“Personal branding” was a popular buzzword around 15 years ago, but is creating your personal brand (also called professional brand) still relevant to your career? You bet.
Personal branding was popularized in the late 90s after Tom Peters wrote “The Brand Called You” for Fast Company. After that, the term took off and became a catchphrase for HR professionals, career counselors, and job seekers.
That said, the idea behind personal branding has been around for decades. Ever since people started thinking about “having a career” instead of “having a job,” it’s been advisable to demonstrate professional credibility.
What Does “Personal Branding” Really Mean?
Your personal brand should communicate the specific value you deliver to an employer, colleague, or direct report. It’s a combination of:
- Who You Are. Your accomplishments, skills, education, and employment history.
- Who You Want to Be. Your professional goals and career aspirations.
- How You Present Yourself to the World. Communication style, behaviors, and personality.
- How the World Perceives You. What other people think about you and how they would describe you to a friend or coworker.
That last bit is crucial: if your personal brand doesn’t jibe with how others see you, you have work to do. But that doesn’t mean shamelessly self-promoting yourself. The best way to get others to adjust their perception of you is by being open, honest, and authentic when you showcase your achievements, talk about professional goals, and complete your daily work.
How to Define Your Personal Brand
Here are a few steps you can take to develop your personal brand.
- Test Your Current Brand. Write down three to five adjectives that you think describe you. (For example, if you’re Bill Gates, you might write down innovative, motivational, and charitable.) Then, ask a handful of trusted coworkers and friends to write down which adjectives they would use to describe you. Do they match up? If not, are you okay with the differences? Which attributes do you want to keep in your personal brand, and which of them would you rather not have associated with it?
- Identify Your Goals. What does your ideal career look like in 5, 10, or 15 years? Do you aspire to speak at conferences or write industry articles for your profession? What other activities or accolades would you consider key to your success?
- Determine What Makes You Unique. Think about what you have that others in a similar position or industry don’t. This could be elements of your personality, communication style, special talents, love of teamwork, problem-solving techniques, etc. Write these characteristics down and use them in interviews, on your resume, and at networking events.
- Assess Your Accomplishments. Make a list of the major milestones in your career. Write down anything from completing a high-profile project on a tight deadline, to getting promoted in less than a year, to earning a graduate degree or professional certificate.
- Build Strong Relationships. Relationship building helps you develop a strong reputation, which can lead to opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t come your way. To build meaningful professional relationships, seek out people you’d like to connect with, and give some thought to how you want to relate to them and how you want them to perceive you.
- Be a Model of Professionalism. To build a positive personal brand, you must show that you are a consummate professional. This means meeting deadlines, staying accountable, communicating effectively, and respecting policies and procedures.
- Review and Repeat. Just as people grow and change with life experience, so should your personal brand. Review it once a year or at major career milestones and see if it still fits. Tweak as needed.
Living Your Personal Brand
Once you define and develop your personal brand, you’re not done. You need to live every day with it in mind. This includes everything from how you dress to how you interact with others—in person and online.
If you already have a job, emanate your personal brand in meetings, conferences, networking events, and while communicating with coworkers. It’s these everyday interactions that will cement your personal brand and garner the respect of your peers, leaders, and subordinates (if you have a team).
If you’re looking for a job, make sure your personal brand is reflected in your:
- Resume. Include the three to five adjectives that you defined for your personal brand, and make sure your resume accurately reflects your skills, accomplishments, and goals.
- LinkedIn Profile. The biggest social media presence for job-seekers is LinkedIn. Make sure your LinkedIn profile aligns with your personal brand and includes industry-relevant keywords. This will help employers find you and make you stand out in a crowded field of job seekers.
- Social Presences. If you’re on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., it’s practically impossible to make everything private and separate the personal from the professional. So, just make sure you’re only posting what you’d be comfortable sharing with the general public and that your posts fit your personal brand.
- Offline Events. The best way to practice promoting your personal brand–in person–is by participating in networking events, industry conferences, and professional classes.
- Interview. Practice ways to answer common interview questions in the context of your personal brand. You’ll naturally find ways to set yourself apart from other candidates by taking the time to define and develop your personal brand.
Living your personal brand may be a bit challenging at first. But the more you practice, the better you’ll get at it. If you define your brand based on your true personality, abilities, and experience, it will soon feel like second nature to express it in a professional context.
Keeping your personal brand in mind will also give you a new perspective on your everyday interactions with others and guide how you do your work. There’s definite return on investment for the time you put into developing your brand.
The Capella University Career Center’s mission is to empower students and alumni to proactively manage their careers and make meaningful, and effective, career decisions.