Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future Book Summary



Are you where you want to be professionally in your career, or at least on track?

Don’t let your brand stop you.

Today’s game is about reinventing yourself and building your brand to work for you, so you can get the jobs you want, and do more of the work you love.

One of the best books I’ve read on how to go about reinventing yourself and building your brand is Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future, by Dorie Clark.

Reinvent Yourself to Keep Up With the World

We have a new landscape of frequent job and career changing, and people are increasingly working later in life.  Even if you stay in the same company or industry, you still need to reinvent yourself just to keep up with the rapid rate of corporate change.

As Steven Rice, the executive vice president of Juniper Networks says, “People have to reinvent themselves to fit into the new context of work.”

And, even if you reinvent yourself, you still have to rebuild your brand.  As Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “we judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done.”

Whether you want to land a new job, advance faster at your present company, or jump to a new field entirely, what if you could get a branding expert on your side?

That’s where Dorie Clark comes in.

Develop Your Personal Brand

Clark is a former presidential campaign spokeswoman, columnist for Mint (India’s second-largest business newspaper), and Adjunct Professor of Business Administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

She’s frequently quoted by NPR, the BBC, and U.S. News & World Report.  She’s taught marketing and communications at Tufts College, and Smith College Executive Education, and she’s lectured at universities including Harvard, Georgetown, and the University of Michigan.

With Reinventing You, Clark gives you a step-by-step guide to help you assess your unique strengths, develop a personal brand, and ensure that others recognize the powerful contribution you can make.

Here’s my guided tour of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future

What’s In it For You?

  • How to explain your trajectory in terms of the value you bring to others
  • How to get the experience you need, when you don’t have the time or the money
  • How to find the underlying themes that connect your professional experience
  • How to do information interviews with skill
  • How to find the right mentors
  • How to ensure your job grows with you
  • How to do strategic moonlighting
  • How to build your skills with targeted strategies
  • How to monitor your brand and make adjustments
  • How to keep yourself from backsliding into your old identity
  • How to build your reputation in the real world
  • How to take your experience and status with you, wherever you go

Chapters at a Glance

  • The New Branding Landscape
  • Recognize Where You’re Starting
  • Research Your Destination
  • Test-Drive Your Path
  • Develop the Skills You Need
  • Who’s Your Mentor?
  • Leverage Your Points of Difference
  • Build Your Narrative
  • Reintroduce Yourself
  • Prove Your Worth
  • Keep It Going

Features at a Glance

Here are some of the key features

  • Actionable – The information is actionable.  Clark gives you simple ways to practice and act on the ideas throughout the book.
  • Book group discussion questions – The appendix includes a set of questions you can use for a group discussion to share more insights.
  • Conversational writing – Clark writes in a conversational tone.   This helps keep the information interesting, relevant, and easy to consume.
  • Professional reinvention self-assessment – The appendix includes a self-assessment that you can use to help you design your professional reinvention.
  • Real-world examples – Clark uses plenty of examples you can relate to throughout the book, including people you’ve heard of or seen in the media.

Here is a sampling of some of my favorite nuggets from the book …

Ask What You Want Out of Life

What do you want your life to be about?  If you know what you want out of life, it’s easier to go for it, and it’s more likely you’ll get it.

Clark writes:

“This book is intended to help executives at all stages of their careers who want something different and better in their professional lives – and know there has to be a more strategic way to do it.  You may be struggling to find a toehold in an inhospitable economic climate, like Johnna, a young professional I’ll profile late who was forced to bide her time with retail jobs instead of hopping on the career fast track. 

You may be facing a crisis in your industry that’s forcing you to consider new options, like Tom, who was laid off after more than two decades as a newspaper reporter.  You may, like Dan, have to fight back against misconceptions about you in order to succeed at your company.  You may be looking to build new skills and explore new interests, like Karen, a corporate attorney who realized she desperately needed a change.  This book is an invitation to ask what you want out of life.”

Professional Reinvention is a Way of Life

Reinvention is a journey, not a destination.

Clark writes:

“Professional reinvention is almost never a onetime, fix-it-and-you’re-done job.  Instead, it’s a way of life and a way of seeing the world — full of opportunity, open to new possibilities, and awaiting your contribution.”

Test-Drive Your Path

Nothing’s worse than finding out that the grass wasn’t greener on the other side.  You might find out that the nature of the job is nothing like what you expected or glamorized in your mind.

Or, you might find out that you don’t like the hours, the travel, or the culture.   You can use exploratory techniques such as apprenticing, volunteering, and job shadowing to both build experience and get a taste before you dive in.

Clark writes:

“It’s impossible to know if you’ll really like a new career direction until you try it out.  To avoid costly mistakes — and wasting your energy — you can take a short-term test-drive.“

Reinvention is an Ongoing Opportunity

Reinvention is an ongoing opportunity to showcase who you are and what you’re capable of.

Clark writes:

“As you fight, amid the bustle of everyday life, for your reinvention to be recognized, you want to choose the moments of greatest tactical advantage.  You want to ensure your new identity is noticed.  Maybe that means cultivating the right advocates and validators.  Maybe it means ensuring you land on the right project team, or finding a hidden path to information or clout.  It may even mean, like Chip Conley, realizing when your actions in a given moment will speak volumes about who you are and want to be. 

Most importantly, it means understanding that you can’t simply tell others once about your new identity and assume they’ve now got it.  Instead, your reinvention is an ongoing process and an ongoing opportunity to demonstrate who you are and what you can do best.”

Leverage Your Points of Difference

Your difference can be your distinct advantage.  But, you need to know how to spell it out.

Clark writes:

“In political campaigns (in addition to my corporate work, I’ve advised on presidential, gubernatorial, and US Senate bids), one of the first things you realize is that voters aren’t going to take the time to evaluate all the ways you’re exactly like you’re opponent: they’re busy people and, quite rationally, they just want to know what the difference is. 

Some people would call this ‘dumbing down,’ but messaging specialists believe it’s a positive process, because it forces (often long-winded) candidates to focus.  Boiling things down and explaining why you’re a compelling alternative is a powerful way to realize what’s most important about you.”

Build Your Narrative

How precisely can you tell a story of why you’re making the change in a way that others can follow, and believe?

Clark writes:

“As you seek to rebrand yourself, you’re going to have to come up with a convincing narrative to explain your transformation, whether it’s a small one (I was an engineer, and now I want to develop my management and supervisory skills), or something huge (I used to run a yoga studio, but now I’ve decided to work on Wall Street.) 

I use the word convincing deliberately; of course, your choices are valid, regardless of what others think.  But, like the proverbial tree falling in the forest, your rebranding isn’t’ going to do you much good if other people don’t get it or choose to ignore it.”

Build Your Skills with Focus

Don’t throw time and money at an educational investment, where focused development could help you more.  Focus on direct relevancy, and actionable results.

Clark writes:

“Instead, he’s made a point to continue his professional development by taking targeted classes that address clear business needs.  ‘Let’s take writing,’ he says.  ‘I don’t need the fundamentals.  I need to be skilled at how to write a blog post, or how to write a proposal — specific things that will impact my work.  Tackling something small and more focused has served me far better than completing the master’s degree or anything I took from studying it.'”

Build Your Portfolio

Your portfolio of content can speak for itself.  Whether you start a blog, or write articles for magazines, your content can speak volumes to your brand.

Clark writes:

“It’s also the best way to overcome any objections you might face as a “brand reinventer.”  Your former colleagues may wonder how an oceanographer can become an investment banker, or how a tennis instructor can become a sales vice president, or how an engineer can become the head of human resources.  This is your change to let people judge you based on the quality of the material you produce, not on your past history or credentials.”

Dress the Part

Looking the part, might just help others, and you, believe your new role.  But, it’s not the clothes.  It’s your confidence.

Clark writes:

“The moral here isn’t that you need military uniforms or safari vests to do your job.  Rather, it’s that everyone experiences a moment (or many moments) of doubt when they transition to a new role.  The fastest way  to overcome it is to throw yourself into your new identity with gusto.  If a uniform (or a really nice new suit) helps, go for it.  But do what  it takes to present yourself with confidence, and that will inspire the confidence of others.”

Fake It Till You Make It

Eventually, your behaviors will be habits.  But, expect that you’re transition will feel awkward for a while.   Don’t let it shake your confidence.

Clark writes:

“As Cohn’s example shows, self-doubt has almost no relationship to your skills or talents; she was perfectly capable of coaching executives effectively when she started her business.  But the hardest part of making a transition can be bridging the gap between how others used to perceive you (and how you used to perceive yourself) and how you’d like to be seen moving forward. 

The answer? Fake it till you make it.  That doesn’t imply deception or disingenuousness.  Instead, it recognizes that there’s a time lag between fully inhabiting the ‘old you’ and the ‘new you.’  Until you really get comfortable with the new identity, the best course is to pretend that you’re already there.”

There are Limits to How Far Your Brand Can Stretch

You can stretch your brand, but only so far.  At some point, it’s a different brand.  And, stretching a brand can take time.  Know the limits.

Clark writes:

“The problem was, no one bought it.  Gore, known to Americans for well over a decade as a friendly-but-bland policy wonk obsessed with the environment, was simply not believable as a populist cowboy, ready to ‘rassle with George W. Bush. 

There are limits to how far your brand can stretch.  Tim Ferris can make a good case that business productivity and ‘hacking your body’ are linked.  And Gore surely could have tweaked his image to bolster his alpha-male credentials in less obvious ways.  But when you go too far, you risk looking like a fake.  At that point, you’ve lost all credibility.”

Make Connections Before You Need Them

Find reasons to make connections, and make it a habit, not a chore.

Clark writes:

‘I realized it was important that, by the time you need connections, you can’t suddenly make them.  You have to be ready.’  These days, while his night-owl engineering team is sleeping in, Dan has a steady regiment of breakfast meetings including ‘people in my industry at other companies, executive search people, leaders at small companies, venture capitalists, a guy who works on corporate turnarounds.’ 

When it comes to making connections Dan says, ‘the biggest change is my default answer used to be no, and now my default answer is yes.  I’ve focused on reasons to say yes.’

Position Yourself for the Success You Want

It takes time to build your brand.  But, it’s also an ever-changing landscape.  Get time on your side and continuously shape where you want to be.

Clark writes:

“’You probably won’t be able to convince anyone you’ve change in less than three months,’ I told the student.  ‘For relatively small changes, you can manage them in a few months by consistently demonstrating your new behavior.  For larger ones — especially career shifts where you may need to gain new skills or go back to school — it’s take a few years. 

It’s hard work, but it’s not a lifetime.  You’re going to be a few months or a few years older, anyway, and you might as well position yourself for the success you want.’”

Get the Book

Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future, by Dorie Clark is available on Amazon:

Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future, by Dorie Clark.

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  1. I am getting on in years 57 to be exact. We have a new CEO I am second in line to the CEO. How do I reinvent myself to convince him that my experience of the last 25 years in the organisation is more valuable than depending on the younger less qualified junior staff?

    • I’ll compact and distill a lot of concepts here to give you a lens that might help.

      In my experience, there are a few things that can make a key difference:
      1. Establish rapport (if no rapport, then no influence)
      2. Know their concerns and address them (if you don’t know, ask what is top of mind, and ask often)
      3. Solve their top problems, quickly and effectively (this puts you in the trusted circle)
      4. Know their values and connect at the values
      5. The direct reports have to want you as their leader

      Be aware that experience might be getting in the way, if what they value now is “fresh ideas” and new perspectives (in which case, focus on your blue ocean ideas, your disruptive thinking, and ask questions that would “change the business” vs. “run the business.”)

      If you don’t know the CEO’s “convincer strategy” (what it takes for them to be convinced — do they need to hear something 3 times, do they need to hear it from 3 other people, etc.), then you’ll miss how to change their beliefs.

      If you don’t know their values, then you’ll have a tough time creating rapport.

      Judgment is subtle, but demonstrating great judgment is the difference that makes the difference. It’s quiet and behind the scenes, but people are always forming impressions of your judgment. It gets revealed if somebody was asked to “act like you” or “what would Simon do in this situation?”

      Sometimes the best thing you can do is to “do the opposite” of what you’d normally do, to periodically surprise people and have them see you in a new way.

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