Fifteen years ago, professionals entered job search armed with their resume and their professional reputation. And that was enough, thank you very much.
Back then, only celebrities like Oprah and Bono thought about how to brand themselves.
Those days are in the past.
Personal branding, we’re being told, is a crucial component of success – and learning how to brand yourself is vital if you want to rise through the ranks in an increasingly cutthroat job market.
Why The Sudden Change?
Most people point to the Internet as the driver of the personal branding phenomenon.
The Internet certainly plays a part, however there are larger economic and technological factors at play. Thomas Friedman, the author of the international bestseller The World Is Flat, explains it best:
In the past, workers with average skills, doing an average job, could earn an average lifestyle. But, today, average is officially over. Being average just won’t earn you what it used to.
It can’t, when so many more employers have so much more access to so much more above average cheap foreign labor, cheap robotics, cheap software, cheap automation and cheap genius.
Therefore, everyone needs to find their extra — their unique value contribution that makes them a clearly superior choice in the eyes of employers.
Average Is Over.
Within that context, consider Jeff Bezos’s famous quote:
Your personal brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.
And, ironically, you’re not in the room when a recruiter or a hiring manager looks at your resume for the first time.
It means you need to aside some time to brand yourself – regardless of whether you’re currently looking for jobs (an active seeker), or are simply open to a better opportunity if it comes along (a passive seeker).
Your personal brand is the unique set of qualifications, strengths, key personal attributes, values, and passions representing your promise of value to your target audience or, in the case of job seekers, your target employers.
How Recruitment Is Changing.
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.
Whether or not candidates are actively looking for jobs doesn’t factor into recruiters’ decisions to woo them.
For you, it means you’re competing for opportunities even when you’re not in the job market.
If you understand this nuance of modern recruitment landscape you can leverage it to your advantage. And it begins with knowing how to brand yourself – both online and offline.
How To Brand Yourself Like A Pro.
A fully deployed, highly effective personal brand consists of four interdependent layers.
It’s time for you to meet the Personal Branding Onion:
Each layer is home to one or more personal branding components.
In a moment I’ll describe each of the components in detail. However, before I do, I need to make this point:
Outer layers derive their strength from the inner layers.
It’s critical, then, that you systematically build your personal branding strategy from the inside – and move outwards. Failure to follow this principle will lead to poor results and a waste of resources.
For example, writing content and building your social media presence is largely an exercise in futility until you have understood and articulated unique value proposition (UVP).
Without the context provided by a well-defined UVP, you have no north point for your personal branding activity. This leads to content which is “everything to everyone” and social media activity which doesn’t result in useful connections.
Apart from helping you attract the right opportunities, make you more competitive and position you as a candidate of choice and a thought leader, a crisp UVP will set the context for all your future personal branding activity.
It will help you decide what you should focus on and – more importantly – what you should ignore.
Your UVP is more than just an insight into your background.
It’s a brand promise which speaks into needs of business decision-makers; it positions you as someone who uniquely understands their commercial realities and has the capacity to solve their deepest problems.
2. Your Resume.
I have seen A LOT of resumes in my lifetime.
Some are brilliant. Others are just OK. Most are disasters. Most resumes are written to communicate your qualifications, tenure, career progression, duties and accomplishments.
Also, in the context of passive job search, the process works in reverse: your LinkedIn profile is often the first touchpoint of your personal brand with recruiters. If they like what they see, they might request your resume.
4. Your Headshot.
Ah, photography. It’s a topic I’m passionate about, and one which I wish more people paid attention to when branding themselves.
Why, then, would you have a photograph on your LinkedIn profile that is amateurish, is badly cropped, poorly lit and is dominated by an expression of your tension and unease?
A great headshot is one where you appear:
Friendly and approachable.
Confident and present.
At the right level of seniority.
Nothing more, nothing less.
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 2020.
A personal branding website provides yet another touchpoint for your personal brand and creates a strong foundation for your future content marketing efforts.
A website is also usually the most expensive element in one’s personal branding mix.
While it’s certainly possible to build a low-cost website using platforms like Wix or Squarespace, I’m yet to see a good-looking, functional end result produced with their help.
If you decide to use one of these platforms, hire a web designer. A DIY job typically leads to ordinary results.
6. Content & Social Media Presence.
Content and social media work hand-in-hand to help you brand yourself.
One article, written by you, and shared by 100 people in your network, then shared by just 50 of their followers places your brand in front of 5,000 professionals.
It’s public speaking without the need to pick up a microphone. Beyond reach, a strong content and social media strategy builds credibility.
By publishing content, you can show what you know about current challenges, opportunities, and analyses from your industry or function.
Content allows you to engage with peers, influencers and decision-makers, whilst building awareness of your personal brand.
In order to be successful, your content must speak to your audience’s needs, interests and pain points. Make sure you decide on who your audience is before you begin publishing.
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?
If your answer is “no”, continue editing. Don’t add noise. Add value.
To help you brand yourself, your content needs to make a difference to your niche. It must distil original ideas, stimulate discussion and provide context on topics of interest to your audience.
7. Paid Social Media Campaigns.
The final (and outer) circle to my personal branding “onion” is paid social media promotion.
Knowing that most Art Directors regularly Google their own names, Brownstein created a targeted campaign targeting the 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 outreach 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 whether 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 document, titled “How To Navigate M&A’s Successfully: Essential 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 $100 to make it look professional.
Upload it to your LinkedIn profile as a post.
Create a paid LinkedIn advertising campaign, targeting all senior business leaders in Australia (or you can be really specific – e.g., all C-level executives at PwC in Sydney).
Run the campaign for 1 week. It should cost $300-$500, depending on targeting.
After the campaign ends, check its statistics section. It will show you who shared the post, who liked it and who commented on it. If someone did that, you have probably made an impression on them.
Do your homework – who are they? What company are they at? What challenges are their companies dealing with at the moment?
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.
This method, of course, merely gets you in the door.
There’s still a considerable distance between that point and a job offer. This distance, however, is much easier to traverse if all of your personal branding elements are deployed.
It’s a 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:
“If someone is interested in hiring you, or consulting with you, or joining your business, or even dating you, he or she will go online and Google you. Your Facebook page or your Tumblr or your Flickr feed will appear, and if they’re not compelling, if they don’t offer opportunities for others to feel a connection to your story, it will be very hard to stand out.”
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?
Ideally, Who Needs Personal Branding?
Studies show that in 10 years 30% of us will switch to contract or freelance work. A large proportion of the rest will try to start a business.
If it sounds like you might belong to that group, learning how to brand yourself is a must because you will need to differentiate yourself from the competition and build strong, meaningful relationships which are centered around delivering value.
This is not to say personal branding is not useful to people who wish to remain full-time, salaried employees.
To the contrary, it’s valuable wherever a competitive edge is required – specifically for executives, managers, people with a highly technical background and so on.
The one type of person who doesn’t need a personal brand is one who is happy to plod along in their 9 to 5, punching the clock and doing the bare minimum. Of course, they probably won’t have a job in 10 years – they just don’t know it yet.
Is It Essential For Me To Learn How To Brand Myself?
It’s only essential for employees who want to future-proof their careers, who seek to leverage digital technology to present themselves with excellent job opportunities and – most importantly – who view work as an opportunity to build something (not just collect a paycheck).
Final Point About Branding Yourself.
The biggest mistake I see people make with their personal brands is a lack of strategy.
Most people approach branding haphazardly: they create a LinkedIn profile, write a blog post or, perhaps, send out a few Tweets.
While doing this may seem like progress, in reality it’s usually a waste of time. Without a structure and a strategic focus, these activities don’t help you build your personal brand. I suggest you follow the steps outlined in this guide to learn how to brand yourself in a systematic, effective way.
I’ll leave you with this quote from Polish entrepreneur Matthew Capala: