When it comes to brand, many people think of consumer brands: Apple, Coke, Google, Nike.
But in an age dominated by the internet and social media, almost everyone has their own personal brand, too.
Your personal brand is how you appear to the world. When you’re a jobseeker, your brand exists whether or not you consciously cultivate it.
And just as you form associations about Kmart or Calvin Klein, the outside world – including potential employers – forms associations with you based on what they read and hear about you.
So, are you ready to start polishing your personal brand? Here are three essential steps to get you started:
1. Create a vision for yourself
There are seven billion people in the world. And hundreds, if not thousands, of people with whom you’re potentially competing for your dream job. How will you differentiate yourself from them?
a. Who are you?
Start by determining and writing down your values – these are the core principles that drive your life, define who you are and help you make decisions. Consider the people, feelings and situations that make you happy – do you value friends? Family? Ambition? Fame? Money? Social justice? Sustainabililty? Security?
Next, rank these in order of priority. Sooner or later, you’ll face a decision that puts your values at odds, so it’s important to know which mean the most to you. You might be surprised at which ones you decide are more important – for example, your career might be very important to you, but when ordering your priorities, you now realise you value family more.
Third, identify your passions – what intrigues and interests you? What would you do even if you weren’t getting paid for it? This can point you to where you’ll be happiest spending your time – although it’s not always something that will lead you to a job that can support you financially.
Finally, ask your loved ones what their perception of you is, and what they think your traits, values and passions are. While others’ opinions of you shouldn’t be taken as gospel, how you’re seen to be aligning with your values and passions forms a key part of your personal brand.
b. Where do you want to go?
With the knowledge of who you are, you can now consider where you want to go. Start by defining the aspects of your life that have been rewarding – what are the common threads throughout your life and jobs that have brought you joy?
For example, perhaps you hated a string of hospitality jobs throughout uni – but you got a thrill from talking to customers and solving problems for them. Create a list of these things, breaking them up into narrow categories until a clear theme emerges.
With that in mind, create an ideal career ending for your life. Working backwards, write down how you see your career panning out, being as specific as possible. Using the example above, you may have figured you’d like to work with people – but by narrowing things down, it’s now clear you’d like to be a social worker at a humanitarian organisation.
It’s unlikely you’ll jump straight from where you are now to your ideal ending, so you’ll next need to figure out the in-between steps. If you’re dreaming of a role at a high-profile organisation like Greenpeace, for example, you might need to start off as a volunteer and work your way up. And bear in mind that there might be multiple paths to your ending!
Now, compare the vision against your values. Does your ideal career complement the values you identified earlier? For example, if you identified family as a primary value earlier, you might find your ideal career requires you to spend considerable amounts of time away from them, and you’ll need to reassess.
2. Define your ‘target audience’
Whether you realise it or not, you’re selling something to someone – and if you’re a jobseeker, you’re selling yourself to a potential employer. Beyond that, you’re selling yourself to a community of people built from peers, influencers and employers, who can all be assets to you in different ways.
But you’re not aiming your personal brand at all these people. Knowing exactly who your audience is makes it easier to communicate the brand message you established in Step 1.
Because they’re essentially in charge of the next step in your career, set your sights on your current or future boss to help you achieve your vision.
Whether they’re in another organisation you can identify, or if they’re your current boss or even just a hypothetical boss, create a complete description of the person. Write down details like (likely) name, age, gender, and the daily tasks you think they perform at work. You might need to do some research to find this out – LinkedIn profiles can probably tell you much of this, but you could also consider lining up an ‘informational interview‘, too.
Then, identify their motivations – helping them achieve their goals can be an effective way to achieve your own. For example, if your target audience is your current boss, then their motivation might be moving up the organisational hierarchy, or creating a fantastic team they’re really proud of.
Knowing and understanding your target audience and their motivations will help you to identify how you can best appeal to them as a jobseeker.
3. Build your online and offline assets
If you’re serious about presenting your best self to potential employers, you need to shape your personal brand through both your online and offline ‘assets’.
Online assets will be your LinkedIn profile, your Twitter or Facebook pages, and a website or blog if you have one – or if they would be helpful to create. Offline assets could be your business card (if you have one), your appearance and clothes, and, of course, your CV.
Employers often use candidates’ online assets to inform their recruitment and hiring decisions – and if you fail to keep them up-to-date and on brand, it could mean the difference between landing an interview and ending up on the rejection heap.
Start with social media. To present a consistent and professional front, use the same handle across all social media platforms. Use something simple and easy to identify – like your full name – doing your best to ensure you don’t limit yourself in case you decide to diversify later on.
It’s also generally best to focus your efforts on your LinkedIn profile, because it’s where potential employers will likely look first.
There’s lots of ways to use LinkedIn to build your brand – show your personality by sharing any projects, articles or photos you’ve created; garner professional recommendations by first giving them to your colleagues; or join and participate in groups relevant to your field of work.
Setting up a Twitter account and sharing work-related content is another easy way to build your brand as someone engaged with your sector or field of work.
You could also create a blog that showcases your knowledge and understanding of the issues facing your sector. For some professions, having a website or blog is non-negotiable these days – for example, if you’re a copywriter with the dream to work in comms for Greenpeace, you’ll want to have an online repository for your work.
Even if your job has little to do with writing – if you’re a fundraiser, an admin assistant or mental health worker, for instance – a blog in which you present your unique point of view on your work and sector can be a powerful way to show a potential employer how deeply you think about and understand the area you work in.
Finally, consider your offline assets.
If you don’t already have a business card, consider getting one designed and printed. Even in today’s digital age, an old-school business card is a sign of a prepared and professional job seeker – and it can also help you make good in-person connections with the right people.
Your business card should be clean and concise, with your contact information appearing prominently. If you have a LinkedIn profile, a blog or a Twitter account you’re proud of, don’t forget them, either.
Next, move on to consider how your lifestyle – how much you sleep and exercise and how healthily you eat – affects your appearance and personal brand.
Research shows your appearance and behaviour have a significant bearing on how others perceive you. So stay active, take steps to reduce stress in your life, and adhere to a daily routine when it comes to things like sleep patterns and quality of eating.
While it may first strike you as too much effort, your personal brand is an issue for every jobseeker. In a world where competition is increasingly fierce and information is readily available, can you afford to leave your personal brand to chance?
This post is based on a tool published by QuickSprout.
Other posts you might be interested in:
- Doing a job you love will help you to live longer – here’s why
- 30 moves to shake up your career
- When it makes sense to quit your job (hint: it’s in your 20s)