Graduates: Some Important Tips for Building Your Personal Brand

A hot topic in recent months, perhaps due to the pandemic and sudden interest in pursuing new job and career opportunities, seems to be “building a personal brand.” We work with a wide range of entrepreneurs, independent consultants and others who are adept at building what they refer to as their “thought leadership.” In truth, though, what they’re really doing, is building their personal brands. We help them do that and we also speak and write regularly about the topic.

Building your personal brand doesn’t start after you’ve already established yourself in your career, or at least it shouldn’t. As we like to say “your reputation precedes you.” And, for good or ill, it precedes you whether you’ve been paying attention or not.Just as with a company or product brand, you are what you are. Nurturing the personal brand you desire is something that really needs to begin long before you’re entrenched in a job or career; in fact, starting while still in school is a very, very good idea.

As You’re Entering the Job Market…

As graduates around the country enter the job market, during a very difficult and challenging economic climate, they’re obviously concerned about starting out on the right foot and taking steps to immediately make their mark. This is an important time to think about building their personal brands if they haven’t been doing so already.

Here We Offer a 5-Step Process for Doing That

Determine how you would like to be perceived—e.g. your “brand attributes”

You’re in the job market, and the companies you’ve applied to are likely going to be conducting reference checks on you, not only talking to the people whose names you’ve given them but also to others who know you. When they reach out to people you didn’t specifically put on your list, what are they likely to say about you?

What would you want them to say about you?

That wish list of what you’d like them to say represents your desired brand attributes. Those attributes, collectively, represent your personality or brand. The question is: how closely is your desired brand aligned with your actual brand.

Measure how you are actually perceived

Whether we’re talking about a product brand or a person’s brand, it’s defined by others. While we may come up with a list of attributes we’d like to be known for, what we’re actually known for may vary significantly from this list. It’s important, therefore, to take the time to determine exactly how you are perceived.

For individuals, this might involve asking trusted friends or colleagues, taking self-assessments (and asking others to also provide input via these assessments), reviewing performance evaluations and 360-degree feedback, etc.

Identify the gaps

Once you’ve gathered input, the next step is to determine how your desired brand attributes differ from how others perceive you. In what areas are you perceived as not having a certain attribute? For instance, if one of your desired brand attributes is to be viewed as an expert communicator, but your 360-evaluations provide you with low scores in communication, you have a gap. You’ll never achieve brand alignment until you close that gap!

In some cases, you may decide that a gap is too large to attempt to overcome and that other attributes might be more important to you. In other cases, you may find that you score very well for certain attributes and don’t need to spend a lot of time/effort on those attributes. You may also learn about attributes that you are perceived for that you hadn’t thought about. Whatever the case, you will want to identify and prioritize areas of focus that you will commit to working on over time.

Take steps to close the gaps you’ve identified

Now comes the hard part. Making changes to adjust elements of your actions, behaviors, interactions to be consistent with your desired brand.

In terms of closing gaps, what is generally required to establish a strong brand is consistency across all channels and touchpoints. This is true for individuals, as it is for businesses. It can be more challenging for individuals, though, because their brands are built both in professional and personal settings. For instance, if you want to be viewed as a “serious academic” you’re not going to be able to successfully build your brand if, in your private life, you spend a lot of time partying, dressing in an unprofessional manner, using a lot of slang/profanity, etc.

Brands, including personal brands, are built over time through focus, consistency, and alignment.

Measure again in 12-18 months

Brands are not static. They change based on a variety of factors that will include both your own personal actions as well as the changing perceptions and values of others. For instance, prior to the pandemic, a high-touch individual who loved to greet friends and business colleagues alike with big hugs and touched others frequently to express agreement or support would likely have been viewed very positively in many circles. For now, at least, that’s likely to have changed in most business settings.

Your brand will change and fluctuate over time. Your desired brand may also change and fluctuate. It’s important to continually evaluate, revise, review and refocus on your brand. Importantly, of course, just like with a product brand you need to “be the brand you are.” Don’t attempt to change the core of who you are. Work with who you are, who you really are, to identify the strengths you have that will support a strong personal brand. That’s the only way to ensure that you, and others, will be really comfortable with your brand.

In corporate and product branding we call this “living the brand promise.” With personal brands we’d call this “living our best lives.”

About Us

Strategic Communications, LLC, works with B2B clients to help them achieve their goals through effective content marketing and management with both internal and external audiences. We work with clients to plan, create and publish high-quality, unique content. Whether on- or offline, or both, we’ll help you achieve desired results.

(Strategic Communications is certified as a Woman-Owned Business Enterprise through the Wisconsin Department of Administration.)

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