Conveying “who you are” during your search is both a lot easier and more challenging with the advent of the Internet. There are now a myriad of ways to put yourself “out there” to attract the right prospects. Curating your ‘search image’ takes real effort and should be initiated early in launch stage of your search. The watchwords for your search are consistency, brevity and non-controversial. Let your website provide a brief description of you and your search, and then use LinkedIn to provide the details.
Focus on your audience
The audience for your ‘search image’, first and foremost, is business owners who would consider selling their enterprise to you. A secondary audience, but also important, are investors, financial institutions, competitors who may be bidding against you, brokers, intermediaries, employees of the business you may buy, and finally, advisors to the seller.
In many respects, it is useful to consider that the business owner is “hiring” you to run their business. In fact, during the prospecting part of your search you will receive numerous solicitations from owners trying to entice you to join them as an employee or partner, with an attractive title, salary and incentive bonus, perhaps even profit sharing and some equity. They like what they see in you, but just don’t want to sell their business to you. Stay the course and move on to other prospects.
The business owner will want to know about you, such as your work history, and what kind of responsibilities and accomplishments you have earned. In addition, they want to see your educational background. The industries and markets that you have had exposure to can give them comfort with your ability to take over and operate their business.
Your accomplishments should not be threatening in any way. Saying “…laid of 25% percent of workforce to achieve new profitability goals…” may not be encouraging to the new employees you may be leading. Each phrase describing your background should be evaluated by how it will be perceived by your audience(s). Unlike prior resumes, you will have to tone down some of what you have done. Avoid sounding like someone who is an Investment Banker or in Private Equity in the tone of your language.
However, the audience does want to know some personal things about you, such as hobbies and family details. Stay away from controversy and politics. LinkedIn has a section on “Interests” that deserves a paragraph that describes who you are beyond just your career history.
Consistency and trust
In many ways, trust is earned by being consistent and predictable. The old adage of “watch what I do, not just what I say” is critical here – everyone is watching you during search- remember this. The tools you have to reinforce your “brand” extend well beyond your website – to your on-line profile, email interactions, phone call routines, and face-to-face meetings. In each of these interactions, ask yourself, “Am I portraying a consistent image and impression?”
This is not the best time in your career to develop your “personal brand” – save your energy, time and creativity for after you have purchased your company. You run the risk of antagonizing, or leaving the wrong impression in an opinionated blog or Quora question or response. Even posting comments on Twitter can give someone the wrong impression about you. You want a consistent and welcoming profile/image, not anything controversial.
It is best to create a very minimal “public profile” in social media that will not be mis-judged or deemed offensive in any way.
No more paper resumes
Historically, a resume served as the primary tool for “presenting yourself”, for a job search or application process. Today, it can be challenging to be distinctive and memorable in an electronic format like LinkedIn.
The ubiquity of LinkedIn cuts both ways. It provides a common format and layout without many meaningful ways to stand out when you are compared to other prospective buyers. You will have to use other ways to differentiate your “search image” from other searchers.
Be mindful of the vocabulary you use. You probably prepared you LinkedIn profile while you were working and looking for the next job and the language may be a product of your industry, but unfamiliar to your new audience. Avoid the jargon and difficult to understand phrases like:
“…developed investment thesis in an emerging industry vertical…”,
“…able to define and iterate the business model and to develop a suitable commercial strategy through comprehensive data analysis…”; or
“…coordinated the implementation of new HW/SW schemes that extend battery life in upcoming products and provide functionality that would be unique to the iDEN line of products…”
Your search audience will be less impressed by your titles and more focused on what you have accomplished. Don’t waste time on a succession of titles at the same organization, instead simplify your profile into a single entry with start and end dates citing your last title. They won’t care if you progressed from Analyst, to Associate, and finally to Consultant and but instead are more interested in what projects you worked on and market segments you were exposed to.
Provide less emphasis on size in dollars; business owners relate to hundreds of thousands and millions, but not billions. Focus on customers, relationships, specific markets and operations that will resonate with sellers. If you worked on financing or consulting projects, list as many industries as you can. Avoid your client’s company names, as they could be intimidating and/or confidential.
Regarding your education, highlight the broad range of courses you took or specialized in. More is better, but use simple descriptors like “accounting” rather than “financial analysis”.
Mind the gaps
The LinkedIn timeline will expose any gaps in your work or school history. Attempting to “fill them in” is risky as your profile is in the public domain and former employees or employers may treat the discrepancies harshly. Include years and months since rounding to the years seems like you might be “hiding” something. Best to leave the gaps and explain them in person if you feel you have to.
While older searchers may omit dates for their college and graduate programs, this looks suspicious if you are under 40. Don’t leave the reader guessing or surprised when they meet you that you have recently graduated, as this may result in a loss of their trust in you. Instead, feature it by stressing the energy level demanded to take over a business.
Tie your message back to search
Your audience will read the initial paragraphs, and then skim the rest. The LinkedIn “Summary” is a great place to have a few paragraphs that identifies what you are looking for in your search and what you bring to the table as an owner. This should be a consistent theme from your website and even reinforced in your email signature. Avoid the temptation to summarize your resume, instead use this section to clarify and target the seller audience that you want to reach. Distill your search message into no more than 2-3 crisp paragraphs.
Put your search logo into LinkedIn, and use it in your email. Hopefully your search name has a “story” that will be interesting for you to relate to others. Your photo should be displayed, in “business casual” as it is improbable that you will be wearing a suit while meeting sellers. The photos on your website and social media accounts should match.
Glowing “references” should be omitted for the sake of brevity and could be viewed as too “self serving”. Awards and Honors may also come across as being less humble; will someone really care about your winning “…4th Place in a University Consulting Association Competition…”?
The attempt by LinkedIn to tag your skills with a photo montage is just an opportunity to confuse your audience. Do you really want them to have them sort through your listed skills as one searcher did by listing: “…Portfolio Management, Equities, Financial Markets, Investment Banking, Marketing Strategy, Private Banking, Asset Management, Hedge Funds, Capital Markets, Wealth Management, Derivatives, Emerging Markets, Risk Management, Investor Relations…”! Same holds for the industries and people you follow…will they sound right to a seller or be confusing?
An often overlooked default in LinkedIn is the option to announce to your “network” when you make changes to your profile. This option gives you the opportunity to ‘announce’ your search once it has been vetted by some trusted advisors (highly recommended). Be sure to set your option on “Notify your network?” to “No” to insure that any subsequent changes do not get broadcast as you develop and tweak your profile.
Don’t give prospective sellers or intermediaries a reason to avoid you or judge you. Until you have a conversation or meet face-to-face, your only points of contact are your prospecting literature and what they can find out about you from the internet. Early in your search process get all these messages aligned with one another and aligned with what a seller wants to hear – that you would be a distinctive and compelling new owner of their business.
Feel free to share some of your own best practices or experiences in dealing with these issues in the blog comments. I encourage comments and dialog, allowing all to learn from both my views and the views of others – a virtuous learning cycle. Jump right in!