Interview with Brenda Bence, winner of the 2009 Beach Book Festival Awards.

Are you one of the millions worldwide who are out of work? Have you grown increasingly frustrated because you can’t seem to clinch the deal at an interview?

Maybe you should borrow a page from those companies that sell shampoo, corn flakes and shaving cream by developing your brand, says Brenda Bence, winner of the 2009 Beach Book Festival Awards.

“Just like a great brand on the shelf cuts through the clutter of other brands and gets you to choose it, using personal branding in your job search can help you cut through the pool of other job applicants all vying for the same job, leading potential employers to choose “YOU™
” – the Trademarked You – over other candidates,” says Bence.


“How YOU Are Like Shampoo” is a unique book that provides the reader with the only start-to-finish system for defining, communicating, and taking control of your job-seeker personal brand before, during, and after job interviews. Just like the world's most successful brands use a tried-and-true system to get into your heart - and your pocketbook - year after year, so this book guides you step-by-step through proven corporate branding techniques never before adapted for personal use in a job search.

By learning how to craft, communicate, and protect your personal brand as a job seeker, you can not only get a job, but you can get the job you want, faster, Bence argues.

The book is targeted to the 25-39 year old college-educated adults who are either currently out of work or in a job they are unhappy with and would like to change. They have tried other methods of job search but with no success. They like - and relate to - many name brands in their everyday life, and are intrigued and curious by the concept of "personal branding."

The Beach Book Festival caught up with Bence, who jets between Thailand and her U.S. office, to talk about her book and its increasing success.

BEACH BOOK FESTIVAL: Your book calls for the reader to look at themselves in a very objective way. And since you’re in Thailand a great deal, I was wondering if living in the East or some other spiritual methodology influenced you in writing the book.

BRENDA BENCE: I’ve lived outside the U.S. for 17 years, 10 of which have been spent in Asia, so it would be impossible to say that I haven't been influenced by various Eastern spiritual approaches. Did these methodologies influence me in writing this book? Yes, in a way. You see, I've had the wonderful fortune of living in, working in, and visiting almost 70 countries and, as a result, I've met thousands of people from all walks of life around the globe. There's one thing I've come to know is the truth: we are all fundamentally the same. We all ultimately want the same things - to earn a good living, to enjoy our work, to stay healthy, have a happy family life - whether we live in Spain, Syria, or Singapore.

So, if were all the same, why would I write a series of books about personal branding? Because while we are all fundamentally the same, we also each have specific gifts and talents that are as unique to us as our own individual DNA. It's up to each of us to learn how to use our specific gifts and talents to make our lives and careers the best they can be. This is where personal branding comes in. And when it comes to job seekers, knowing what your personal brand is all about and making that clear to a potential employer is key to success in landing the job of your dreams.

BEACH BOOK FESTIVAL: What’s the one rule that most of your readers will have the most trouble following?

BRENDA BENCE: When it comes to personal branding, most people want to bypass Step 1 (Define it) and jump right into Step 2 (Communicate it). But that's a mistake. Just like Nike, McDonald's, and Starbucks all began building their powerhouse brands by being clear about what they wanted those brands to stand for, so you must first define your own brand carefully before you can begin to communicate it effectively. Trying to communicate a brand without first having defined it is like trying to steer a ship without a rudder - you'll go nowhere or, worse yet, you’ll drift.

BEACH BOOK FESTIVAL: It seems like companies don’t plan on a life-long arrangement with anyone anymore. How does that impact hiring decisions?

BRENDA BENCE: Personally, I think it's the other way around -- employees don't plan on a lifelong arrangement with a company anymore! In fact, statistics indicate that the average employee tenure in any job today is about three years. That kind of churn-and-burn is expensive for companies, so recruiters may very well seek out candidates they believe will stay with the company longer than that. Being able to demonstrate longer-term interest in a company may help separate you from the pack.

BEACH BOOK FESTIVAL: How did you start your career and how/when did it evolve into what it’s become?

BRENDA BENCE: After I earned my MBA from the Harvard Business School, I worked my way up the Fortune 100 name-brand company ladder for many years. In my last corporate job -- as Vice President International Marketing for a major multi-national -- I was responsible for a billion dollars’ worth of brands across four continents and 50 countries.
Then 9/11 came, and I found myself stranded in Brazil on a work trip (in the San Paulo World Trade Center!), facing the stark realization that the most important people in my life were either in a country I couldn't enter (the US borders were closed) or halfway around the world (my husband was in Bangkok).

It was a wake-up call. I decided then and there that it was time to start up my own company - to be my own boss. So I spent the entire 40+ hours of my return flight to Bangkok writing a business plan for my new venture. Soon thereafter, my new company -- Brand Development Associates International -- was born.
That was more than seven years ago now, and I've not looked back since. Now, I get to spend my days helping companies and individuals develop powerhouse corporate and personal brands through speaking, training, and executive coaching. We now have clients in 20 countries across 4 continents, and recently opened up a second office in the U.S. About 2 ½ years ago, when the company got too big for me to manage by myself, my husband left his Regional CFO job here in Asia and joined me to help run the back office.
Let’s put it this way: Every single day I wake up and I can't wait to get to work. I love what I do, and I do what I love, 24/7.

BEACH BOOK FESTIVAL: Did you toy with other products for the title? Instead of shampoo, might the title have been something else?

BRENDA BENCE: I toyed with dozens of title ideas, and even did an extensive market survey between what I felt to be the two best (albeit more “ordinary”) titles. When the votes came in at a 50-50 split between the two, I knew they were both losers! So, I decided to throw caution to the wind and go with something quite out of the ordinary and -- hopefully -- more memorable.
Given the concept of the book -- that the same tried-and-true system that corporations have used for years to build successful brands can also help you, as an individual, stick out of the pack -- I decided the title needed to communicate that idea in a fun, quirky way.
“The trademarked you” - written as YOU™
 - is the word we have actually trademarked (!) to mean ‘your personal brand.’ So I needed something that would rhyme with ‘you.’
The word ‘shampoo’ was the obvious choice given that I worked on billion-dollar megabrands like Pantene, Head and Shoulders, Vidal Sassoon, and Pert/Wash & Go for many years.
Thus, How YOU™
 Are Like Shampoo became the title.

BEACH BOOK FESTIVAL: When do you see the recession lifting? When will we start to see hiring pick up, both internationally and in the U.S.?

BRENDA BENCE: Looking into my crystal ball, I believe the recession will begin to lift by the end of 2009, and hiring will pick back up in early 2010. From what I've seen, North America and Europe have been most impacted by the recession, so it may take a little longer for those two continents to come back to pre-recession levels; Asia and South America have fared a bit better so I suspect they will recover a bit more quickly.

BEACH BOOK FESTIVAL: Is there a sequel planned for your book?

BRENDA BENCE: There are five planned books in the How YOU™
 Are Like Shampoo series. The three that are still to be written are (a) for College Graduates, (b) for Leaders, and (c) for Entrepreneurs.