How to Build Your Personal Brand: Tips from Stephen Gates of Citi




“If people don't care about their (own personal) brand, what chance does my team have?”

In our “FUSE Calls" podcast series, Informa Head of Brand and Design Dan Madinabeitia sat down with Stephen Gates, Head of Design at Citi, to talk about how to get a design job by building your own personal brand.

Dan: "You’re a designer who seems to have turned representing himself into a craft. Would you agree with that Stephen?"

Stephen: “Teams want to hire and teams want to work with people who are really highly respected in the industry; who are brands, who are names that you know. I’m constantly amazed at --- I get stacks of resumes, stacks of portfolios, look at tons of stuff and talk to people at conferences. So often you can tell that they do beautiful, incredible design work, but then their resume is done in Word. Or they do these beautiful sites, but you can tell that they just slapped something together. I think you have to get to a certain point in your career where you start to become aware of the bigger world that’s out there and aware of the competition that’s out there. Obviously, being in New York heightens that."

"But the reality is, the reason I wrote that article for “How to Write a Resume that Will Get You Noticed” is because I end up with these people who can’t articulate who they are. They can’t articulate why they are different. They can be incredible talents. But if you don’t have the ability to treat yourself like a brand, to step back and understand what your story is, if you don’t understand where you want to go, your resume’s not going to get noticed. Your site is not going to get noticed and you’re not going to be good in interviews because so often you become reduced to just a commodity. You’re a weak brand."

On how to be a strong brand 

"What is your value? Can you think? How are you different? A lot of times what people are doing is writing what they think people want to hear. The problem is that whenever you do that, it’s just like a brand. When I’m trying to be what everybody else wants me to be --- this is like the old Henry Ford quote about as he was building the car if he’d have listened to what everyone else wanted, he would have ended up with a faster horse, not a car. Not that dissimilar. So, as opposed to people taking the time to say: “Who am I? What do I stand for? What am I about? Can I communicate that succinctly? Does my portfolio, my work, my career align to that?” This is basic brand strategy sort of stuff, but it’s just interesting that whenever you have to apply it to yourself, most people don’t think to take a step back and basically treat themselves like their own brand. It’s probably the most important brand that they’ll ever work on. What makes a good “book”? Don’t over-promise and under-deliver. To tell the truth for me, whatever you do, own what your role was. Tell me what your role was. Be honest about that."

On how to get hired as a designer

"The world is full of people who know how to Photoshop and make pretty designs. The world is really short on leaders and people who know how to market great ideas. So, again, I think the ability to understand “What was their role? What did they contribute? Where do they want to go?” Things like that. That’s what’s really critical. That’s what gets me excited and gets people in my chair and in my office. In that interview is when I can tell if they are really clear about what they want."

On how to create a resume

"You’re not doing this in a vacuum. You’re going against other people. This is the Hunger Games, right? You have to put your best foot forward, even if it’s in a resume. Even if it’s just something that simple. I would think that great people want to work for somebody where I notice the way you chose your type selection. I notice the way it’s tracked out. I notice the way you are laying it out to be able to do things like that. So, again, this is all the stuff where everything communicates. Tell me a story. Show that it matters. Show me that you put the time in. Those are the people I want. The people who show me that something like that really matters, I’ll know that when they are on my team they will take that approach of making it matter. If the resume is sloppy, the message doesn’t exist. If it’s in Courier or Comic Sans, those are the people that if they don’t care about themselves that much and their brand, what chance does my team have?"

Continue the conversation with Stephen @sdgates or get more resume and job hunting tips for design professionals at the links below.

To listen to the full podcast, click here

To download the interview transcript, click here

FUSE Calls is a series of interviews where the FUSE team literally picks up the phone and calls disruptive design and brand strategy leaders across the globe - some of whom spoke at our FUSE 2016 Conference in Miami. Dan Madinabeitia will also be dialing in to speak with the very esteemed members of our FUSE community. Our goal is to share insight, promote design-thinking and hopefully inspire anyone interested in branding and design as it relates to strategic vision. 

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