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Professional success today requires that you change the way you think about your career—by treating career management as an ongoing activity.

Creating your personal brand helps you do so—with the ultimate goal of distinguishing yourself. But before you start working on building your brand, you need to adopt a new mindset—the "Career Distinction" mindset.

This new way of thinking about your career is comprised of four simple principles. Adopt these principles, and get ready to grab hold of your future.

Principle No. 1: Stand out: Stand for something

Just doing your job, and even doing it well, is no longer enough. "Loyalty" and "longevity" were the watchwords of the past. In today's workplace, creativity trumps loyalty; individuality replaces conformity; proactivity is more valuable than hierarchy. You mustn't wait for job assignments—you must create them.

With intense competition and pressure from shareholders to deliver ever-higher returns, companies have begun scrutinizing each employee to assess his or her value to the organization. If senior marketing leaders don't know you're there (regardless of the hard work you contribute), then they figure they won't miss you when you're gone. And, as you are probably well aware, when budgets need to be slashed and people need to be let go, all eyes are on the marketing department.

In sales, independent business, and even politics and the media, people have realized that you need to make a name for yourself if you hope to stay in your profession. Those who can simply do the job won't receive nearly as many opportunities as those who carve out a unique niche for themselves.

And the higher you move up the corporate ladder, the more important this personal branding becomes. It's all about adding value beyond what your colleagues deliver. It's about standing out, and standing for something.

So if you're the marketing executive who believes that metrics are the only key to success, make that known. If you are the account executive who touts the importance of taking risks and testing out new ways of attracting customers, demonstrate that with everything you do.

Being wishy-washy won't get you very far in today's competitive environment.

Principle No. 2: Be your own boss

To take the helm of your career and steer it toward your future, you must be your own boss—controlling your destiny, finding and seizing opportunities, and marching up the ramp of advancement in your profession.

As your own boss, you decide which positions you will take, how much effort you'll invest in each task, and how you'll handle the challenges you'll inevitably encounter. You control how you present yourself and your intellectual and emotional assets, and even whom you position as your allies and your opponents.

At first blush, you might disagree. Perhaps you think your manager—or the CMO or board of directors—controls your future. Maybe you assume that your company's success—in the form of rising stock price, customer satisfaction, and profitability—will carry you indefinitely. We urge you not to count on outside forces to ensure your success.

You can't control these forces—so you'll constantly be vulnerable to them. But you do control your own personal brand. Consider: Your skills and unique personal attributes don't disappear if your company's stock price plummets. Your future doesn't unravel if an executive who powerfully supported your advancement leaves the company.

our personal assets are yours, and no one can take them away from you. You must take responsibility for these assets, and use them to your advantage. In short, seek strength in yourself, not your circumstances.

Principle No. 3: Forget the ladder—it's a ramp

Many people still think of their career as a ladder with their ultimate goal that top rung. Even from the bottom, you can see the top rung off in the distance. You climb the ladder, progressing in your career from marketing associate to marketing manager to director of marketing and so on. At each rung, you work hard on what you are doing at the moment. You forget about that next step because you're sure you'll get there when the right time comes without encountering any obstacles. You fall into complacency.

Then something happens. Perhaps you become bored and seek greater challenges or perhaps the project you're working on is canceled. Only when that something happens do you think about that next rung in your career ladder. You put together your resume, reconnect with lost professional contacts, and so forth. You expend enormous effort connecting with marketing headhunters, writing cover letters, refining your career marketing materials, searching through job boards—all the fallback methods that people used back when the world of work was predictable.

But in today's knowledge economy, this binary approach to career management isn't the best one. Instead, you have to get rid of the ladder metaphor and view your career climb as a ramp. When you're ascending a ramp, you don't stop and relax—you're constantly advancing in perpetual motion toward your professional goals. In this scenario, you don't wait for a trigger to move you to your next step in your career. You manage that movement yourself, every day of your life with everything you do—every campaign you manage, every meeting you attend, every phone call you place.

Once you adopt this mindset and make these corresponding behaviors part of your regular routine, you never have to make a focused effort to work on your career again. Instead, you're always thinking about it and tweaking it as a matter of course. It's like brushing your teeth in the morning: Career management becomes something you just do.

Principle No. 4: Build your personal brand

If these elements of the Career Distinction mindset sound familiar, that's not surprising. You've been using them for years in support of your company or clients. It's called branding.

But the Career Distinction mindset puts you in position to brand yourself, not your company.

And while corporate branding typically requires scores of ad execs and million-dollar marketing budgets, personal branding requires only you. You are your own 24/7 billboard and interactive ad campaign. Every day, in everything you do, you tell the world about yourself, your values, your goals, and your skills.

In fact, you already have a brand—even if you don't know what it is, and even if it isn't working for you the way you'd like it to. To advance your career, clarify the personal brand you need to create in order to achieve career distinction—and then communicate that brand unerringly to those around you.

Note: This article is adapted from Career Distinction: Stand Out By Building Your Brand.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of William Arruda

William Arruda is a personal branding pioneer, the founder and CEO of Reach Personal Branding, and the author of Ditch. Dare. Do! 3D Personal Branding for Executives.

Twitter: @williamarruda

LinkedIn: William Arruda