"It's nice to be important, but it is more important to be nice": Personal Branding with The Apprentice Finalist Bianca Miller-Cole

1 February 2017

You founded The Be Group in 2012, what led you to this point?

I was working for Accenture as HR Advisor  to their graduate community and I saw first-hand there was a need for 'personal branding' amongst the graduate population. This was needed to ensure that they knew how to market  themselves to increase their career trajectory. It was here that I started an initiative called 'Preparing for Promotion' to help the graduates with their communication style and personal brand strategy. It was at that point that I realised how much I loved that side of HR and being able to assist individuals with fulfilling their potential.

After just over two years at Accenture, I left and went into Financial Recruitment, which is where I discovered that it wasn't just graduates who struggled with understanding the importance of a good personal brand. It was at this point that I started writing my business plan in the hope that I would create an organisation that would provide 360-degree personal brand service. 'The Be Group' provides assistance in three key areas; personal branding for individuals and corporate organisations, personal branding from the perspective of being more employable for those in education or unemployed, and, finally, an image consultancy arm of the organisation to ensure the style matched the personal brand.

Personal Branding helps you to stand out from the crowd

What message do you hope your personal branding expresses?

I hope that my personal brand is an illustration of someone who is professional, an expert  in their field and also someone who is adaptable. My client base varies so I have to be able to adapt what we deliver to suit anyone. However, one thing is always certain - we aim to provide very high quality in everything that we do, to ensure our clients are happy. I also endeavour to always be approachable and personable: one of my mantras is ‘it’s nice to be important, but it is more important to be nice’ – I believe relationships and networks are key in business. Being ‘nice’ and an astute business person isn’t a bad combination.

If someone looks really good on paper, but they find themselves continually facing rejections during the interview process, what advice can you give them to ensure they secure the job?

I have seen this quite a lot in the clients that come to me with this issue. They have a good CV with high-profile business names and credible titles that illustrate progression in their career, but they don’t seem to succeed in interview.

I often find that the reason that they are not succeeding is almost because they have taken for granted what they do on a daily basis. For my more senior clients, they have not interviewed for several years and are out of practice (more used to interviewing) and they forget the intricacies of their role. The day-to-day work that they do is just that – it’s their job. So, when asked competency-based interview questions they fail to offer solid examples or provide scenarios. Or, when they do, they don’t SELL the importance of their role in making that example or scenario a reality. In fact, they often downplay what they have done in favour of ‘the team’ - using ‘we’ rather than ‘I’.

Often people downplay their achievements in favour of the team

Now, of course, there are times in business where, as a senior member, you have to bring your team into the fold, but, in an interview, the team aren’t going for the job - the individual is. Conversely, some of the millennial generation can be found to embellish on their role in a team success, without always have the content to back up what they are saying. As a younger member of the team interviewing, I think it is crucial to show passion, enthusiasm, adaptability, and determination to learn and contribute, but avoid appearing like someone who knows it all. Businesses want to train and develop those who are willing to learn.

In short, preparation is key to success – prepare clear examples to the core competency-based questions and ensure these are examples that showcase your ability and experience.

No two roles are the same – do your research to ensure that you understand the role description, the organisation's culture, what they do and their plans for the future.

Don’t assume – that you have a senior title and therefore you don’t need practice or expert help, you may not have interviewed for several years. Even riding a bike takes some practice in getting back on.

Sell yourself – ‘personal branding’ is essentially how you market yourself. Think about what your image, communication style, knowledge, preparation, approach etc. says about you. This is your chance to put your best foot forward.

Build your online brand – don’t assume all the potential employer would have looked at is your CV and application. Nowadays most people will have a little look on the internet for you before the interview. Think about whether your online brand perception suits your reality.

Make sure your online brand matches your reality

Be inquisitive – yes you are interviewing for the job, but you should also be interviewing the organisation to check that it is the right fit for you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions at the end or during the interview.

Follow up – whether you are successful or not, it is important to follow up and if you are not successful ask for some feedback so that you can improve for next time.

Smile – you will be surprised what a good handshake, smile and posture does in an interview. Body language  is essential in communication .

What or who has been the greatest influence in your life?

My parents, who taught me the importance of hard work and professionalism in all that I do.

On screen, The Apprentice looks like a highly stressful environment. How did you find performing under pressure and how was working with Lord Sugar?

It is certainly a highly stressful environment due to the cameras and having so much at stake. Despite being used to performing under pressure, due to my previous role as a trainer and speaker  for 5 years (delivering to large groups) and having come from a large corporate organisation, I found the pressure on the show to be totally different.

The Apprentice experience is highly stressful and different to any other kind of pressure

The pressure is exacerbated by the fact that you are working with a team  whose members have a common goal – not to be fired and to win a large sum of money. That combination can be lethal. I was able to perform because I kept my head down, maintained my focus (on the task and on the end goal) and tried where possible to build and maintain team spirit. I noted quite quickly that if we all worked together and put our best foot forward, then, as a team, we would win and no one would need to be fired. It’s a simple equation, but not one that people always remember in the heat of the moment.

What is your biggest takeaway from The Apprentice experience?

I am not sure I can say one, so my top three takeaways are:

1) TV is an unusual environment, not helped by editing.

2) It reaffirmed my belief that being yourself is crucial to success.

3) You can get a lot done in a day with the right team and contacts.

Looking to book  Bianca Miller-Cole , or another  keynote speaker  on  leadership ,  business  or  HR and People Management ?

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