You’ve probably heard a lot about the importance of creating a personal brand as a professional, but what does that mean, exactly? Most people think a personal brand is something you have to start from scratch, but that’s not the case. Personal branding is about figuring out what already differentiates you from your competition and how to leverage it effectively in your career.
What do you have in common with big companies like Coca-Cola or Nike? You have a brand. The difference is that your personal brand isn’t the end result of a marketing team’s plan, but rather the culmination of your individual experience, education, and skill set. Just as you are a unique individual, so are you a unique professional.
Why It’s Important
Have you ever conducted an online search on yourself? If not, you should do so ASAP, because that’s the what hiring managers, recruiters, and employers are going to do to investigate whether you’re hire-worthy or not. If your online presence sends the message that all you do is party, then I can guarantee that you will be passed over as a potential candidate for the job/promotion/etc.
However, if you’ve done your due diligence and built a personal brand that portrays you as a knowledgeable, responsible, and capable professional, then that speaks volumes to all the right people in the professional realm. Your first impression is the only impression that counts in your career.
Beside the fact that personal branding helps sets you apart from the rest, it also allows you to identify your strengths and weaknesses. Why is this important? Although you may feel confident that you’re qualified and capable for a given job, you should be able to articulate why they should hire you over the other candidates who are just as qualified and capable.
If you’re like most professionals out there, you’re banking on your resume to do all the talking and selling for you. However, the realty is, so is your competition. If you want to set yourself apart, then you have to understand what makes you unique. Otherwise, you’re just one of many.
While your resume serves the purpose of showcasing your educational and professional accomplishments, the hiring manager would also like to see the human side of you, too. Personal branding helps you do just that.
The question now is: How do you identify and grow your personal brand?
The good news is, you already have a personal brand — you probably just haven’t identified or honed it yet. Fret not, because here are some tips to help you out.
Google yourself. Figure out what the current state of your personal brand looks like now and go from there. Most likely, your social media profiles and website, if you have one, will be at the top of the search results. If you see something unfavorable, take it down immediately. If you want to keep business and pleasure separate, then consider tweaking your privacy settings on social networks that you use for your personal life (e.g. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc.) to safeguard your life outside of the office.
Do some soul-searching. Grab a pen and paper and start writing down your strengths and weaknesses. Recruit a few trusted friends, family members, or colleagues to help provide you feedback, too. Next, start considering what your unique selling proposition (USP) is as a professional — or, in other words, what unique value do you bring to the table that no one else can? A great way to incorporate a bit of your personality online or on paper is to convey it through your “voice” or “tone” when composing communications. “[I]dentify whether your personal brand will include facets of your personal life — which can further humanize your brand voice — or if you should keep your personal and professional worlds separate,” says ConsumerAffairs‘ marketing manager Danica Jones to Business News Daily.
Update LinkedIn. LinkedIn is one of the first places that recruiters, hiring managers, employers, and other professionals turn to when they need to look up someone (that includes you). In fact, “Some 93% of hiring managers search LinkedIn for recruits,” reportsMarketWatch, so you want to ensure that your LinkedIn profile has all the right elements and properly conveys who you are and what you have to offer. Moreover, start learning how to leverage LinkedIn to boost your personal brand and gain the kind of online exposure that will take your career potential to the next level.
Be consistent. Your personal brand should remain consistent, both online and in person. If you find that you’re all over the place with your brand, then it may be a good idea to revisit tip No. 2 above and start anew. It’s crucial that you are able to pinpoint exactly what you are good at (and where you’re lacking), what you want to be known for, and what differentiates you, so that you can properly position yourself in the market. Take, for instance, when McDonalds’ decided to “break character” (i.e. deviate from its brand image) and tried to introduce healthier menu options for its customers. Unfortunately, it didn’t go over so well with customers, and the conglomerate saw a lousy “0.2% same store sales growth at the end of 2013,” saysMarket Realist. The problem was that the brand was/is synonymous with junk food, which “overshadowed its strategy to become a healthy food provider.” Learn from McDonalds’ and don’t try and change your brand to appease an audience that wants nothing to do with you.
Last, but not least, it’s time to get out there and start networking like crazy. The great thing about having a solid personal brand is that you will feel more confident and prepared when you network — and rightfully so. Now, go out there and get ’em, tiger!
Tell Us What You Think
What other pieces of advice do you have about building and maintaining an appealing personal brand? Share your tips with our community on Twitter, or leave your comment below.
Leah Arnold-Smeets, owner of Emiko Consulting, is passionate about helping entrepreneurs capitalize on their strengths, improve on their weaknesses, and reach their full potential. Leah obtained her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration & Entrepreneurial Studies from the University of Southern California (USC).