I was reading an interesting article on how stereotypes can derail your personal 'brand'. It made some good points, and I responded with some of my own strategies. I'd like to go into my own ideas of dealing with stereotypes.
If you're reading this blog, changes are you're a professional geek/nerd of some kind, or hope to be. Pretty much you've got plenty of stereotypes to deal with professionally and unprofessionally – the lifeless nerd, the socially incompetent geek, the perverse otaku, etc. You've dealt with them for a long time.
In the job market, stereotypes can hurt you just as much as they can in other parts of your life. Interviewers, companies, and clients have to make decisions based on what data they have – often too little – when hiring you, and stereotypes will definitely come into play. Rare indeed is the pro-geek who hasn't worried that his anime collection or her extensive body of Twilight fanfic could be used against them.
There are many ways to deal with stereotypes – what I prefer to do is not discount them or ignore them, but find ways to use them to MY advantage. Besides I am an unrepentant geek living in a household with more computers than people, who considers Babylon 5 one of the greatest TV shows ever made, and can have discussions on the finer points of nested Project Management Methodology. I AM a geek.
It's up to me to define what kind of geek I am.
So first, in my career, in my personal branding, I am clear that I'm a geek. I'm unrepentant about it. I note I'm technical, note I'm obsessive, note I'm geeky. I don't hide it or anything – I'm proud of it. This alone helps disarm some stereotypes, as I'm unashamed of my nerdiness.
Second, I pitch how my geekiness is good for the job. I know computers, I know geeks – I've made programmers feel comfortable by discussing their Halo action figures. My geekiness is a strength, not a weakness – and, perhaps, a major factor in my success.
Third, I then break the stereotype. In my case, I'm the business geek who knows economics as well as computers, the social networker and connector, and the guy with hobbies like Chinese philosophy and public speaking. I brand myself as "Geek plus" – geek plus more.
The end result of this? I don't have to pretend to be something I'm not, I leverage the strengths of the stereotype I pretty much KNOW I am, and then I turn it around and make myself memorable and show my other strengths. I turn a stereotype to my advantage, make it memorable, and help avoid the limits at the same time.
So in your professional life – heck, your personal life – go on. Try some Stereotype-Fu. People won't be expecting it.
– Steven Savage