First things first: What is a brand? We are exposed to and bombarded with marketing every day, and whether we realize it or not, the branding we see has an influence on us. We might define a brand as a logo, the colors or tagline of a company. The products they sell or the services they provide usually fit into a certain “feeling” or vibe. We are drawn to one brand over another because of the way their marketing makes us feel about ourselves or about the world.
Sometimes a brand can feel like a friend who shares our values. Why do you buy that one type of dish soap? Well, it smells good, but also, the packaging is understated and modern. I know they use eco-friendly ingredients, and I’m someone who cares about the environment. When someone walks into my kitchen, they can see that’s important to me.
All that in a dish soap? Oh yes, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg… Or dirty dish pile. So how do we get potential employers or clients to create those kinds of positive associations with us? Well, do your best to dress nice and smell good, for starters! But, of course, it’s much more complex than that.
When you think about creating your personal brand, you may feel uncomfortable. “I am who I am, I don’t want to pretend to be someone else!” “Marketing is for things, not people.” “People need to connect, not buy and sell each other!” We couldn’t agree more, but that’s not what your personal brand is about. If no one finds your website, how will they know you’re the perfect fit for the job? If your social media posts are bland or cliché, why would people engage with you? If a recruiter interviews 10 people and scans their online presence, how will they remember which one was you? A personal brand makes you more visible and more memorable.
So where do I start?
Figure out who you are! It’s as simple as that, we’re done here…
In all seriousness, take some time to reflect. What values do you want your audience to see right off the bat? What are you passionate about? What are your limits and when can you compromise? What is special about you? Beyond your education and employment history, what personality traits or skills make you stand out from the crowd? This isn’t about choosing the mask you’ll wear at your next job. It’s figuring out how to project an authentic image of yourself in a professional context.
Is your enthusiasm contagious? Does your sense of humor defuse stressful situations? Can you keep a deadline, no matter what, because you have a highly developed sense of duty? Or maybe your creativity knows no bounds. Try to figure out what it is that makes you, you. Asking your friends, family and colleagues can be helpful here if you’re struggling to get started.
This can be your jumping off point, it’s a clue to how you want to “market yourself”. There is room in this world for all kinds of people and personalities, so don’t try to please everyone. By knowing yourself, it’ll be easier to target the people you truly want to work with. And that brings us to another key moment in your journey to a personal brand.
What’s your niche?
Those people you want to work with, what do they have in common? What kinds of companies are you interested in? What do you do best at work? Do you have expert knowledge in a certain field? Skills you can transfer from your last position? When you know who you are and what you’re good at, it’s so much easier to find the right fit. Why not try a skills audit to get started? Target the people and the jobs that truly inspire you and align with your values. You won’t regret it.
I’ve done some soul-searching, now what?
You might want to start by Googling yourself. Oh come on, we’ve all done it! If a complete stranger were to observe your online presence (your public Instagram or Facebook posts, your LinkedIn profile, etc.), what would they assume about you? What’s your e-reputation? Does it resemble the person you really are? Or are you simply invisible online?
Regardless of your answers to these questions, this exercise will give you some ideas on how to start building your personal brand. Start posting about the things you really care about. Share some professional news on LinkedIn and update your profile description to better match your purpose and reach that target audience of yours.
You can also build a website for yourself if you don’t already have one. Or update your existing site. Think of your website as a place to showcase your personal brand in all its glory. Your social media presence is crucial, but it’s short, sweet, and often ephemeral. Maybe you have more to say or a gorgeous portfolio to share. In any case, use social networks to draw in your audience. Not with gimmicks or false promises, but with your passion and personality. It won’t resonate with everyone, but the people who do engage are more likely to stick around.
Remember: you’re not looking to accumulate followers, you’re looking to create ties with the right people.
This is also a chance to design and define your visual identity. Do you have a graphic charter, a logo or a professional headshot? And what about your editorial line? How do you speak to your potential employers or clients? The important thing here is to be consistent. Your brand doesn’t need to be any “one thing”. You are certainly welcome to think outside the box. However, it should feel professional, well thought-out, and dependable (which is not the same as predictable!).
Walk the talk
And finally, don’t forget the offline world! When you attend networking events or job fairs, do you talk about what really drives you? When you contact a new business, or go to a preliminary interview, can they tell what you’re all about? How can you make that happen? It all starts with being unapologetically YOU! And practice helps, of course.
If you’re confident in who you are and what you want to do, it will show. So, start building your personal brand today and you’ll be one step closer to the job of your dreams.