Personal branding: not a luxury but a must

· career,general

Your brand is what people say about you
when you are not in the room.
Jeff Bezos

Not so long ago, personal branding was one of those buzz terms that became very popular though many were likely unclear on what it actually meant. I know I was. Though we could argue that personal branding is as old as humanity, the term has been first coined in 1937 by author Napoleon Hill who, in his “Think and Grow Rich” book said, “It should be encouraging to know that practically all the great fortunes began in the form of compensation for personal services, or from the sale of ideas.”

In the BIT era (aka before the internet times), personal branding was somewhat of a synonym with one’s reputation. In other words, you’d do a good job on something, word would get out, and you’d be asked (and hopefully paid) to do it again. Fast forward to today, looking up people online is a very common and widely spread practice among professionals of all industries and career levels. For example, recent surveys find that college admissions officers often look at applicants’ social media, and over 90% of recruiters look up their potential candidates online at some point during the recruiting process (Klein, 2020; McKeon, 2020). They do so to get a sense of people’s profiles, characteristics, and their overall trustworthiness, but also to learn more about individuals’ social capital and networks (i.e., how well connected they are) (Hedenus, Backman & Håkansson, 2019).

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So what is personal branding?

As I see it, personal branding is a tool that individuals can pro-actively use to create their brand or professional persona and to present themselves in a cohesive, well-rounded way to potential collaborators, employers, higher education institutions - really to anyone who might look them up. I strongly believe that we bring our whole selves to work, so to me, personal branding must incorporate a healthy balance of authentic personal and professional information, or in other words, a personal brand must have personality in order to stand out. Adam Ritchie of Adam Ritchie Brand Direction points this out as well: “The first word in the phrase, “personal brand” is “personal.” Now add an “ity” to it, drop the “brand” and that’s what it really means. That’s the secret.”

I absolutely love the idea of personal branding because this is something anyone can do for themselves, at any career stage, without having to be a specialist or have any formal training. The only requirement is a passion for taking control of the narrative and a commitment to actively investing in yourself.

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How to create or revamp your personal brand?

Here are three fun and straightforward strategies for creating or revamping your personal brand:

1) Perform a comprehensive audit of your online presence
Other people who don’t know you will Google your name when you’re applying to educational programs or for a job. Why would you do the same? It will be an interesting and eye-opening experience, I promise. You might find old social media posts that you were sure you made private, or you might discover that you share your name with another person (for better or for worse). You simply can’t take control of the narrative and start working on your personal brand until you are 100% clear on where you’re at, on what the starting point is, as that will determine the next steps (i.e., discovering that you share a name with a questionable person will lead to a different approach to your personal branding than having a clean online presence would).

2) Do a little bit of self-reflection and decide what kind of brand you’d like to build for yourself
You might choose to perform an autobiography exercise, a visualization one, or a strategic career planning one. Some people swear by building an elevator pitch (not really my favorite, but that’s because I have issues with being so concise). Whatever works for you and it helps you put things into perspective. At the end of it, the goal is to be able to answer these questions:
Who am I? What are my (recent) accomplishments? Where do I want to go from here?

3) Create or revitalize your LinkedIn account
Everybody uses LinkedIn nowadays. And if they don’t, they likely should. Just take a look at the latest LinkedIn workforce report available here. It indicates that over 3 million jobs are posted on LinkedIn monthly, featuring various industries and levels of experience. A strong LinkedIn account must have:

  • a personalized URL, preferably to your name, no digits (see here how)
  • all the relevant categories filled in (here are a few tips as to how to do that)
  • a list of (endorsed) skills
  • at least 2 recommendations received per year
  • a strong summary (see here more about that)
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4) Develop your own website
I can’t think of a better way or tool that would allow one to work on and refine their personal branding. Owing and updating your website regularly allows you to tell the story on your own terms. There are no pre-determined categories or boxes that must be filled. There are no rules (outside of common sense) that apply. There are, however, general guidelines, such as: 1) categories can include but are definitely not limited to experience, education, portfolio, projects, hobbies, and much more, and 2) one can include information about projects, papers, or articles they’ve worked on. Most importantly, creating your own website is a labor of creativity and passion that can help you to unify your online presence and really bring everything together by pulling in your social media accounts, showcasing your projects, and overall, by making it easy for people to learn something valuable about you before they even met you.

Across the board, consistency is key. It is considered good practice to use the same profile photo across all the professional accounts, and to make sure that all relevant websites (LinkedIn, personal) are updated regularly, at least every six-twelve months, if not more often. Once you have these URLs, you can consider inserting them as hyperactive links into your CV/resume or whatever other relevant application materials you might work with.

At the end of the day, we know that Googling others in professional contexts is a well-spread practice (like it or not, that’s a different conversation for another day). You’ve got to start thinking, what do you want people to find when they’ll look you up?

References & Other Cool Readings

Clark, D. (2018). How Women Can Develop — and Promote — Their Personal Brand. Harvard Business Review.

Chan, G. (2018). 10 Golden Rules Of Personal Branding. Forbes Magazine.

Crowford, M. (2020). How to Create a Personal Branding Plan in 30 Minutes (Even if You Hate "Personal Branding"). The Muse.

Hedenus, A., Backman, C., & Håkansson, P. (2019). Whom do you know? Recruiters’ motives for assessing jobseekers’ online networks. The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 1-24.

Klein, A. (2020). Yes, College Admissions Officers Do Look at Applicants’ Social Media, Survey Finds. Education Week Magazine.

McKeon, K. (2020). 5 Personal Branding Tips for Your Job Search. The Manifest.

UnfoldLabs (2020). Exceptional — 20 Top Personal Branding Strategies for 2020.