In the new workplace, a strong personal brand is key to a successful career. In this 30-minute talk, Aliza Licht, author of Leave Your Mark: Land Your Dream Job. Kill It in Your Career. Rock Social Media, discusses the importance of brand and how to communicate and build yours—whether you’re just starting out or mid-career. Click Play or read the full transcript below.
Called one of “America’s Next Top Mentors” by the New York Times, the fashion PR executive delivers the guidance you need for the contemporary working world, where personal and professional lines are blurred and the most important thing you can have is a strong sense of self.
Aliza Licht is the author of Leave Your Mark: Land Your Dream Job. Kill It in Your Career. Rock Social Media. She is a fashion PR executive and Twitter phenom, DKNY PR GIRL®. Featured on the front page of the New York Times style section as one of “America’s Next Top Mentors,” dubbed the “Reigning Queen of Social Media” by Women’s Wear Daily and called one of “Six Women Who Rule the Fashion World” by TIME Style & Design, she is a TEDx speaker and five-time Fashion 2.0 award winner for DKNY PR GIRL.
Conferences for Women
Optimize Brand You—and Boost Your Career
Guest: Aliza Licht
Interviewer: Karen Breslau
Karen: Welcome to the Conference for Women teleclass. Our guest today is Aliza Licht, author of Leave Your Mark, Land Your Dream Job, Kill it in your Career, Rock Social Media. Aliza is a fashion PR executive and Twitter phenom formally known as @DKNYPRGIRL. Featured on the front page of the New York Times Style Section as one of the America’s next top mentors and dubbed the reigning queen of social media by Women’s Wear Daily.
Aliza is a TedX speaker and five-time Fashion 2.0 award winner. In today’s class Aliza will deliver personal and professional guidance for people just starting their careers and for people who are well on their way with a focus on communicating and building your personal brand, Aliza will share the importance of embracing social media and the importance of engaging with followers. She will provide an overview of the current working world where personal and professional lines are blurred. And the most important thing you can have is a strong sense of self.
We’ll be sharing highlights from today’s call on Twitter. You can follow along and join the conversation @PennWomen, @TexasWomen, @MassWomen, and in California, @Wtrmrk. And reminder, today’s class will be available as a podcast on your conference Web site. If you registered through Event Bright, you will receive an email telling you when the podcast is available. And now welcome to the Conference for Women teleclass, Aliza Licht.
Aliza: Thank you so much.
Karen: I would be remiss. You were formally known as DKNYPRGirl and now people who want to reach you on Twitter can find you where?
Aliza: Now you can just reach me @AlizaLicht which is A-L-I-Z-A L-I-C-H-T.
Karen: And Aliza, maybe you could start by telling us what prompted you to write your book?
Aliza: Well, it’s a great question. I was really doing a lot of mentoring on Twitter for the past six years. And I would Tweet out advice under the hashtag #PR101 because it was DKNYPRGirl and I thought it made sense to give insights into public relations. But what that would lead to is a lot of conversation on must do’s and don’t do’s on professional guidance in general. And when I would find a topic that I liked, I would blog about it. And in doing so, I generated a lot of sort of interest in people who were really looking for guidance and I guess didn’t have the right people to go to or wanted to break into fashion or wanted to break into public relations and I sort of would help them along the way.
And in doing so, I caught the attention of my publisher which is Grand Central Publishing and they contacted me to see if I would be interested in writing a book. But, to be honest, at first I was very hesitant because for me, I have to be really inspired to do something like that. I can’t just do it and I didn’t want to do it without a purpose. So in my mind I have this brainstorm and I thought well, if this book could be a virtual mentorship and it could be my way of grabbing coffee with everyone and sort of bring something, everything I’ve learned along my journey, then it would have a purpose. And that’s sort of what set me on my path to write the book.
Karen: Wonderful. It’s a great title. Leave Your Mark. And the subtitle is fantastic, Land your dream job, kill it in your career, rock social media. And I think that would grab a lot of people.
Aliza: Thank you.
Karen: Why does so many people seek your advice online? I’m wondering about the thousands of conversations you say you’ve had online. And do you think that mentors are in short supply in the real world or why is this happening?
Aliza: I think that I’ve sort of positioned myself as someone who not only did the work, you know, so I’ve been there, I’ve been in that position of reinvention, you know. I was pre-med in college. I had to switch gears into something totally different and I worked my way up through that. So I have the experience of 20 years now in fashion, but I also have positioned myself as someone who’s willing to help. And I’ve made myself very approachable and I think, you know, people feel comfortable talking to me and I’m happy they do because I think it’s important to have sounding boards.
And I don’t think there’s one, you know, magic bullet mentor. I think that you can get inspiration and insight from a lot of people. But if I can be one of those people who can be sort of a go-to person, then I’m happy to be. And, in fact, I have this Ask Aliza column on my Web site where people actually email through very specific work-related questions or issues. And I’m sort of mentoring individually because everyone sort of has their own situation in their own, you know, no matter where they live in the world. Everyone sort of can relate to a work issue.
Karen: What do you see when young people are looking for a job. What are some of the common mistakes and common misperceptions that come up?
Aliza: I think right now understanding the difference between professional communication and what I like to call text message speak or social media speak. I think digital has made everyone very casual which on one hand can be positive – it’s easier to talk to people. But on the other hand, there comes a certain time where you have to turn off one and turn on the other. And knowing when to do that and to what audience, I think, makes the difference. And I think, you know, in general, people don’t, realize how important it is to network with a purpose and to make sure that, you know, you do your research before you have conversations, before you go on an interview, before you have meetings, that you’re well-informed. And, you know, you’re putting your best self forward.
Karen: When you say, “Network with a purpose,” do you find that people just go out looking for casual conversations and hoping they’ll lead to a work advance or what are the mistakes that people are making in that area?
Aliza: I think there’s two ways. First of all, you don’t have to be sort of on the prowl, if you will, every time you go out to a public event. But I think if you are going to an event, where you should be meeting new people, you should set a goal and say to yourself, you know what? I’m going to leave tonight with like three new contacts. And when I say, “Networking with a purpose,” I mean when you meet those people, there should be some follow up solidifying that connection the next day. It’s always great to send that email, like, you know, “Dear So-and-so. It was great to meet you last night. Here’s my info. Hope we stay in touch.
Karen: Got it. Okay. And a lot of young people may feel that they are at a disadvantage when seeking jobs because they don’t have experience. In order to get experience, you need experience. So how do you counsel people who have that concern?
Aliza: I think that the skill set someone has is paramount. So, for example, you might have someone who is health care PR, right? And they want to go into fashion PR. The skills of a publicist are – they’re transferable. So when you’re doing your resume and you’re doing your cover letter, you have to write it in a way that is really making your skills shine. A lot of times people focus on the company they worked at and the title they had at that company. But sometimes it might be more beneficial to pull out the skills and highlight those first. So, for example, you might have the first topic on your resume might be like leadership, you know. What are your leadership skills. What different areas have led? Copyrighting could be another or maybe you’re great at social media strategy.
Whatever the case may be, it’s less important sometimes the industry, and more important the skill set, and then you need to spin it and show how these years of experience in X industry can transfer, how those skills can transfer to this new area of business.
Karen: Got it. Now you started off, you mentioned earlier that you were pre-med in college and you ended up with a very successful career in the fashion industry. I’m wondering if you could tell us about that transformation – that transition.
Aliza: You know, I grew up thinking that I would be a plastic surgeon. And I actually interned for a plastic surgeon for several summers in high school. And then I went to the University of Maryland as a Frances Scott Key Scholar at the time, which was a merit scholarship that they awarded. And I think thought, “Okay, I’m going to major in neurobiology and physiology,” because that was a pretty popular major at the University of Maryland. And I really liked what I was learning.
But then one summer in my junior year I got an internship in a hospital. And I got a real sort of taste of what it would be like to be a doctor in this simulated experience. And, you know, I was with other interns and I sort of looked around every day and thought to myself, “Wow, they’re really passionate about what we’re doing.” And though I loved the coursework, I didn’t find myself being excited about what I was doing.
And, you know, I started to get that nagging feeling of just, “God, is this what I’m supposed to be doing? Like am I going to really do this?” If I’m not even excited about being in this internship?” And I said to myself, you know what? I can’t ignore that feeling. And I decided that I wouldn’t ignore it. And I basically had this epiphany one day just sitting in my apartment in college thinking, “Okay, so what am I going to do?” And I decided that I’ve always loved fashion. I grew up with a room that was wall papered in fashion magazine editorial. And I thought, “Okay, you know what? I’m going to work at a fashion magazine.”
And then, of course, you think to yourself, “Okay, great. I don’t know anyone who works at a fashion magazine.” So sort of how do you navigate that unknown path. And I think got down to the basics, you know? I went out and I said, “Okay, I’m going to try to get an internship at a magazine.” And I went out and I bought Washingtonian Magazine because I was, you know, in school in D.C. And I bought that I went through the mast head and I thought, “Okay, I’m going to send my resume and a cover letter to these people and hopefully I’ll get in.” And I ended up getting an internship in advertising sales.
And from there, really got a taste of what it’s like to work at a magazine. And then, you know, after I graduated, when all of my friends were going to Europe, I sort of like – the rite of passage trip to Europe, I decided that I really needed to buckle down and get some fashion experience. So I applied for internships at different fashion magazines and I ended up getting one at Harper’s Bazaar. And that sort of set me on my fashion path.
Karen: Well, that’s an incredible transition from pre-med to fashion. You know, more broadly for young people, what happens when you take a job – or anybody actually – and find out that not only is the job a poor fit, but you’re in the totally wrong field. How can people do what you do and make a change at that point.
Aliza: So it’s interesting that you ask that because a lot of the emails I’ve been getting through Ask Aliza are, in fact, people who have done a certain job for five – six years and are now thinking that’s not really where there passion lies. And how do they make that transition? Listen, I think first of all, you know, you have to be realistic with the amount of time work and dedication it will take to actually make that switch. So first and foremost, I always recommend don’t quit your day job and until you really have a plan. You know, I would never want to see someone quit a job and then try to figure it out.
You kind of have to figure it out simultaneously so that you can easily transition from one thing to the other. I think also financially, it’s an enormous burden sometimes to have to make that switch. And you have to almost write your own business plan and think about can you afford to sort of drop what you’re doing and start over because it probably will mean taking a few steps backward before you can go forward. So you have to look at it from a really practical standpoint first and foremost. And, you know, unfortunately, sometimes when you look at something from that point of view, it starts to become very daunting and you start to think like, “Okay, how can I do this?”
But at the same time, I think as long as you have your eyes and ears open about sort of the risks of doing something, then you can sort of amp up the passion that you have and say to yourself, “Okay, here are the risks, but here’s the reward.” And how can I sort of use my contacts and think about all the people I know or the people they know and try to leverage my network to put me on this new path.
Karen: Got it.
Aliza: And I think a lot of people – sorry – I didn’t mean to interrupt you. I think a lot of people forget how many people they do know. And I think that you just can’t be afraid to ask for help.
Karen: Okay. Now you opened Leave Your Mark with a very inspirational story. And that is how you hired your assistant after she built a relationship with you on Twitter. Can you summarize for us why she caught your eye and then maybe tell us, is this common? Is this how people find jobs?
Aliza: I think social media is an amazing way to build a new relationship and find jobs. Definitely. My assistant, [Gena Blackwell] who is no longer my assistant, but she was someone who I interacted with on Twitter. She had a blog at the time – very funny blog – fashion red carpet kind of blog. And she Twitted a post and tagged @dkny. And it was funny, it was clever, you know? It really showed sort of her personality and her eye for fashion and the angle that she sort of positioned it as was also, again, really witty. It was just entertaining and smart. And I like clever things. So, you know, I followed her on Twitter and, you know, we just started this sort of Twitter friendship.
And one day she private messaged me and said, “You know, do you mind if I get your email? I have some work questions.” And I said, “Sure. Here’s my email.” She emailed me immediately and she emailed me like a novel, basically. And I looked at it and I thought to myself, “Okay, I cannot respond in this long form.” So I just wrote back, “Call me.” And I gave her my cell. And she called me and she told me that she lives in Austin, Texas and she was employed at an artificial turf manufacturing company there, but was dying to work in fashion.
And we had a really long conversation on sort of what that means and how she could possibly go from selling artificial turf to working in fashion. And I told her, first and foremost, that she needed to move to New York and that she needed to be here. And she took the advice very seriously, and over the course of a year and a half, she moved here and got a job at a PR agency and was there for six months. At which time I was looking for an assistant and she had gotten laid off.
And since we were friendly at that point, she heard about the position and she applied for the job and she ended up being the best person for the job. So literally, one Tweet from a girl living in Austin, Texas selling artificial turf landed her dream job in New York City.
Karen: Wow. Is it possible for most people to do something similar? It sounds like an amazing and improbable story. Does it have to be on Twitter or can people use LinkedIn to make these connections, what are some strategies to keep in mind?
Aliza: Absolutely, I think there’s multiple platforms that, you know, you can start networking with. I think that LinkedIn is an amazing tool, professionally to meet different people. But it’s not casual. You know, Twitter is casual correspondence and Facebook is casual correspondence and I think Twitter more so because, you know, it’s not as much as a walled garden as Facebook. So, you know, we – you know, I’ve made so many different contacts on Twitter just because, to me, it’s like the biggest cocktail party in the world and you can talk to anyone you want.
So when you start following someone or keeping up on someone’s timelines, you really start to – you know, I call it like, “We’re Twitter friends,” but then you sort of become friends in real life too. And it’s just a great way to build your network. I’ve made so many contacts through twitter that I wouldn’t have made normally, I think. Because to send someone an email or even to send someone mail through LinkedIn, it’s quite formal in the sense that you kind of have to have something real to say. You know, you have to – like what is the purpose of that email? Like what are you reaching out? Whereas on Twitter you can share their posts, you can ask them a question, you can comment. There’s just so many more ways to engage with someone without the stakes being so high.
Karen: Got it. Okay. Now going onto branding. You believe that branding isn’t just for companies anymore. How do you define a brand when it comes to an individual?
Aliza: I think that you have a certain message that you want to share. You want people to think of you a certain way when they meet you, what they take away from meeting you. And essentially, aligning what people think when they meet you versus what you want them to think and how different are those things. So I think from the perspective of personal branding, every person needs to think about what they stand for, you know, what is their brand DNA, what is their reputation, what are they known for, what do they want to be known for? And is that what people are coming off getting from you, you know?
Sometimes you think you’re one way and then someone is scrolling through your social media profile and it reads totally differently. So you kind of have to think about the overarching like what do you want to be known for? How do you want people to view you and make sure that that is being communicated properly.
Karen: Okay. I want to ask you about Twitter. It’s obviously such an important platform for you. How did you teach yourself or how did you learn to use Twitter so effectively?
Aliza: It’s like initiation by fire. First of all, I was so clueless. I mean I was really clueless and I sort of just – you know, you learn by doing and you learn – you know, I started to – at the time there weren’t other brands really on the platform back in 2009, certainly not fashion brands. So I just, you know, I would post something and then kind of wait and see if people responded. And sometimes people would really respond to something and other times people wouldn’t say anything and it would be like pen drops, you know?
So you can kind of gauge how things perform. But at the same time, starting now, you know, you can really learn a lot. You can self educate by following people who do whatever platform you’re trying to do. Follow people who do it well and analyze how they’re posting and what they’re posting. And you can almost make your own little case study based on who you track.
Karen: No social media is part of our daily lives, but some people are still unclear how to use it for work versus their personal life. And I’m wondering if you could give some advice on how to navigate this divide as someone who’s done just that.
Aliza: Well, first of all, I think, you know, there’s so much talk about social media. I think it really depends on what you do in your career and if it makes sense for you to be on social media. If you work in a very sort of private proprietary company and that company doesn’t want their employees to be sort of out there, that’s a consideration. So I think first and foremost, what do you do for a living and does it make sense?
Then if you decide that you want to be on it, I think that you have to remember that, you know, social media really is Exhibit B after your resume. And there really is no separation between what is professional and what is personal if your social accounts are not private. So I always say, “If you’re going to post something and your account is public, you need to think of that post in the same way – like would you be comfortable if that post was blown up as a full page in the New York Times because it could be. It could end up being – and is that detrimental to your career, you know? I mean things – we’ve seen people with very small followings Tweet the wrong thing and lose their job for it. So you have to really be careful. You have to think before you post.
Karen: Okay, now you’ve handled plenty of PR crisis in your day job for DKNY. If someone runs into a crisis at work, what are some good first steps to try to minimize the impact that that crisis is going to have?
Aliza: The first step is understanding what happened., what went wrong, how did it go wrong? Understand who’s to blame for that. Is it you? If it is you, then you need to get all of your facts in order and put together an apology that is sincere and timely. I think that we’ve seen many brands sort of delay in putting out any sort of a apology statement and people really crucify those brands for that. And in addition, people tend to crucify executives of brands who tend to point their figure elsewhere.
So they say, “I’m sorry, but X, Y, and Z happened. And I think that that’s not the kind of apology you want to put out. It’s really just, “I’m sorry.” And taking responsibility for whatever it is. I also think, you know, different scandals or different crisis situations pop up on social media first. So the first step in sort of building up armor is to make sure that you are fully, fully up to date on all communication handles. And that, you know, someone is really monitoring those. And if something pops up on Twitter, well, that doesn’t mean it’s on Facebook. So trying to put out a fire on one platform rather than putting an apology everywhere and making the crisis spread.
Because sometimes you’re going to make people aware – you’re going to apologize for something that people weren’t even aware you did. So really trying to contain it where it started – where the fire started.
Karen: Okay. I want to ask you about another subject in your book, and that is office politics.
Aliza: One of my favorites.
Karen: It’s not pretty. Some of the stories that you share are not pretty. What is your advice for someone who is dealing with a really antagonistic go worker or boss? What should they do?
Aliza: First of all, I think, you know, you should never lower your own standards to meet that person’s standards. So I think remaining professional at all times goes such a long way. And I think the ability to keep your cool when someone else has lost their cool is such a skill, such an underrated skill. I have taught myself over the years to be so even keeled and almost non-reactive when someone flips out, you know, in a situation. And it’s almost more powerful when you ‘re so calm and the other person is so not that it’s something to really teach yourself to do because it makes you so clear-headed.
You know, when you’re sitting back and you’re listening to someone who’s having a breakdown over X, You know, and Z, and you’re calm. You can think clearly, you can put our strategy together in your head of how you’re going to react instead of just blurting out something. So that’s number 1.
Number 2 is, you know, I think just making sure that, you know. When you’re working with a lot of people, especially in a complicated corporate infrastructure, you know, having accountability and keeping sort of paper trails of things is extremely helpful because at the end of the day it’s your word against their word.
So making sure that you’re really buttoned up on the admin part of thing can because extremely helpful when something does pop up like that. And then last, I think, you know, just making sure that you address the situation with the person first. A lot of times it’s awkward, you’re the same level or they’re your boss or whatever the case may be, but it’s really important to be able to have a conversation with the person first and try to solve it before you go to somebody else.
Karen: Okay. We have time for one last question. And I’m wondering, briefly, if you could give one piece of advice to anyone seeking a job today, what would it be?
Aliza: Establish what your personal brand. In person, on paper, on the Internet before you start reaching out to employers. Really get your elevator pitch in order, really get your one liner, like, “Oh, what do you do?” Your one sentence answer of who you are and what you stand for so that when you go off to a cocktail party and you meet a new person, it just rolls off your tongue. And that’s something that should be practiced. So no matter who you meat, it is something – it’s like automatic pilot. You know exactly what you’re going to say. And I think having different versions of it, depending on who you’re meeting with. And just having a real sense of self before you pitch yourself.
Karen: Okay, well, those are great words to live by. That’s all we have time for today. Our thanks to Aliza Licht for sharing her advice today. The book is Leave Your Mark, Land Your Dream Job, Kill it in your Career, Rock Social Media. Thank you, Aliza, and thank you all for listening.
Aliza: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure.