR firms for our professional selves, we’ve got a ton of work to do making a careerful of little bad things go away. When we think that not knowing something is a ‘bad thing,’ then we’ve got a lot of faking to do.

I think it’s fear that motivates me (at least me) to fill the pauses after questions with something – anything. Like most grown-ups, I’ve learned to be a decent improvisor, so that something usually comes off sounding mostly credible. But, I get the distinct feeling that it’s making me into more and more of one of the unquestioning assumers that Charlie talks about.

Starting today, right now, I’m going to try a week of bravery and “I don’t know.” This week’s Susan Su is going to be a little less cautious, a little less neat, a lot less box-able, and a little more me.

One Comment on “On Personal Branding and (Not) Being Fake”

  1. This very issue has gone round and round in my head.

    Reminds me of when Chris Rock talked about first dates: “On a first date you’re not meeting the person; you’re meeting that person’s representative.”

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