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Your Personal Brand

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In today’s world, we can’t really have a discussion about the job search, applying for graduate/professional school, pursuing an independent career path, or any other career-related activity without also considering the critical concept of your personal brand.

At its essence, your personal brand is the outward expression of who you are and who you aspire to be. It’s how you choose to show up in the professional world, how others perceive you, and what you are known for.

The question is: What do you want to be known for? And how can you tell your story in a way that communicates this message or image?

You are the only person who can manage your brand. So you need to be thoughtful, and even strategic, about how you present yourself—in person, on paper, and online.

Your Brand in Person

As you go about the various face-to-face activities involved in the job search, the graduate/professional school application process, or the pursuit of your own career path, keep these tips in mind about how you develop and present your brand in person:

  • Research the organization(s) you’re interested in to evaluate the norms and expectations for that unique setting. What it means to present yourself professionally can vary greatly.
  • Choose clothing options that reflect your desired personal brand, make you feel confident, and respect the cultural norms and expectations of the setting you are engaged with. Networking with professionals and researching employers in your career field of interest are great ways to identify the cultural norms around attire that you might expect to encounter. 
  • Be aware of the cultural norms and expectations around time. In some settings, this means showing up early for meetings, prepared to contribute, whereas in other situations people take a more relaxed approach to time.
  • To fully engage with people and make a great impression, minimize distractions in the workplace, including your use of cell phones, social media, email, etc. (which could be misread by others as a lack of engagement on your part).

Your Brand on Paper

Your printed documents, like your résumé and cover letter, communicate a message beyond the words themselves. Here are some essential tips to remember about managing your personal brand on paper:

  • Make sure your written documents are clear and easy to understand. Don’t use “text speak” (e.g., writing in all lower-case letters, abbreviating terms, using emojis, etc.). Proofread your documents, and when necessary make sure they are well-researched.
  • Utilize formatting techniques (e.g., font size/style, spacing, bolding, italicizing, underlining, and/or capitalization) to strategically emphasize key information.
  • Customize job search documents like résumés and cover letters so that they are targeted specifically to the people you’re sending them to. Generic, one-size-fits-all documents tell recipients, in effect: “I don’t care enough about you or what you’re looking for to bother addressing your needs in particular.”

Your Brand Online

What will a prospective employer, admissions representative, business funder, or other key decision maker find on your Instagram account … or Facebook feed … or Twitter feed … or [tomorrow’s social media sensation]? What will they uncover via a simple Google search, or on LinkedIn?

Here are some key considerations to think about when it comes to managing your personal brand online:

  • Be intentional about any images, content, and communications you use. Choose visuals that demonstrate the qualities you want to be known for.
  • Utilize the “Summary” or “About Me” section of, say, your LinkedIn profile to share highlights from your personal and professional background that you want others to know.
  • Watch everything you say and portray, and assume it can be viewed by people besides your close friends. Nothing is truly “private.” Google yourself—what do you find?
  • Monitor everything that others say and portray about you, too. (Note: This includes how you are tagged in photos or posts by others.)
  • Ask for feedback from others and determine if these impressions are consistent with your goals.

Keep in mind, too, that there is another side to consider—a more proactive, positive perspective—when it comes to your personal brand online, particularly in the context of social media. You can work hard to leverage your online presence as well; to develop and present material that enhances your brand and makes you more “known” among the people in your chosen field.

For instance:

  • You can be active on LinkedIn, sharing articles that will appeal to others in your network and in your field of interest. 
  • You could write a blog that focuses on some aspect(s) of your chosen field, offering your unique perspective and inviting others to contribute theirs through comments and/or guest posts.
  • You could offer to manage the Facebook page of your student organization, perhaps engaging with prospective employers in the process. (If an employer is coming to campus to present to your group, for example, you’ll be the one helping promote the event—and therefore working directly with the employer to do so.)
  • You could create a Twitter account where you post tweets commenting on articles or other news items related to your field.

Your personal brand will always be a complex work in progress, evolving as you evolve, and as your interests, Core Career Competencies, related skills, and values develop. 

Just make sure you’re the one managing your brand, so that “what you’re known for” is something you’ll be proud of—and something that will help you reach your career goals.