Building Your Personal Brand

What is a "personal brand", exactly, and why is it important?

Your personal brand can be defined as how your audience perceives you and your overall value, as compared to your competitors. It's much the same concept as any corporate brand. You recognize the brand name McDonald's, for instance, and the name and associated image immediately conjures up perceptions of relative worth in your mind. The goal of a personal brand is the same: you want employers and professional contacts to see you, recognize you, and view you as a high-calibre, valuable individual.

This image does not happen by chance; it's a product of deliberate crafting. Nor does it happen overnight; in fact, your personal brand will grow and evolve as you do, changing shapes and forms over the course of your entire life. Taking conscious control of your personal brand, however, rather than letting it just congeal by default, will give you a very clear advantage in today's competitive job market, and may be the difference between landing your dream job and receiving a rejection letter.

The Main Factors
Your personal brand is strongly influenced by several factors: your appearance, your personality, your skills, and your unique value.

  • Appearance: This includes the clothes you wear, your hygiene habits, and your overall attractiveness. Make no mistake: when we discuss "attractiveness", you shouldn't be disheartened if you aren't a fashion model or classical statuesque Greek beauty. Attractiveness is a perception created more by confidence and self-esteem than by physical traits. Potential employers would much rather see you smiling confidently in a nice shirt or blouse than frowning in a gravy-stained sweatshirt, no matter what your physical attributes are.

  • Personality: This includes your values, behavior, and overall identity. How do you project yourself to the world? How do you treat others around you? Your personal brand will really shine if you train your personality towards being a positive influence to all those around you, and treating others with respect and humility.

  • Skills: These are the resume items, so to speak, such as your technical, business, and cognitive skills, as well as your past experience and training.

  • Your Unique Value: What can you offer an employer that no one else can? As cliché as it may sound, you have something about you that makes you special, unique, one-of-a-kind, and it's your job to find out what it is. The goal is to stand out from the crowd and offer something to your target audience (such as a hiring recruiter) that's totally distinct from the competition. If you believe you have no such value to offer, you're wrong; you just haven't realized what it is yet. Take the time to look within yourself, and you'll find it.

The goal, then, is to craft an image that weaves all of these things together into a cohesive whole, and then to present that image in a visible, recognizable way. On your personal career path, you're the product you're selling, and your personal brand is the way you advertise.

Online Profiles
These days, it's easier than ever to deliberately craft your personal brand, thanks to online networking services such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, and more. The profiles you create on these sites become your first impression, your resume, and your online image, and as such should be created with care and thought. Employers most certainly look through the online profiles of job candidates before making a hiring decision, and what they see there can have a strong influence on who gets the job in the end.

Try conducting an experiment: type your name into the Google search bar and see what comes up. This is what an employer would see if they wanted to learn more about you. By carefully and thoroughly creating your online profiles on the sites mentioned above, your relevant information should show up on the first page of search results, thereby making you much more recognizable and visible to your target audience.

All of the networking sites will give you the option of customizing your URL. By default, this URL will be a long, messy string of numbers and letters. If you can, change it to your name, or at least an approximation of your name (using initials in some places, for example). This will make a world of difference in your visibility, because it will bump you up considerably in the search results.

The tricky part about using online profiles to increase your professional visibility is that your personal life may become more visible as well. Do your best to keep your private life just that: private. If you're job hunting and a hiring recruiter looks up your profile, you may not want her to see certain pictures of you at parties or read certain off-color jokes you made to your buddies. You want, of course, to present an appealing, professional image. Facebook is particularly notorious for this problem, because it's designed first and foremost as a social networking site. Luckily, Facebook offers the option of adjusting privacy settings on photos, status updates, and comments. You can choose to set the privacy setting to "Public," meaning your content can be viewed by absolutely anybody, "Friends Only," meaning it can be viewed only be your established online contacts, or "Custom," meaning it will be shared only to certain individuals or lists of individuals, which you can control. By paying attention to these settings, you can enjoy the casual social connection that Facebook offers, and still present a professional image to any prospective employers who may chance upon your profile.

Google+ has a similar feature which helps you keep your professional and private lives separate. This is the "circles" feature, and it allows you to organize different contacts into different groups (circles), depending on your relationship with them. For instance, you can place a contact into your "family" circle, your "friends" circle, or you can create a new circle and name it, for instance, "co-workers" or "business contacts." By keeping your personal and professional images distinct, you'll have a much more effective personal brand to market.

Tips for Using Online Profiles to Build Your Personal Brand
  • Use the same photo on all your networking sites. By using the same photo, you become more easily recognizable and your image becomes more unified. This is the same idea of a corporation choosing one logo and sticking with it.

  • Once again, use your name as your URL (or the closest approximation available). You want your professional profiles to show up at the top of the list of search results.

  • Be thorough. Fill in all the relevant fields of information, including your education and work history, your skills and interests, your volunteer experience, and any other credentials, certifications, languages, etc. you would want an employer to know about. Most networking sites provide you with a visual graph on your homepage, telling you what to what percentage you've completed your profile. Do your best to raise that percentage to 100!

  • Create profiles on all the major networking sites: LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, as well as professional networking and resume databases such as JibberJobber and VisualCV (discussed later). It may seem daunting at first, but once you've completed the first profile, the rest will come much easier and quicker, since you've already written down the relevant information.

  • Link your profiles together. If a potential employer happens upon your Twitter profile, for example, you want it to be very quick and easy for him to navigate to your more professional LinkedIn profile or your VisualCV. Each site uses different methods to accomplish this end, but the option will usually be found in the "edit profile" or "manage profile" window. In LinkedIn, for example, you can add links to your other profiles (as well as to your website, blog, or other relevant sites) by clicking the "Edit Profile" button, and then clicking the "Edit Contact Info" button (to the right of your LinkedIn URL, below your picture).

More Tools to Build Your Personal Brand
JibberJobber: JibberJobber is an online service which helps you keep track of your connections with various companies and individuals. Building your personal brand is by and large a process of building professional connections, and it can be an overwhelming task to manage and organize the list of connections you make over the years. JibberJobber keeps track of all these connections for you, measures the strength of your relationship with each contact, and remembers where you sent your resume and when. As you progress along your career path, and as your personal brand clarifies itself, an organizational tool such as JibberJobber can be an absolute lifesaver.

VisualCV: A VisualCV is essentially an online resume enriched by multimedia. This is a great way to stand out from the crowd of drab paper resumes and create a striking professional image for yourself. VisualCV provides employers with all the information that would be included on a traditional resume, but offers the option of enhancing the presentation with graphics, videos, slideshows, and more. The website also offers a wealth of opportunities to network with companies and individuals, apply for job openings, and share your own VisualCV with the professional world.

Blogs: A blog related to your career or field of expertise can be a great way to showcase your accomplishments, credentials, and experience. By linking your blog to the other resources discussed above, you'll have the opportunity to say more about yourself, your objective, and your skills than would be otherwise possible. If your goal is to have your blog read by a prospective employer, however, be sure to keep it relevant and focused.

Get Out There
While it is becoming increasingly important to present a consistent and thoughtful online image, the Internet is by no means a replacement for actually getting out and participating in the world. Your personal brand will not have the impact you hope for if you're perceived as simply an unreal collection of images and words on a screen. You need to get out there, meet people, and be present in your chosen field of work.

A great way to do this is to join professional associations and attend networking events, industry meetings, and conventions. Colleges and universities typically have alumni associations which have regular events and meetings as well. Once at these events, don't be afraid to introduce yourself, shake some hands, and exchange business cards. This will expand your professional network considerably, and it will also help you be perceived as a real person who can be contacted and worked with, rather than just an elusive face on an internet profile.

It's not enough to simply accumulate a long list of online contacts; you need to maintain your relationship with those contacts.

To craft an image that's visible and recognizable, you need to maintain a presence within your network. Many of us neglect to keep in touch, and our network falls into disrepair and loses its usefulness as a result. Maintenance doesn't need to be an overwhelming burden; simply checking in now and again to say hello or to keep people updated on what you're working on is sufficient. By staying present and reachable, you reinforce the message that you're a high-calibre individual who can be relied upon when the need arises. By being present in your interactions with your contacts, you'll automatically be more present in their minds even when you're not interacting with them, and isn't this the point of a personal brand, after all?

So keep track of your network, and don't forget to check in regularly.

The Benefits of an Established Personal Brand
A well-established personal brand carries with it significant benefits. An established personal brand means that you have become visible, findable, recognizable, and memorable. These are exactly the qualities that bring opportunities to individuals, even when they're not actively looking for them.

The professional world is teeming with change, and opportunities are abundant for the person with a well-established brand. These opportunities can present themselves in an endless number of potential ways. A friend of one of your contacts, for example, finds out about a great new job opening and asks if anyone would be a good fit. Since you've been doing your homework, your contact remembers you and recognizes the worth and value you would bring to such a position, and puts you in touch with the hiring manager for an interview. You find yourself with an exciting new opportunity, thanks to your visibility and memorability.

This situation could unfold in countless different ways, but the principle is the same: by establishing your personal brand, you open the door to opportunities that you would have never thought possible before!

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