Secrets to Mastering Your Personal Brand for Career Success

By karlsmith-then…, 9 June, 2012

Finding a job in today’s economy can be tough, yet many job seekers underestimate the importance of networking in the job-hunting process. Why is networking the best way to find a job? In business today, your most important job is to promote yourself. “You probably won't work the same job from graduation until retirement”, says Karl Smith, author, entrepreneur and business networking expert. More likely, your future depends on leveraging your strengths along a winding career path ripe with possibilities. To take advantage of these opportunities, you need to stand out in a crowd. You must become your own brand. Stand up and look in the mirror - the greatest brand in the world is YOU.

Today, the market place is crowded and the job market as competitive as ever. To make your mark and rise above the noise, you need to have a clear idea what you're all about and what you have to offer (and to whom). What makes you different?  Don't think you can escape it. In the age of Google, MySpace, YouTube and blogging, everyone is a brand.

Marketers brand you. Politicians brand you. Your colleagues brand you, and so does your future boss or client. You have to take control of your brand. Your current personal brand is positive, negative or neutral. The challenge for most job seekers, professionals and entrepreneurs is that they lack the discipline necessary to define their personal brands. As a result, their peers select it for them.

Having been taught to be good girls and boys who take turns and do things because they're right, we don't want others to think of us as so nakedly self-interested. So when we hear that if we're seeking a job or a promotion we must "promote ourselves", we inwardly rebel. Few of us actually do a good job promoting ourselves. Those who do get more and better jobs, more and better promotions and make more money.  And the rest of us consciously or unconsciously sneer at them for being "selfish".

Having a strong personal brand is the positioning strategy behind the world's most successful people, like Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Richard Branson and Bill Gates. Most people are not aware of this and do not manage their personal brand strategically, consistently and effectively. You should take control of your brand and the message it sends and affect how others perceive you.

Forget about your personal brand in terms of your personal image at this moment. You may ask: “Where do you draw the distinction between Personal Branding and Image Management?” I put image management more in the realm of public relations, advertising, attire, makeup, great photos etc. I see it as superficial, how others see or how you package your inner core. Personal Branding is your inner core with substance. Personal image is how others perceive you, personal branding is what you want them to know about you. Since I do both, I prefer to start with personal brand work as the framework of image management.

So what is a personal brand?  It is that word, or phrase, that comes to mind when people think of you. Simply put, it is what people say about you when you are not around them. It's NOT what you say about yourself.  You can say whatever you want. Does not mean a thing! Your personal brand is an assessment your audiences make about who you are and what you bring to them. Perhaps your personal brand is "whiner or procrastinator". 

Perhaps, on the other hand, it's "the person who gets things done around here". Your brand is not what you say you are.  You can't become "the person who gets things done around here" simply by saying so.  It's your consistent behaviour that builds your brand.  You have to consistently "get things done around here" to earn that brand.  Once you are consistently delivering on your brand promise, then you can say so.  But delivery comes before boasting.

I believe there are 5 areas you need to focus on when assembling your "BrandYou" strategy as follows:

  1. Develop your vision statement - Your vision statement gives you direction and confidence, and will guide decision making and the allocation of time, attributes and resources. Your vision statement is the picture of who you will one day become. While your vision should be realistic and obtainable, it should also be something that you can grow into. Your vision should solve a problem that you see in the world, especially as it pertains to your audience. Above all, your vision statement should excite and motivate you.
  2.  Understand your personal brand - To crystallize your personal brand, ask yourself what you want to be known for — what differentiates you from everyone else who might have a similar background or set of experiences? What talents and strengths do you want to be known for in your career? What kind of employer will be drawn to, connect with and pay a premium for that?

As a starting point to develop your brand, brainstorm a list of all the things you are good at. As examples, some ideas for brands include conflict management, sales training, best-practice systems, marketing for service professionals and customer service. Next, identify your passion. Using your brainstormed list of what you're good at, circle those items you are most passionate about. For starters, identify the No. 1 item. If you're having difficulty narrowing the list down, pretend you are packing your suitcase for an important business trip. If you had room to take just one item (brand) with you in that suitcase, what would it be?

  1. Understand your audience - Understanding your audience is really important because they are the people you want to pay attention to your work and spread your ideas. Think about what types of organizations may require your skills or services and what their needs may be. You really need to figure out what companies or customers would be interested in what you have to offer because you can’t appeal to anyone. 
  2. Package your personal brand - Like it or not, superficial or not, people judge products (and people too) based in part on appearances. First impressions, as we have all been told, are huge. So what makes up the package of a person's brand? Here are a few items of your personal brand packing portfolio: Your website, social network platforms, business cards, personal style, speaking style, presentations. Even if you do work for an orgnization, it is perfectly alright (in fact, desirable) to create a brand identity that is separate from your employer.
  3. Communicate your brand - The best brand in the world is useless unless people are aware of it. Initiate an orchestrated campaign to "brandish" your brand. You can get your name out there by writing articles, speaking at association meetings, requesting to work on high-profile projects, serving on projects where you'll be seen by a number of people (i.e., handing out name-tags at a trade show meeting), cc-ing your boss's boss on significant emails/memos, and suggesting time-saving/money-saving ideas to your immediate employer. Throw modesty out the window? There is a fine line between bragging and promoting - and you need to learn it - but it's always better to err on the side of promoting your brand than not. 

One of the oldest tools of promotion for job seekers is the résumé, and you certainly need to start there by listing all your key accomplishments, skills and education on your résumé. You may even have your positioning statement (qualifications summary) on your resume … but don't stop there.  Begin developing two career portfolios - a print one and an online one.  One interesting trend I've seen is of employers "Googling" the names of prospective job seekers  -  typing each name into one or more Internet search engines - and basing initial candidate screening decisions partly on the number (and quality) of hits for each job seeker.

The lesson?  Your brand needs to have a strong online presence.  And finally, don't forget to promote your brand on the job. Employees often assume the boss knows their accomplishments, but often times s/he does not. Certainly at review time, have a list of all you have achieved since your last review, but also consider finding ways to let the boss know your successes throughout the year.

Your personal brand should always reflect your true character. Dig deep inside yourself and find out. “Be your own brand manager”, Smith advises. Don't be afraid to tweak your brand based on feedback from these forays. Once you identified and built your brand, remember to continue strengthening and protecting it. There will always be competing brands (job seekers) ready to fill any gap you leave behind. You are indeed founder and CEO of the Brand Me, Inc., and the more you do to cultivate your career brand, the more successful you'll be with your current employer and in the job-search.


 This article may be copied or republished with the following credit: Karl Smith, author and founder  of Business Networking South Africa.  " [email protected]"



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