The Biggest Rookie Error Job Seekers Make With Their Personal Brands

Making your brand stand out.

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Building your personal brand is not as simple as updating your resume and publishing some content on LinkedIn. To impress employers in 2018, you need to get more sophisticated.

Irene McConnell
4 min read

Earlier this year, I attended a branding conference in New York. During my flight there, I chatted casually with the woman sitting next to me.

We talked about travel, where we’re from and what we do for a living.

We got to know each other a bit.

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When it was time for me to share what I do for a living, my short answer—personal branding for executives—inspired, as it typically does, a barrage of questions.

I’ve come to expect it.

Unless you work in branding, HR or marketing it’s a confusing topic for most people. Over the years, I’ve found that examples shed more clarity than theory.

So, when I saw the blank look on her face, I knew I should start with the basics before bringing out the big guns.


As In, Branding 101.

My subsequent conversation with my flight mate went something like this: international travel is exhausting. But here we both are doing it, on a Virgin aircraft. So why did we each choose Virgin over the other airline brands?

Together, we talked through what we both find so unique and appealing about Virgin:

  • The soothing blue cabin lighting
  • The state-of-the-art entertainment center in each seat
  • The ease of ordering food and drink that is something you might actually want to eat and drink
  • The truly comfortable seats
  • The fun and entertaining safety videos that are always changing

My new friend concluded that all these great features are why we both flew Virgin. I agreed.


But With One Big Caveat.

A brand, I explained, is more than just a collection of features. In the end, what sets a brand apart from the rest is the collective experience it delivers to its customers.

The distinct feeling it imparts.

What if, I posited, we both chose Virgin because a trip with Virgin is like hanging out in a hip, comfortable lounge versus being crammed in a too-small seat at 40,000 feet?

For me, this is Virgin’s unique value proposition. With personal branding, the same principles apply. It’s just that you are the product. You’re the Virgin Australia, the Nike, the Apple.

Only the glitch is, you’re not quite as well-known as these brands. You don’t have the global equity … yet. It has to be built.


But You Get The Point.

And then it came: a broad smile of understanding. She got it.

I share this story because the experiential, feeling element of brand is really easy to forget. Modern life has us moving so fast that it’s far easier to pay attention to parts and pieces, while taking for granted the overall impression a brand makes on you.

So, you’re thinking, what about your brand?

If you’re unsure how to cultivate it, you’re not alone. Countless clients ask me that very question all the time.

More often than not, their natural tendency is to think that they need more tangibles. To strive for the end products—a stellar resume, a slick LinkedIn profile, a brilliant blog, or maybe even a personal website.

Then my personal brand will be established, they think. Maybe you’ve thought that, too.


We’ve All Been There.

While the tangibles are important it’s critical to remember that they are merely channels through which you communicate aspects of your brand.

First and foremost, as we called out for Virgin, you need to define your unique value proposition. Doing so takes commitment because it starts with a mental shift.

You need to stop thinking like a job seeker and start thinking like a marketer. And marketers ask certain key questions that may seem obvious, but the answers will provide powerful insight into defining the unique gifts you offer to the world.

Let’s start with 5 questions.


1. What Is Your Objective?

Answers to this could be something such as: find my finance dream job, get that promotion I’ve been after, or move my skills to a new industry. Create one that resonates with you strongly right now.


2. Who Is Your Target?

Think about whom you want network with, do business with, or work with/for. Be specific. You can’t be all things to all people.


3. What Is Your Unique Value?

Zero in on what you want to be known for. What do you do better than anything else? Where can you really make a difference?


4. What Is Your “Why”?

Ethnographer and leadership consultant Simon Sinek said that people don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.

Be confident about why you do what you do, and what gets you out of bed in the morning. If you need some inspiration, check out his famous TED Talk.


5. How Should Your Story Go?

Armed with your newfound clarity about your value and your purpose, how would you describe yourself?

Again, don’t try to be everything to everyone. Be clear about it. Sometimes it helps to pretend you’re describing someone else.

Take some quiet time and sit with this. Write out your answers. Tweak them relentlessly and lovingly. Synthesise it all into a couple of sentences at most. Share it with a few people you respect and trust.

If it still feels overwhelming, again, examples are always enlightening.

Below is the value proposition that drives my husband Steven’s personal brand:

I’m a digital wingman to bootstrapped startups; I specialise in helping them grow from $100K to $5m in revenue. Currently I’m the marketing director at Arielle and the business has grown on average 350% every year for the past 4 years.


Short, Sweet And Impactful.

It’s a prelude to a longer narrative. Not that yours will sound or feel anything like this. Yours will be unique to you.
Some final words of advice as you get going:

Remember, the swift pace of modern life is just waiting to distract you from the dogged pursuit of authentically defining your brand.

But trust me; don’t settle for trying to be someone or something you’re not. The slow-seeming effort of self-discovery will pay off in the end.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell said it best:

“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”


– Irene


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A thought provoking post and an interesting read Irene. Thank you.


Great post Irene. You have given me a different way to look at Personal Branding. Most of the posts online focus on the How-tos on personal branding – LinkedIn,blogging,etc.
But rarely an article talks about the questions one much ask before creating a brand.
You have nailed it!!

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