Monday, September 16, 2013

7 Steps for Building Your Personal Brand

Recently, I’ve received a few emails and LinkedIn messages from recent graduates and soon-to-be graduates asking me about how to package themselves for the job market. This challenge is really personal branding in disguise, which is a topic familiar to successful entrepreneurs, authors, and celebrities, making it just as relevant to recent graduates as it is to professionals looking to attract more attention within their industries.

To start, a definition of personal branding from Wikipedia:

“Personal branding is the practice of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands.”

In short, marketers and business owners have come to accept that the value of a brand is held mostly in intangible assets, with some sources estimating that physical assets now account for only 40% of a brand’s worth. The other 60% is composed of brand perception, brand  personality, and brand loyalty. This is why people pay more for Apple products or why people say “hand me a Kleenex” as often as they say “hand me a tissue.” The brands that connect with consumers in meaningful ways have a huge advantage over brands that compete on a product level alone, and the profits of major brands speak to that in very clear terms.

Much of these concepts translate to personal branding. If you are trying to attract the attention of a recruiter for example, how you present yourself is just as important as what you present about yourself because the static in the job market is enormous. In 2012, the Wall Street Journal reported that the average number of job applications hovered around 118. Anecdotally, that seems low, but that is still a large volume of candidates to compete against. Everyone is submitting a resume and a cover letter (a product). If you want to get hired, you need to stand out (with branding).

To get you started, here are 7 steps to launching your personal brand.

1. Build your LinkedIn profile, and use it.
LinkedIn continues to grow, and more and more recruiters are using LinkedIn to find and vet potential candidates. On top of that, many job sites and career boards offer an “apply with LinkedIn” feature to make submitting applications to openings not listed directly on LinkedIn’s own well-trafficked job board quick and easy. So create a LinkedIn profile, fill in all of the blanks, add a decent headshot, and incorporate some rich media like a video or a powerpoint if you can to liven up your page. Next, connect with everyone you know, and make it a habit to connect with everyone you meet in a professional setting from now until you retire. You’d be surprised who knows who, and having that friend who can vouch for you to a recruiter can move your resume to the top of the pile. Cultivating those relationships (engaging with your peers and your audience) is part of the personal branding process.

2. Grow and demonstrate your expertise.
If you notice that your LinkedIn profile doesn’t do much to support your expertise in your industry—a common challenge for recent graduates—you need to find creative ways to add more relevant positions to your work history. Volunteering for local non-profits is a good start and can often lead to glowing recommendations for your skills, but you can also volunteer to lend a hand to small business owners that couldn’t afford to hire someone like you. You don’t need to work pro-bono 40 hours a week to build up your portfolio and your network, but 20 or so hours a month can be enough for you to gain experience, make a difference, and grow your network. You might also consider striking out on your own with a fellow classmate to launch a small business; just be careful of how much you invest if you choose to go this slightly more daring route.

3. Look the part.
As you grow your network, matching your personal presentation to your personal brand is important. No, you don’t need to wear a suit and tie everywhere you go, but dress in a way that matches the expectations of the setting. Fortunately, dress codes have loosened up a bit in the past few years, so you can be a bit more creative with what you wear. Most graduates understand the value of dressing for to the occasion, but many forget that a facet of looking the part also includes having a business card to handout, because you will look pretty weird if you’re the only one mumbling an excuse as to why you don’t have one. The investment is minimal, and dozens of online services will walk you through designing your own. If you can make your card memorable, that will help. Putting your picture on a high gloss card and stamping a QR card that links to your LinkedIn profile, for example, will get your card more attention than the standard name, address, telephone approach.

4. Go where the people are.
Nearly every career path has associations and organizations with local chapters and groups. These organizations routinely host conferences, mixers, and workshops. Career fairs can be beneficial, but these other types of events have the potential for high concentrations of people that matter in your chosen industry. Meet them, talk with them, and learn from them. You should have a handful of business cards in your pocket, your personal elevator pitch prepared, and a handful of industry specific questions ready to keep conversations going (what are you working on, what challenges are you facing, what new developments excite you, etc. are good generic questions). Dress appropriately, act like you belong, and don’t be needy. If you get a business card, add that person on LinkedIn that night with a quick personal message about how it was nice to meet them and that you’re happy to lend a hand if you can ever be of service.

Note: Events like conferences and workshops can sometimes come with a price tag. If you are still a student, try to get your department to cover the expenses. If you have already graduated, keep an eye out for free events like mixers or launch parties. While it’s a bit risky, you could also try sneaking in. I found out I wanted to be a writer when I crashed a writer’s conference at 15, but I imagine getting thrown out by the local chapter of a key industry organization won’t do much to boost your reputation.

5. Never stop learning.
Whether you have a job in your field of choice or are still looking, staying abreast of the latest news and developments in your industry is essential for your brand. If you aren’t aware of a key change in the way something works or haven’t heard about this year’s big controversy, you may miss out on valuable conversations and at worst risk tainting your credibility. Subscribing to LinkedIn news is a simple way to get a daily delivery of industry news relevant to your career path, but you should also periodically check blogs and communities related to your work. Being informed makes you valuable, so keep exercising your mind.

6. Establish a professional presence on the internet.
If four years of college and 2981 pictures have made your Facebook profile irreparable in career terms, turn your privacy settings all the way up. Do the same for any other property—like your Instagram or your Twitter—that would not impress an HR department. Next, set up a decent Google+ profile and at the very least create an page so something positive comes up when someone plugs your name on the search engine. If you want to score extra points, create a blog relevant to your target industry, but only do this if you plan to post consistently. You don’t want to look like you lack follow-through.

7. Repeat.
Even when you have a job in your field of choice, you should still be improving your LinkedIn profile, finding ways to expand your skill set, experience, and network, and online presence. As you do these things, your unique voice (your brand personality) will start to shine through in how you communicate. This voice can then be applied to your LinkedIn profile, to the way you dress, to your business cards, and to your website. Committing to continuous improvement will set you up for promotions and keep you ahead of the pack.

Good luck!

1 comment:

  1. Marshal,
    Those are great insights for dealing with today's challenging job market.
    Angelo Armenti, Jr.