Stereotype-fu: Choose your stereotype!

This is going to be the first in an ongoing series of columns on what I call "Stereotype Fu" – the art of using stereotypes to your advantage in your career.

A lot of us fannish and geeky types end up stereotyped – as we well know.  Trekkies, fanboys, lifeless gamers, nerds, fangirls, etc.  We're use to it, and often a little afraid of it – we're used to being viewed negatively due to simple associations, even when the stereotypes are not totally negative (or negative at all).

BOOKS could be written about why this happens.  My simple summary is that on the neutral side people like to find ways to classify things easy, and on the negative side some people need a group to look down on (and that drags into issues of the culture at large).

However, when we're starting businesses, interviewing for jobs, at work, etc. we have to deal with them.

I want to talk about using them to your advantage.

Stereotype Fu is about turning it around and using the stereotypes to our advantages.  Those of us used to stereotypes might as well find ways to use this to our advantage.  Not all stereotypes are entirely negative (or negative at all), but they are limiting.  So let's take ownership and use them to OUR advantage in our career.

First and foremost, in defining yourself and your career, your personal branding, pick your own stereotypes first.

You're in computing, you KNOW people will suspect you're a nerd, a geek, a techie.  So are you an Alpha Geek who makes all the decisions?  Are you the Helpful Geek who is always ready to answer a question?  Are you the Media Geek who can great amazing mad-scientist creation media centers?

Are you in marketing?  Maybe you don't want people to think of you as the Bloodless Stats Cruncher.  Maybe you're the Fun Marketer who gets into it.  Maybe you're the research nut who learns all sorts of great facts.  Maybe you're the Event Nut who loves planning great events.

If you're easily stereotyped or suspect stereotypes will impact your career, go and look at the ones and select ones that fit you and your goals, that are positive.

Then use them.

If you suspect you're being stereotyped by a client, a co-worker, or an interviewer you can steer the direction of the conversation towards the positive stereotype you picked.  The person who thinks you're the Soulless Lawyer can learn you're the Crusading Do Gooder Lawyer.  The client that thinks you're a ditzy artist can have the conversation redirected to see you're the Savvy Media Pro (who just happens to dress creatively).

Go and OWN the stereotypes you want and use them as tools when dealing with people.  Define yourself, find ways to relate it to people, and when the stereotypes come out, redirect them to the ones you want that portray you in the positive way you choose.

I myself am a proud geek (whose geekiness can't be avoided).  I myself portray myself as a stereotype closer to home in many cases – business geek, the guy who geeks out over technology and cool stuff, AND all the business stuff surrounding it.  I get into spreadsheets and news about anime companies as well as the latest video game.  Thus having chosen a stereotype, I can help people relate to me when it appears that stereotypes are affecting their thinking.

Consider it yourself.

What's your positive stereotype?

– Steven Savage