Graduate from university, get an entry level position and make your way up through the ranks to the executive suite. Put in the time toiling in your cube and someday the corner office with the view of the parking lot will be yours. That's how it works in the credit union industry. Right?
That's one way, but there might be another path worth considering.
I've worked with credit union professionals for over 20 years (not a typo) and over the past few years I've noticed a new way some people are using to get ahead. Quite a few young professionals have advanced their careers within the credit union industry through social media. More specifically, through blogging. It's great that social media has become more popular and accepted. More people are on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn every day, but please don't mistake setting up a profile or tweeting as being writing replacements. Long-form writing translates into thought leadership and can really make a difference in growing your personal brand. It can be hard, time-consuming, intimidating, frustrating and nerve racking, but developing your own voice can also be a key to advancing your career.
These bloggers I'm thinking of have put their passion, their beliefs and their ideas out there for the world, and potential employers, to see. These blogs have typically been started as a creative outlet for young professionals to riff on what-if scenarios, and the blog posts are filled with thoughts on what the credit union industry needs to do to survive and succeed. Consider these examples:
One of the first credit union bloggers was Doug True. Doug blogged for a number of years on the now-retired True Story blog. He's too busy to write these days since he is now chief lending & technology officer at $1 billion FORUM Credit Union in Indianapolis and president of its FORUM Solutions CUSO.
Another early days blogger was William Azaroff from Vancouver, British Columbia. William now heads up the web engagement & banking team at Vancity, Canada's largest credit union. His blog is now in its eighth year and he continues to post regularly about the intersection of the Internet, corporate social responsibility, social media and the world of banking. He has spoken internationally, has been named GonzoBanker of the Month and was included on American Banker’s Bank Technology News list of the top 10 people of 2009.
The Open Source CU blog was started in 2005 by Trabian. Two of the original authors, Trey Reeme and Brent Dixon, parlayed their opinions and radical ideas on the credit union industry into real career advancement. Trey is now director of channel integration with $1.5 billion TDECU, one of the largest credit unions in Texas. And Brent is now young adult advisor at the Filene Research Institute, community manager for REAL Solutions and the creator of the Crash movement and this bizarre and wonderful new blog.
While working at $300 million Members Credit Union in Winston Salem, N.C., Matt Davis donned a red-plumed helmet and began penning his Credit Union Warrior blog in 2007. Since then, Matt has grown into a modern-day Edward Filene. His work has been featured in Fast Company and he is the creator of the CU Water Cooler. Matt now works for the Filene Research Institute helping credit unions to implement i3 ideas and regularly speaks at conferences all over the United States on the topics of innovation and implementation.
A 20-year-old teller from Maine named Andy LaFlamme started The CU Loop blog in late 2007. With his "ramblings from the mouth of a credit union employee," Andy stunned the credit union blogosphere with innovative ideas and reasoning well beyond his years. In 2009, he had made such a name for himself that he was hired from across the continent to work for $360 million MaPS Credit Union in Salem, Ore., as a community development officer.
I would guess none of these people necessarily thought, "I am going to start a blog and get a new job," but in the process of demonstrating that they were articulate, full of great ideas and well connected, they climbed the so-called corporate ladder much more quickly than waiting for a tap on the shoulder.
Some credit union and vendor employees have also used blogging as a tool to launch successful consulting and publishing careers.
Denise Wymore is a speaker, writer, blogger and culture consultant. After leaving First Tech Credit Union as the VP/marketing, Denise has used her blog to raise her profile and develop her personal brand. Her blog is opinionated, polarizing and funny and very much a reflection of Denise's personality. It's a great calling card for her consulting practice.
Jeffry Pilcher worked somewhat anonymously as the creative director of Weber Marketing for years. Always an active commenter in the credit union blogosphere, Jeffry took his social media presence--and his career---to the next level when he branched out on his own and launched TheFinancialBrand.com in 2008. The Financial Brand is now the leading online publication focused on branding and marketing in the retail banking sector. His site generates more traffic than many other popular publications in the financial industry. Though it's not really a blog, I've included it here to show what can happen when someone puts a tremendous amount of time and effort into research and writing.
That's eight stories of credit union industry professionals putting their thoughts and opinions on display for the world to read and react to. There are many more credit union personalities that I have come to know through their blogs including Gene Blishen, Morriss Partee, Carla Day, Robbie Wright, Kelley Parks and many others.
This post is not meant to put these folks on a pedestal or show off members of some elite credit union blogger club. Not at all. It's meant to show you how professionals, just like yourself, have put themselves out there and have been rewarded for doing so. It's also meant to show you there is plenty of room to carve out your own voice as some of these bloggers have had to put regular blogging aside as their careers have taken flight.
I have met lots of credit union professionals through social networking sites as well, but these relationships are more surface level. It's hard to get to know too much about a person 140 characters at a time.
If I have inspired you to start a blog, well great! I can't wait to start reading it. One caution: Let your employer know your intent before starting and always include an "about" page with a disclaimer stating that these are your personal views and are not necessarily the views of your employer. And how about some more female voices?
Not sold yet? Don't have the time? We may have the perfect alternative or complement to your social media and career-building activities: the Next Top Credit Union Exec challenge. CUES and Currency Marketing have teamed up to offer young credit union professionals the opportunity to stand out amongst your peers. With so many talented young professionals within the credit union industry, our hope is that we reveal the breadth of the emerging leaders through this contest.
Tim's corporate career advice full disclosure: "I've never worked in a corporate environment and I wear jeans, sneakers and a T-shirt to work every day. When I have to get dressed up for a fancy meeting, it takes me about 10 times to get my tie right. Take my corporate-ladder-climbing advice with a grain of salt."
Tim McAlpine lives in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada. He is the President and Creative Director of Currency Marketing, an integrated marketing agency specializing in helping credit unions attract the next generation of members. Tim is best known as the creator of Young & Free and CUES Next Top Credit Union Exec, and co-creator of the CU Water Cooler.