I've done more interviewing (as a hiring manager) this year than at any other time in my career. It's difficult, and it's exhausting. My line of work is hard to hire for, because the supply and demand curve favors candidates over employers. I'm kind of surprised by the things that people write on their resumes and vanity sites. Social media profiles can be even worse. I happened to land on an Instagram profile once that said, "Helping dope companies be awesome with my expertise." Ugh.
I think this kind of thing is the result of the message that has been beaten into an entire generation at this point, that people are "brands." While there's no question that landing a job or getting a client requires some amount of marketing, to reduce human beings to something intended to be sold is gross. It also takes a lot of narcissism to engage in that sort of thing, which is frankly not an endearing quality. Sure, I post my share of selfies on Facebook, but it's specifically for my friends. Attention whoring is a strange practice. I don't need extra attention.
This doesn't mean that having a "brand," and by that I mean developing a public persona that benefits you and/or your employer, means you have no sense of humility. In fact, humility can be a core value of the persona you build. I've worked with a lot of brilliant people that had an uncanny ability to drop knowledge without being arrogant, and it's something I strive for (and struggle with) in my own interaction with others. Sure, Steve Jobs was a dick, but public Steve Jobs seemed like a swell guy. Even he knew that humility, even if it was only perceived in his world, made a difference. And frankly, none of us are Steve Jobs anyway.
Sometimes, the best way to show who you are is to prove it. I can, matter-of-factly, call myself "author." It's not bragging, it needs no superlatives, it just is. I worked my ass off for that, and now it's a part of me. I looked for opportunities to prove myself, did the work, and now I have the bullet points. The best way to present yourself as a person of value is to demonstrate you have value and build a track record of it, not declare that you can "help dope companies."
If I'm being honest, nothing has really changed other than media we use for self-promotion. I started my post-college career in radio, which was totally full of egos. (How could people making so little money, being so disposable to their employers, have such high opinions of themselves?) It's just easier now with the Internets.
I was thinking about this the other day, because one of my bosses at Microsoft (the one I respected) suggested at the time that I could "build a brand" as it related to a job that I wanted to nail down, even though it was never really officially posted. It was a gig that definitely required some public persona crafting, and I felt like I could do it. However, maybe it's better that it didn't work out, because now in my days of product building, team building, parenting and frequent nautical recreation, I'm not sure that I could commit the brain power to it. It's hard enough to earn the respect of the people around you without worrying about what some broader audience thinks.