How to Build a Personal Brand
When we're evaluating a product, our decision to buy (or not) is based on many things in addition to the product itself. We're influenced by the packaging, marketing, design, and language used. We're also influenced by the values and social stigma of the company that produced it. Together, those elements make up a brand. And for most of us, the brand is a huge factor in whether or not we decide to buy a particular product.
Like it or not, employers evaluate candidates in the same way. It's not all about what you can do, but how you will do it, what your values are, how your peers think of you, and how you present yourself. To put it simply, building your personal brand is one of the most effective ways to develop your career.
To help you develop your brand, we asked five college career counselors the following question:
When I was in college, people always told me how important it was to build my personal brand. Like a lot of students, I understood what they meant, but had no idea how to go about doing it. What is one thing that you've seen students do to successfully build their brand?
Their answers to the question are below. As always, we hope that you find their perspectives helpful, actionable, and inspiring.
- Career Consultant, Terry College of Business, The University of Georgia Career Center
I love talking about personal branding with students, because it is a great applied way to think about the way they present themselves as professionals.
There are a lot of great examples out there and various ways to approach this subject, but I think it could really be broken down into two overarching concepts: having a great brand message and demonstrating strong professional skills.
Let’s think about the brand message first. Just like a company cannot create a recognizable brand without a strong core of values, products, or services, you as a professional cannot begin to brand yourself without some sort of central theme or message. This process takes time, but you need to ask yourself some tough questions to get started. What are my core strengths as a job seeker? What is my focus area or job search goal? What professional values do I want to build my career around?
Don’t overthink it too much – your brand could be as simple as knowing you have a strong passion for education, or that you want to focus your career around your strengths in digital marketing. Perhaps all you know is that you want to live in Chicago and work in the IT industry. The point is that you have a sense of focus, and you’re prepared to communicate that focus in your application materials, your networking pitch, and your interviews. Keep in mind that your brand can change over time, and you may want to reevaluate every now and then or readjust the way you’ve chosen to brand yourself. Companies do this all the time, and so should you!
The second piece of the puzzle is your overall brand as a professional. While your brand message communicates your values and sense of focus, your professional skillset demonstrates your maturity and preparedness to enter the workforce.
Make sure that you have educated yourself about professional communication skills (phone messages, emails, networking skills, public speaking, etc.) so that you come across as polished. Give yourself opportunities to practice these skills, or find a role model that you can learn from and emulate. Talk to people in your field of interest, and learn some of the professional language of their industry. Get feedback from others. Have your resume critiqued. Dress more professionally, more often.
Remember, your “brand” is a cumulative impression over time, not just the way you look or act on interview day. Perhaps most importantly, follow-up with new connections and express sincere gratitude for those that help you along the way. All of these little details can add up to make a big impact if done right (think about your last visit to a business that seemed to do all the “little things” right and gave you a great experience). By paying attention to detail and taking yourself seriously as a job seeker, you can really begin to communicate a strong professional brand.
Finally – don’t forget about LinkedIn and social media. All of these concepts can be applied online, and your social media presence can be a great way to make (or break) your brand image!
- Career Counselor & Career Development Coordinator, Oregon State University
I found that students who’ve successfully built their brand had a well-developed social media strategy. First, they established a positive message or image that represented them well. Then, they identified their targeted market and used appropriate social platforms to reach their audience. In many cases, they marketed their brand using multiple social platforms including, but not limited to Facebook, Twitter, blogging and LinkedIn. They were also very active and engaged their audience by posting value added topics and issues.
- Associate Director, Recruitment & Alumni Relations, Emory University
When students can articulate what makes them special, it is so invaluable. Understanding the experiences, values, skills and ideas that might set one apart from peers helps build a brand in a way no one else can. Only you can tell me what you stand for, and how you arrived at this place. Only you can explain to me why you chose to participate in the experiences you have, and how those building blocks to your storyline add to the essence of what makes you, well, you.
If you needed to make a short list of words to describe yourself, what would they be? Communicator? Honest? Organized? Creative? How do you feel you can add value to an organization? What image, or reputation if you will, do you want people to attribute to you? Students who are able to quickly and neatly package these ideas to share with audiences are much more likely to have success creating and showcasing their brands. Some of this comes from how you present yourself, while part of it may come from what people may learn of you that have never met you, such as your Facebook, Google+, or LinkedIn profiles. Always be thinking about the message you are displaying to others…this is your brand at work!
- Assistant Director, University Career Services, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Students should have a professional online presence long before searching for employment. Google your name and pay close attention to the results. Googling one’s own name should be the first step in creating a successful brand, because the first thing an employer will probably do is Google your name, and the worst situation would be for something negative to come up about you. Therefore taking inventory of one’s online presence is necessary. Another action in establishing a successful online presence is to create and complete a LinkedIn account - including a professional picture, a complete summary of your qualifications, and references if possible. In addition to an updated LinkedIn profile,’ Facebook accounts should look professional, using privacy settings if necessary. If you choose to have a public Facebook profile, make sure that no questionable material is on that profile for the world to see. Online software such as Socioclean and Reputation Changer can run a scan of your online profile to search and clean up questionable content.
Not only do students need to take charge of their personal brand via online profiles, but they should be comfortable in leveraging that brand through social media as well. One example of this is to create a Twitter account and follow hashtags and retweet topics that are related to your field. Also consider starting a blog that include comments on articles in your field that interest you. This lets employers know that you are genuinely interested in keeping up with trends in your industry.
- Mentoring and Experiential Education Coordinator, Xavier University
When I think of students that are most successful at building their personal brand, one key characteristic comes to mind, having a strong sense of self. In order to build a personal brand, the student first needs to understand who they are and what they represent.
In the past, I can think of one student in particular who did an outstanding job with personal branding. Josh was a junior, graphic design major that was interested in starting his own graphic design company. Throughout college, he worked as a freelance graphic designer for several design firms and decided that starting his own company was a long-time dream of his. From the beginning he had a very clear vision of what he wanted his company to represent. He also understood the strengths and weaknesses when it comes to owning his own company. Having a clear vision allowed him to tailor his resume and portfolio to clients he felt he had the greatest potential of working with. His website, business cards, resume, portfolio, and various social media sites all shared very similar content and design layout.
For any student looking to build their personal brand, I would recommend taking some time to reflect on their personal and professional goals. What do you want to represent? What perception do you want conveyed to others? Once you are able to answer some specific questions about yourself and your goals, meet with a professional that can help you develop a plan of action.