When you’re on the job hunt, you have one fantastic thing working for you. Not your lucky interview shoes. Not even your resume (though a great one is a necessary part of any job search). It’s you. Your personal brand is a tool in your arsenal that can really help you stand out from a crowd of similar resumes, and get to the next steps. If you’re not sure what your brand is or what it should be, let’s walk through what it means to have a brand, and how to build it.
Why Do You Need a Brand?
Think about what branding is, and does. It tells a story about a product, usually about its quality and reliability. Every commercial, every ad, every website—they’re all trying to tell a story. You need this car because it’s reliable and energy efficient. You need this soda because it means you’ll create happy memories with friends and family while sipping cold drinks. You need to get your news at this site because it is fast and accurate. Whatever that company wants you to think about their product, they try to convey via branding.
You can apply that same thinking to your own life and career. What do you want people to think of when they think of you? It should be a clear, to-the-point message. Claire is an innovative problem-solver. Manny is a results-focused manager who leads his team to exceed sales goals. Terry prioritizes efficient service and top-notch customer experience. Having that kind of elevator pitch about yourself ready to go not only gives you a punchy line to use with recruiters and interviewers, but also gives you a center point around which you can build your resume, cover letter, interview prep, etc. It takes the pressure off of the hiring manager to figure out just who you are, and lets them concentrate on how you would fit in, and what experience and skills you bring to the table.
How to Identify Your Brand
It’s okay if you don’t know yet what you want your brand/narrative to be. If you haven’t really thought about it before, it’s not likely you’ll instantly hit an “a-ha” moment that sums up your professional essence into a catchy one-liner. Start by asking yourself some key questions:
- What is the best quality you offer, or service you provide, when it comes to your career? Do you have a stellar customer service record? Do you have an eagle eye for detail? Are you great at bringing different kinds of people together to get a project or task done? Could you sell anything to just about anyone? Think about your most “sellable” quality as a professional and as a potential employee.
- What do you value most in a job/company? Personal values are important (you wouldn’t want to take a job that violates your personal beliefs), but here we should be focusing on what you value in your career. For example, if helping others is important to you, then that’s a core value, and you may want to focus on teamwork or customer service in your personal branding. Other examples of core values might be innovation, creativity, strong reputation, global focus, environmental responsibility, or work-life balance.
- What are you passionate about? What drives you? Why did you choose this field in the first place? Why do you want to continue and grow in it? Figuring out what motivates you and pushes you forward can help you really zero in on what your personal brand can be.
- What are your talents? What have you been recognized for, in the past? What do you think are your natural strengths? What can you do better than other people? Again, for this exercise focus on work-related talents, or general life talents that could be applied to your job. If you’re a stellar trombonist, that’s great, but how does that apply to your career in retail sales? If at all possible, connect your talents to specific outcomes or accomplishments at work.
- What are your goals? This can help you start to focus your brand, aligning your current story with where you want to be. Be as specific as possible in naming your goals—ones like, “I want to be making double my salary in ten years” or “I want to be CEO” are not helpful. A more effective approach here would be thinking about the next five years or so, and the milestones you’ll need to hit.
Once you have all that information gathered (just notes, nothing too complicated), you can start identifying the most important parts, and distilling them down to just a sentence or two. I am a highly organized people person. I am a creative thinker with a passion for helping others. I am a whiz at finding new ways of doing things to make my job more efficient. I am good at team-building, and want to take my leadership skills to the next level.
Finding your personal brand story isn’t the end result here, though—now you have to put it into action.
5 Steps to Build Your Brand
Here comes the “hard work” part—or at least the more time-consuming part. These are the things you should be doing to bolster your brand, and make sure you’re getting the message out there.
1. Build your social media profile.
If all of your current social media accounts are personal ones, where you post pictures of your most recent vacation, talk about what you’re watching on TV, or posted stuff throughout your, uh, younger and more carefree days, it’s time for an upgrade. Switch personal Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts to private settings, to be enjoyed only by you and your personal friends and family. Companies and hiring managers don’t hesitate to do online searches these days, and the last thing you want them turning up at the top of the search page is that unfortunate photo of you from your old Cancun spring break. Sure, it may have been years ago now, but a margarita funnel doesn’t exactly say “professionalism.” Shutting those away from public consumption definitely helps in projecting only the best (and least controversial) image of yourself. Make sure you do basic searches for your name on a few different search engines to see what comes up—and what kind of damage control you’ll need to do.
If you’re starting new accounts for your brand, keep it simple—use a variation on your name. Search for people in your field, professional associations, or blogs and sites in your field, and add them so that your new feeds are chock full of useful information. When you post content, make sure you’re posting things that are engaging, on topic, and focused. You don’t need to post every day just for the sake of posting, but try to get in the habit of posting at least a few days a week. The point is to engage and raise your profile, not lurk.
2. Create a personal website.
Existing social networks are great, because they’re easy to use and have built-in pools of people and content so that you can get up and running right away. But you should also take the step of building your own personal website, which you can use as a kind of living resume/business card/snapshot. You don’t need to be a graphic design expert—and if the late 90s/early 00s taught us anything, it’s that people left to their own devices will end up using weird gifs and blinding color combinations. Lucky for us now, there are lots of great tools that let you build a custom site from a series of options.
On your site, you have total freedom. You can host your resume (with even greater detail), write a blog, post-how-to videos, post a portfolio of your work, link to your social media profiles—whatever you want to include. Make sure you emphasize the top points you came up with during your “what is my brand?” exploratory phase. If you include the link to this site on your resume or in your cover letter, it’s a chance to let the reader get to know you better.
And don’t forget to keep things consistent: the messaging from your social media profiles should be the same high points you hit in your website. The clearer and more cohesive your message is, the more memorable it’ll be.
3. Get a business card.
Seems like a throwback, doesn’t it? But sometimes there’s no replacement for the good old-fashioned act of handing someone a card with all of your contact info on it—especially in situations where you don’t have time to spell out your personal URL. Plus, you’ll have extras to put in those fishbowls at restaurants and potentially win a free lunch (bonus!).
4. Build your network.
What good is a brand if no one knows about it? Start making connections (or at least more of them). Find people in your field you find interesting, and follow them. Engage in conversations online about your field. Post interesting articles you find, or talk about ideas you have for your field. Look up old colleagues who are still in your field, and re-open that connection.
5. Keep engaging.
There’s no point where you’ll be able to say, “There’s my brand, it’s done. I’m just gonna sit here and wait for opportunities to roll in.” Maintaining your brand is going to be a crucial part of the process. For one thing, you don’t want your brand to start looking outdated. For another, it’s your own reputation you’re holding here, so you want to at least keep an eye on your social media profiles to make sure you’re not missing anything, or ignoring attempts by others to engage you.
Finding and building your brand is one of the best investments you can make in your career. It helps you figure out what your best qualities are as a job applicant, and can help you make the best decisions for your career overall. If you make these maintenance tasks part of your daily and weekly routines, you’ll be living your brand without even realizing it, and will be your own best brand advocate.