Holding personal brand power in public sector careers is vital

Perception is reality unless disproved. Taking control and holding personal brand power in public sector careers is vital. If you are in the public sector your  career and  brand impression management is in your hands. But there are some crucial areas to be mindful of and obstacles to overcome for many.

Prejudices and narratives originate from personal experiences and/or populist hearsay trussed from conscious and unconscious biases. The latter known as cognitive comprises ten erroneous biases which distort judgement.

The hiring ecosystem is subverted with biases despite legislation against age, gender, race, sexuality and other forms of discrimination.  No sector or vocation is exempt from this, with misconceptions and stereotypes running amok internally and externally.

The Queensland Government’s employee portal sums up well the impact of unconscious bias:

“Where there is bias (conscious or unconscious) in the workplace, we continue to recruit, promote, allocate work, and manage performance with filters on our thinking.”   

“Unconscious bias in the workplace can mean that talented people are left out of the workforce or not allowed equal opportunity for development and career progression and creativity and productivity of teams or the organisation may be compromised.”

Across the public sector there have been numerous programs and initiatives to identify and address diversity and recruitment bias, including the Victorian Recruit Smarter and the Human Rights Commission Willing to Work on disabilities and ageism.

Intra Public Sector Prejudice

But there is one bias missing in the mix and that is of intra public sector prejudice (IPSP). It rarely gets oxygen to mitigate yet is as widespread as it is pernicious.  Most professional and executive job searches and career planning meets competition and bias. But adding in IPSP to the mix, it can become a firestorm of frustration.

In recent discussions with a few current and ex senior public sector leaders on the issue, I received generous feedback but no one was willing to be attributed publicly. This speaks sadly to the trepidation of calling out the bias, but I was given permission to quote anonymously.

One very senior ex high office leader commented that state government considers local government the poor cousins with an ingrained perception of incompetency from federal levels down. And given that the C-Suite in local government holds real power for change, the negative perception does not meet reality and media often drives that narrative.

Another commented that women can particularly be reticent to challenge the IPSP and are  encouraged to build greater confidence in communicating their leaderships skills of   influencing, negotiating funding and pitching major programs.

It was also tendered the perception of a reality disconnect towards federal from state and local levels and from federal to state.

Circle of Reference

A particularly salient conversation was held with a senior leader who moved from state to local government.  Whilst acknowledging the challenges and need to convince cultural flexibility and aligned transferrable experiences, the leader admitted they too once held a snobbish almost disdainful attitude towards local government.  More so, they saw how their hiring had been impacted by the bias.

Yet it was only when a role within state government required them to have direct relationships and negotiations with local government leaders that the bias was nullified.  Disdain turned to respect and seeded a desire to move across to local government to make a larger impact that was meaningful.

This outcome is what I refer to as a circle of reflection moment captured in my Circle of Reference & Wisdom Wheel. This reflection result is derived when direct experiences lead to deep insights, knowledge and empathy.  

So it poses the question of just how much talent and opportunity across public sector levels are missed from both hiring teams and candidates themselves.

Delineation of levels

The public sector has distinct responsibilities across the three levels of governments, agencies, commissions and authorities.   A government recruiter shared the levels are viewed broadly as:

When moving across government levels it is important to talk to the ethos from your vantage point and your transferrable skills which align.  The recruiter also suggested that in deciding if an intra public sector move is right for you, a review of personal preferences, career goals and purpose is essential prior.

Why you must control your brand narrative

As stated upfront ‘perception is reality unless disproved’.  No one else can control your own story and brand impression more than you.  Whilst many may consider personal branding and career promotion scary or even a tad boorish, it is essential.

Taking control not only elevates your own career value and goals but chips away at the overall biases and perceptions impacting more broadly.

Elements of a personal career brand

Before I share a few general branding and bias navigation tips, let’s look at what a personal brand is.  The chart below comprises the core elements of which the last rung is ‘perceived and experienced’.   This is foundational to trust as brand rhetoric must meet reality.

Storytelling and professional narratives sit across  all pillars (accept the visual). Understanding these to align answers to your career goals is vital.  The essence of ‘brand you’ will rarely change over time, but your goals may, and therefore how you communicate your brand will shift.

Tips to build and control your personal career brand 

  1. ReflectionReview your own perceptions and any biases broadly. You may have been in the hiring seat and so as the role has switched you have insight to reflect.
  1. Talk to the perceptionIn your CV, cover letters and LinkedIn profile highlight the aspects that address biases and perceptions. For example, if you are keen to move across from state to federal government, reference your skills in policy and research. If from state to local, examples of community and stakeholder engagement. It is almost calling out the elephant in the room in a very elegant and non-threatening fashion.
  1. LinkedIn Profiles A LinkedIn profile is a high value career asset ranking on the first page of Google search. No one does what you do in the same way you do it and this is communicated with DARE to be direct, authentic, real and engaging. A compelling LinkedIn profile is written must be written in the 1st person covering personal brand elements and future direction.

Focus on the problems you solve and what you are passionate to create a  brand narrative which inspires.  Irrelevant of where you work, all roles are designed to solve a problem so emphasise that clearly. And have a recent and clear photograph, a strong headline of your skills and purpose together with a visual banner representing your career goals or profession.

  1. LinkedIn ContentAs a leader and manager you have enormous experiences and expert value to share. LinkedIn is like a personal website where everyone has the opportunity to publish their own articles.  Content demonstrates expertise and creates engagement which elevates your brand value.  Publishing articles on LinkedIn is a proactive career marketing exercise. Career impression management is part marketing, part goal strategy.
  1. Visibility – Embrace good opportunities to share your expertise, values and personality. It may be on subject matter podcasts, interviews, speaking events or where you have a platform to make an impact and inspire.

Summing Up

The competition for professional public sector roles will be stronger than ever in 2021 due in part to the new hybrid workplace model which opens the gates to wider candidates.

It is never easy to job search and transition careers. But taking control of your brand ensures imaginations don’t run wild as a blank or minimal canvas gives rise to divergent conclusions which may thwart progress.

The more you raise your visibility and back yourself with confidence the greater success you will achieve as you control your brand impression.

This article was  published in The Mandarin on 25 January 2021

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