Building Your Personal Brand For Differentiation In The Tech Industry

| Shelley Stern Grach

It doesn’t matter if you work for a major corporation, a small business, or are a budding entrepreneur, we all need to develop a personal brand to “stand out” in this hyper-exposed business world of ours. Learning how to take a hard look at our individual skills requires introspection, honesty, a bit of time, and often “a little help from our friends”. Once we have a handle on who we are and what differentiation we have as an individual, then we need some marketing polish to make us shine. Microsoft Chicago had the pleasure to host the IAMCP and Women in Technology recently at the Microsoft Innovation & Technology Center to discuss “How Building Your Personal Brand Leads to Successful Leadership!”

IAMCP panelistsI was honored to be selected to join the impressive panel which included Cindy Bates, Microsoft’s VP of US and SMB Distribution for Microsoft, as well as noted technology experts Mike Depoian, VP of Sales at Blue Granite, Chris Korsgard, CPA at Sikich Technology. and Dr. Thresa Nelson, CEO of the Young Women’s Leadership Academy. Our Moderator, Sharan Hildebrand, VP for Capax Global, did an amazing job of highlighting the diversity of backgrounds and skills, while still providing tips to the audience of nearly 80 men and women, on how to build a personal brand.

My own journey held a few surprises during the panel discussion. While one would think that my background with technical companies like AT&T (28 years) and Microsoft (13+ years) would lead one to believe that much of my personal brand is associated with technology, in fact it’s my focus on the non-technical nature of my skills that people remember me for.

I’ve been most successful when I leverage my ability to be “human glue” through prioritizing personal relationships and building a strong network both in the business and nonprofit community. I’ve “put myself out there” doing speeches and panels and encouraging women—especially young women—to be bold, build a network and never burn bridges.

We also had great laughs over my initial reluctance (fright?) over joining the Twittersphere and a bit of amazement over the number of followers one year later and how I always follow Twitter to enhance major events like Super Bowl, Academy Awards, election debates, etc. The learning point here was  to be authentic in your individual message, but to take advantage of the technology tools that are available.

Here are a few unedited nuggets of advice which you might be able to use as you build your personal brand:

  • Be authentic! Use your own “voice”, not the voice you think you should use.
  • Be self-aware of your comfort zones. For example, I’m pretty comfortable going into a room where I don’t know anyone, and starting a conversation. Many people aren’t and learning to do that helps build bridges and confidence.
  • Ask for advice and guidance from someone whose brand you respect.
  • Find a “safe” environment to test your brand (with friends/family, on a blog, etc.)

Many thanks again to the IAMCP and Women in Technology for organizing the program and to our distinguished panel and Sharan Hildebrand for your contributions. The lessons we all shared about building our brands were as unique as we are as individuals.  For more information on IAMCP, please check out

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Shelley Stern Grach

They say that great work stems from a combination of passion and commitment, something that Shelley certainly possesses when it comes to her life and career. She currently serves on the boards of the Women’s Business Development Center, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Thrive Chicago, Year Up and LISC Chicago. At Microsoft Chicago, she’s the Director of Civic Engagement, working at the intersection of computing and community, promoting STEM programs and using Microsoft technology to spur growth in the community. So no matter if it's work, play, or giving back, Shelley always makes sure her drive and professionalism help her complete her life's goals.