Fifteen years ago, professionals entered a job search armed with their resumes and professional reputation. And that was enough, thank you very much. Learning how to brand yourself was not part of the conversation.
Back then, only celebrities like Oprah and Bono thought about self-branding.
Those days are in the past, and personal branding is a crucial component of success in corporate careers and business activities.
Why Is Personal Branding Important?
Most people point to the Internet as the driver of the personal branding phenomenon.
But while the Internet certainly plays a part, larger economic and technological factors are also at play. Thomas Friedman, the author of the international bestseller The World Is Flat, explains it best:
Being average doesn’t cut it anymore – because employers have direct access to above-average, cheap foreign labour, robotics, software, automation, and genius.
What Is A Personal Brand?
Consider Jeff Bezos’s famous quote:
(Related: Complete Guide to Setting Career Goals).
It means you must invest time in creating your own personal brand — regardless of whether you’re an active job seeker or a passive one.
How To Brand Yourself Like A Pro.
A successful personal brand is built using layers of messaging across a number of platforms.
You must build your personal branding strategy from the inside out, as outer layers derive their strength from the inner layers.
Above: A successful personal brand starts by articulating your commercial value.
For example, writing content and building your social media presence is largely an exercise in futility – until you develop a Unique Selling Proposition (USP).
A successful personal brand doesn’t need to have all four layers in place to be effective. In fact, building the first two layers will give you a competitive advantage over 70% of your competition.
1. Your USP (Unique Selling Proposition).
A sound personal branding strategy begins by defining and articulating your unique point of difference in the market.
A crisp USP will set a north point for all your future personal branding activities and prevent you from creating an unfocused, meaningless, “everything to everyone” brand.
Above: Your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) exists at the interseciton of market needs, your innate curiosities and your track record of success.
To start creating yours, explore the intersection of market needs with your motivations and competencies. For example, you may be a B2B sales lead with:
- Curiosity about health tech stemming from your battle with chronic IBD.
- Competitive nature. If someone gives you a goal, you will find a way to beat it.
- Empathetic communication. You were one of 5 brothers with the smallest build, so you learned how to negotiate.
- 10-year track record in meeting or achieving sales goals.
I have written a comprehensive guide to creating your Unique Selling Proposition to help you create yours.
2. Your Resume.
I have seen A LOT of resumes in my lifetime.
Some are brilliant. Others are just okay. Most are disasters that focus on rehashing your qualifications, tenure, duties, and accomplishments.
This is not enough to position you as a superior candidate in today’s job market — especially at the senior management level.
A great resume will bring your USP to life, supporting it with relevant achievements and facts and tying them together into a cohesive story.
Furthermore, it has to follow contemporary design principles and use precise, crisp language to convey your career achievements in an engaging way.
In this sense, a great resume requires input from a number of disciplines and skillsets:
- Human resources.
- Digital marketing.
- Graphic design.
- UX (user experience).
While you can certainly have a crack at writing your own resume, you’ll get the best results with the help of a professional resume writer.
3. Your LinkedIn Profile.
Neglecting your LinkedIn profile is like neglecting to exercise: you can get away with it for a while, but doing so will lead to unpleasant long-term problems.
People often ask me why they need a LinkedIn profile. A resume is sufficient, right?
While your resume keeps a dry, corporate tone, LinkedIn offers room to expand on your USP and personal story, showcase your personality, and provide more context to your experience.
In the context of passive job search, your LinkedIn profile is the star of the show. Recruiters experience it as the first touchpoint of your personal brand. If they like what they see, they reach out and request a conversation, plus a copy of your resume.
4. Your Headshot.
Ah, photography. It’s a topic I’m passionate about, and is a key element of a successful personal brand.
The photograph on your LinkedIn profile is the digital equivalent of a business suit. It’s the first thing that people notice about you.
Would you walk into a job interview wearing a home-made suit, or one that’s wrinkly, stained, or ill-fitting?
Why, then, would you have a photograph on your LinkedIn profile that is amateurish, badly cropped, poorly lit, or dominated by tension and unease in your body language?
A headshot that helps elevate your personal brand is one that portrays you as:
- Friendly and approachable.
- Confident and present.
- Possessing gravitas and executive presence.
Nothing more, nothing less.
(Related: How to Nail the Corporate Dress Code).
5. Your Website.
Still a relative rarity among corporate professionals, I expect personal branding websites to become one of the highest points of leverage in the coming years.
A website offers your target audience yet another touchpoint for your personal brand and creates a strong foundation for your future content marketing efforts.
Both platforms offer dozens of attractive templates to get you started, and will host your website for as little as $20/month.
I strongly recommend that you hire a professional copywriter to help you create website copy:
- Use a freelancing platform like UpWork.
- Pay between $80 – $150 /hour for the best talent (don’t hire cheap copywriters).
- Provide them with your resume and LinkedIn profile.
- Schedule a discovery call to help them understand your career better.
- Set a time limit of between 10 and 15 hours, depending on the complexity of your career.
6. Blog Content & Social Media Presence.
Content and social media platforms work hand-in-hand in helping you build a strong personal brand.
If you write a blog post, and 10 well-connected people in your network read and share it, your personal brand can get exposure to an audience of thousands.
Think of blogging and sharing your content as public speaking – without the need to pick up a microphone. It helps you gain reach and build credibility.
What to write? Focus on creating stories that are both:
- Timely (explore major current events).
- Deep (unpack complexity and wrestle with nuance)
Here are a few examples that I would consider covering if I was looking to augment my personal brand with blog content:
- How Can Leaders Leverage ChatGPT To Increase Team Productivity By 30%?
- What Is The Impact Of The War In Ukraine On Australian Importers?
- Why RBA’s Monetary Policy Is Squeezing SaaS Sales Teams In 2024.
By publishing and sharing timely and deep blog content on your website and social media platforms, you demonstrate your ability to stay ahead of challenges and keep an eye on opportunities in your industry.
Before you hit “Publish” anywhere, ask yourself whether the piece you’ve just written passes the “New York Times” test.
In other words, would you like to see it published on the front page of the New York Times, with your name in the byline?
7. Paid Social Media Campaigns.
The final (and outer) layer in your personal branding strategy is paid social media advertising.
Perhaps the most famous example of paid outreach during job search is that of advertising copywriter Alec Brownstein, who ran a $0.15 pay-per-click Google Adwords campaign to land a job at a preeminent global advertising agency.
Knowing that most Art Directors regularly Google their own names, Brownstein created a campaign targeting one such individual. The ad said:
- Hey Ian Reichenthal.
- Googling yourself is a lot of fun.
- Hiring me is fun, too.
From the ad, he linked to his personal website.
While that worked in the advertising world, how can paid advertising on social media work across industries?
Let’s say you’re a CFO who has successfully managed a number of M&As over your career, and you’re ready for your next challenge.
Wouldn’t it be great to get a foot in the door with 50 C-level executives from ASX-listed companies to discuss whether opportunities exist and if you’re a good fit?
It’s quite possible. Here’s how:
- Block out 5 evenings.
- Use that time to write a comprehensive 20-page report, titled “How to Navigate M&A’s In 2024: Survival Guide for CEOs.” Draw on your experience. Include case studies. Share stories. Put your soul into it.
- Go on Fiverr.com and pay a graphic designer $300 to make it look professional.
- Upload it to your LinkedIn profile as a blog post.
- Create a paid LinkedIn advertising campaign, targeting all senior business leaders in Australia (or you can get very specific (e.g., all C-level executives at PwC in Sydney).
Run the campaign for 1 week. It should cost $300-$1,000.
After the campaign ends, check its statistics section. It will show you who shared the post, who liked it, and who commented on it. These are people you made an impression on.
Find them on LinkedIn and engage.
Be artful in your approach. In some instances, a direct InMail may be the best option. In other instances, you’ll need to warm the relationship up over time via comments.
There’s a considerable distance between this step and a job offer. This distance, however, is much easier to traverse if all of your personal branding elements are deployed.
Why Recruiters Care About Your Personal Brand.
In the recruiting world, there’s an old-school hiring method called “post and pray.” As in, you post a job ad and pray that the right candidate applies for the job.
This method is considered nearly obsolete by most modern recruiters, especially in the context of leadership and senior technical roles.
The process of sourcing candidates is becoming a sophisticated, drawn-out dance that has a lot more in common with old-fashioned relationship building than it does with placing bums in seats.
Whether or not candidates are actively looking for jobs doesn’t factor into recruiters’ decisions to woo them.
Once you accept this core truth, you can leverage it to your advantage by creating a strong personal brand – both online and offline.
(Related Article: 7 Best Resume Builders in Australia).
Frequently Asked Questions About Personal Brands.
Your personal brand is a living asset. An extension of your professional experience, goals and personality, it lives in the minds of your target audience and on online platforms they use to consume content.
What Is Personal Branding?
I’m currently reading a book called Start Something That Matters.
It’s the story of the man who started Toms Shoes — and I’m surprised at how effectively he captured the basic idea of personal branding, without ever using those words. Here’s a quote from him:
The answer is quite simple, then. Your personal brand is the story of how you want to contribute to the world, broadcast through leveraged means.
So, what’s your story?
Who Needs Personal Branding?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of workers turned to freelance work — and many will never look back.
If you belong to that group, learning how to create a personal brand is a must – because you will need to differentiate yourself and build strong, meaningful relationships centered around your value.
In fact, branding is valuable wherever a competitive edge is required — especially for executives, managers, consultants and people with highly technical backgrounds.
People who don’t need to work on their personal brands are those who are happy to plod along in their 9 to 5, punching the clock and doing the bare minimum.
(Related: How to Claim Your Home Office Expenses).
What Is The Right Target Audience For My Brand?
A great personal brand communicates your ability to solve a specific set of problems, for a specific type of person. If you aren’t clear on who you’re aiming your brand message at, you’re aiming too broadly.
Generic personal brands have a very short life expectancy.
If in doubt, narrow your focus.
- Example of weak focus: I help business leaders improve the performance of their teams.
- Example of strong focus: I help CTOs improve the efficiency of their offshore data centres.
Key Takeaway On How To Brand Yourself.
The biggest mistake I see people make with their personal brands is not having a clear strategy.
Most people approach the process of building a personal brand haphazardly: they create a LinkedIn profile, write a blog post or, perhaps, send out a few Tweets.
These activities feel like progress, but are a waste of time in reality. Without a structure and strategic focus, they don’t add up to a successful personal brand.
Follow the roadmap in my guide to create a strong, sustainable brand.
I’ll leave you with this quote from Polish entrepreneur Matthew Capala:
Find your extra.