Make no mistake. In today’s job search landscape, personal branding is required . . . It is no longer optional.
Executive recruiters and other hiring professionals may review the LinkedIn profiles and resumes of thousands of candidates for any given job. They often find themselves drowning in a sea of sameness. Few candidates stand out.
The wise job seeker knows that the more clearly and compellingly they can describe their overall good fit for the job and the employer, the better their chances to be noticed and contacted for interviews.
That means they need to clearly communicate to hiring professionals and their network(s) how their hard and soft skills are in sync, and how this combination of skills and personal qualities make them a good hiring choice.
And that’s what personal branding is all about.
When I began writing about it in 2007, it was a relatively new concept.
Back then, there was much resistance and outright bashing of personal branding.
Thousands of talking heads and self-professed experts pounded us with misinformation, adding to the confusion about personal branding.
But savvy job seekers and others began, little by little, to embrace branding and its value in positioning themselves as a good-fit for target employers.
And nowadays, personal branding is hitting home with more people. It’s becoming more embedded in the fabric of healthy career management, job search and personal marketing.
But even now, misinformation about personal branding abounds.
Let’s take a look at the various aspects of personal branding, including how to define it and how to use it for job search.
Click on any of the links below to go directly to that section:
Is Personal Branding the Same Thing As Bragging?
If you think that personal branding is the same thing as bragging, so it’s not for you, think again.
It’s not bragging. Branding helps you educate people about the unique value you offer.
More misguided notions about personal branding that people continue to believe
They still think:
- “It’s a fancy word for narcissism.”
- “It’s shameless self-publicity.”
- “It’s a sham. One thing can’t define you in all contexts of your life.”
- “Since it’s just a passing fad, branding will be replaced by the next best thing.”
- “It’s merely a nifty tagline for a resume and email signature.”
- “It’s the way to become famous.”
No wonder the true meaning and the means to develop your brand may still be a mystery.
The Definition of Personal Branding
The History of Personal Branding
The person most often credited with inventing personal branding was Tom Peters, in a 1997 FastCompany article, where he wrote:
Although Peters put a name to the practice of personal marketing, the roots of personal branding stem from the convergence of two trends decades before that:
With massive layoffs in the 1970’s, employer loyalty to their employees began shattering. Employees could no longer count on lifelong or even long-term employment with one company.
As a result of this shift, employees became empowered to take responsibility for their careers and re-examine the purpose of work.
The idea that they had to market themselves to potential employers, in much the same way that products are marketed, began to gain traction.
What Influencers Have To Say About Personal Branding
Here’s what some other well-known experts had to say:
You Don’t Create a Personal Brand. You Define and Refine the One You Already Have
I have to disagree with Dave Buck when he says “you create a compelling brand”.
It makes me cringe when I see someone advise people to “create” their personal brand.
The beauty thing about personal branding: You already have a brand.
It’s always been with you, and it’s always been ingrained in those who know you best . . . at work, in your personal life, anywhere.
If you’ve been in the world any amount of time, you have a reputation.
Your brand is all about that reputation. We’re all known for certain things (passions, strengths, values, skills, personal attributes, etc.) that people rely on us to always deliver.
When you’re in job search mode, your brand needs to be wrapped around the qualities and qualifications you have that the employers you’re targeting are look for in candidates.
“Defining” your brand more precisely describes the critical process of identifying, differentiating and communicating what makes you unique and valuable in the job market . . . or in any other capacity.
It’s up to you to identify what things about you make you a good hire and communicate (verbally and in writing) why and how those things will benefit the employers you want to work for.
Get feedback from others to define your brand
If you’re working on building your brand, and you’re not sure how others perceive you, you’re neglecting a critical piece in the branding process.
When you think about contributions you’ve made that have benefitted your employers, you begin to get an idea of what it is about you that translates to value.
But your own assessment is just one opinion, and doesn’t paint the whole picture.
You need to solicit and assess feedback from those who know you and your work best – peers, managers, staff, employees, clients, mentors, etc.
Things To Love About Your Personal Brand
Here’s what defining and communicating your brand does for you:
- Helps you reconnect with your values and passions so that you can move toward working your passion.
- Empowers you to gain clarity about your authentic self and the combination of gifts, skills, passions, and values that differentiates your unique promise of value.
- Helps you identify your competition and target audience, so that you can create differentiating personal marketing communications designed to resonate with them.
- Helps you take control of your identity and the way you’re perceived by others.
- Generates chemistry for you and helps people assessing you determine whether you possess the good-fit qualities they’re looking for.
- Your personal brand can be the deciding factor in landing a plum job or advancing your career.
Define and Embrace Your Personal Brand
Here’s what goes into defining and building a memorable personal brand:
- Targeting and research
- Differentiation of your unique value proposition
The first steps are critical. You need to:
- Target specific employers who will provide the kind of work you want . . . in the place and environment that you want.
- And then research those select employers to uncover the specific reasons they need you and for your due diligence on them as employers.
This is the only way you’ll know how to present yourself (in writing and in person) as a good fit candidate.
Your mission is to position yourself as someone who will help these employers solve specific problems.
Use my worksheets for personal branding and job search to do these first steps, and to develop the personal brand content you’ll use for your resume, LinkedIn profile, bio, cover letters and other job search materials.
Everyone Deserves To Work Their Passion
Knowing and communicating your personal brand helps move you toward working your passion.
Does the following quote hit home with you? Does it shake you up a little and make you want to rethink your next career move?
If your career path has been unsatisfying for years, maybe it’s time to reconsider continuing to walk down the same path and look into a career change.
Do you fear taking that first big step to pursue your passion and get paid for work you truly love doing?
Or do you think you’re too old, and it’s too late for you to strike out in a new direction?
LinkedIn News’ Senior Editor Andrew Seaman believes there are two universal truths in job search and career:
- Every person should be able to dictate their relationship with work.
- Every person can have a job that fulfills their needs.
He says that finding career fulfillment begins with aligning your life’s mission with your job:
“The basis of mission alignment is pretty simple. You take time to find out what you want to accomplish with your life at this moment. Then, you find how your job helps achieve that mission.
You may want to help prevent or slow climate change by introducing more people to green technology, for example. You may think that a mission like that would require you to stand on a busy street corner with a bullhorn shouting about the evils of carbon emissions. You can do that if you want, but it’s obviously not going to put food on your family’s table.
Be realistic about your missions. You can work in sales to get more solar panels installed on residential houses. Heck, you can work at factories that manufacture solar panels. You can work for an electric car company. You can work to reduce the carbon footprint of your current company. There are so many possibilities. Just remember that you don’t have to be on the front lines to make a difference. You could be playing a supporting role with an equally big impact.”
Three steps to work your passion
Communication coach Dorie Clark has advice on safeguarding ourselves and our careers against uncertainty:
- Evaluate how you’re spending your time
- Remember what got you started
- Ask: What kind of person do you want to be?
Be Authentic with Personal Branding
Emerson’s sentiment is at the core of personal branding.
Telling people who you truly are helps them understand your unique value better, and can accelerate your job search.
Personal brand helps you do that.
But instead of differentiating themselves, some job seekers are convinced that sameness is the way to go.
They think it’s best for their job search materials to read just like the other guys’.
The content they’re comfortable with is flat.
None of their personality is evident.
They support this decision by stating that sameness worked for them the last time they were job hunting . . . more than ten years ago.
They don’t understand that they need to be authentic to succeed in today’s job search.
They forget (or don’t grasp the fact) that sameness will not help employers and hiring decision makers distinguish them from the pack.
They forget why branding in job search is no longer optional:
- Without branding, they will have a hard time standing out from everyone else.
- Without branding, they will have a hard time positioning and marketing their ROI (Return on Investment).
- Without branding, they will have a hard time articulating that ROI when networking and interviewing.
- Without branding, they will have a hard time landing a good fit job . . . trailing their competitors who DID embrace branding.
Get Personal Branding into Your Resume
Since branding is no longer optional it stands to reason that branding your resume is no longer optional either.
Along with the all-important hard skills or areas of expertise, companies are looking for vitality, good fit, and personal chemistry in candidates. Branding generates chemistry and makes you come alive on the paper, digital, and web page.
All too often I see resumes that look and read like the ones I was writing 15-20 years ago.
If you’re sticking to a resume with the same look and kind of content you’ve been using for decades, you’re probably in trouble.
People assessing you through your resume will probably peg you as older right off the bat, and that could increase your chances of experiencing age discrimination.
It’s time to modernize your resume for today’s job search.
A great resume today is not the same as one from a decade ago
Here’s one of the things many job seekers don’t understand about today’s resume:
For many years resumes consisted of a chronological list of jobs with some responsibilities thrown in.
Education, training, honors, and other distinguishing information followed the professional experience section. Sometimes an objective statement or brief generic summary might lead the resume.
Today, and for a long time now, a resume needs to market the candidate by reinforcing what makes her potentially valuable to the employer. It needs to convey personality, so employers will get a feel for how she works with others, and if she’ll fit with the company’s culture.
The easier a resume makes it for an employer to connect the dots between the candidate’s qualifications and abilities, and what their unique needs are, the better the resume will work.
This also means that the formatting of the resume needs to be attractive and reader-friendly, with important points highlighted to draw the eye to them.
With all of this in mind, you can see that merely tweaking your old-fashioned resume from 10 years ago probably won’t cut it.
Tips to write a resume for today’s job search
As you’re reading my tips below, be aware that they mostly apply to the highly-formatted “pretty” version of your resume that you’ll use while networking your way into jobs.
This is designed for human readers.
You’ll also need a plain, unadorned (or ATS-friendly) resume version when you apply for posted jobs. Applicating Tracking Systems, or software, is used to match candidates to job openings.
Here are several resume writing tips:
- Do some research and information-mining before you start writing.
- Customize your resume for each employer or job.
- Be empathetic towards the people reading your resume.
- Don’t include things in your resume that don’t belong there.
- Keep all the content focused on what makes you a good hiring choice for that particular employer.
- Make it an interesting read.
- Get your personality and soft skills in there by building in personal branding throughout.
- Modernize and optimize it.
- Don’t write about yourself in generic terms. Be specific.
- Streamline your resume header.
- Lead your achievement statements with the WOW result.
- Don’t rely on boring, anemic resume clichés.
- Include how you navigated work challenges during the pandemic.
- Tell the truth and tell your own story!
- Make it eye-catching, impactful and easy to read.
- Don’t cram in information.
- De-emphasize or explain employment gaps.
- Don’t include certain personal or irrelevant information.
- Sync your resume and LinkedIn profile.
- Use storytelling to help people better relate to and connect with you.
Pay special attention to what lands above the fold in your resume
Remember that busy executive recruiters and hiring decision makers typically allow only 10 seconds or so for a resume to draw them in. They may read no further than the top part of the first page when screening your resume.
You need to capture and hold their attention right there, and compel them to want to read the entire document.
Solution: Brand yourself above the fold.
As much as possible, make that section stand on its own as your calling card. Some suggestions for above the fold branding:
- Generate chemistry by balancing your personality with your hard skills, or relevant keywords.
- Add a powerful quote from a recent performance review or someone you work with.
- Include 3 or 4 value-driven bulleted statements with metrics.
- Instead of just including keywords here, provide an example of how you benefitted the company by using that area of expertise of yours.
Create Your Personal Brand Statement for Networking
As you reach out to your existing network and to new people to expand your network – whether in person or virtually – you need to be able to clearly and succinctly state what kind of roles you’re seeking and which employers you’re targeting.
The more specific you are, the easier it will be for people to see how they can help you.
And you need to be sure your brand and value proposition are abundantly clear.
Create brand messaging to use when you email, text or call people.
Some people call this a personal brand statement. Some call it an elevator pitch.
You may find it easy to tell people about your hard skills but, if you’re like many job seekers, you forget about the personal or personality piece of your personal brand.
- Without the personal, your brand statement is not much more than an anemic job description, stringing together functional areas of expertise.
- Without the personal, your brand statement probably reads about the same as your job seeking competitors’, and doesn’t help people see what makes you stand out above the rest.
- Without the personal, it’s difficult to generate chemistry around your good-fit qualities.
As I noted earlier, personal branding is not about sameness. It’s all about differentiation.
To get to the “personal”, ask yourself questions like these:
- What are you known as the go-to person for?
- What drives you? What things are you most passionate about at work?
- What words do people use when they introduce you?
- What differentiates you from others who do the same work – your competition in the job market?
- What combination of things do you offer that no one else does?
My personal branding worksheets, noted above, will help you dig deep to create a brand statement that makes an impact.
Get Personal Branding into Your LinkedIn Profile
You need to get busy on LinkedIn. In fact, your personal brand needs LinkedIn if you’re job-hunting.
Executive recruiters and hiring decision makers at your target companies rely heavily on LinkedIn when they’re sourcing and assessing executive job candidates.
- If they don’t find you there at all, you may be virtually invisible to them.
- If you have a minimal, mediocre profile and presence on LinkedIn, they’re going to wonder whether you know how to navigate the new world of work, which includes being social media savvy.
- However, if you have a strong and active presence on LinkedIn, and your personal brand is evident, you’ve probably upped your chances of being a candidate of interest.
LinkedIn is a robust site offering many ways to get your personal brand and job search in sync and to build your personal brand online.
Don’t believe me? Try Googling “your name” right now.
If you have a fully fleshed out LinkedIn profile, it should come up as the first search result for “your name”, or at least within the first several results. (This may not hold true if you have a common name.)
That’s powerful stuff . . . and just the thing recruiters and hiring professionals are looking for, when they Google your name to assess you as a candidate.
If you have NO LinkedIn profile or one with very little content, you won’t have that valuable search result associated with “your name”, like so many of your job seeking competitors do.
Along with the many things you can do on LinkedIn to proactively promote yourself as a job candidate, your LinkedIn profile itself will be working hard for you passively, just by sitting there . . . if you know what to do with it.
Brand your LinkedIn profile and activities
I’ve outlined below 9 LinkedIn things you need to do, whether you’re job hunting or just mindful of career management.
Many, many job seekers (probably many that you’ll be competing against) are NOT doing these things. If you do, you’ll be that much ahead of the game, and much more likely to be found on LinkedIn and get the right people reaching out to you.
- Optimize your LinkedIn profile headline for better SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
- Add your top skills in the “Skills & Endorsements” section
- Write plenty of brand-driven, compelling content for each applicable section of your LinkedIn profile
- Build up your number of connections
- Use LinkedIn like it’s your personal website or home base online
- Blog on LinkedIn using the Pulse publishing platform
- Write LinkedIn recommendations for others and ask them to write you one
- Post LinkedIn updates regularly, say, once a week or so
- Comment on and react to other people’s LinkedIn updates and Pulse articles
Build Your Personal Brand Elsewhere Online
You may not know what an important role online reputation management plays in your job search and overall career management.
Do you want to:
- Boost your chances of easily being found by executive recruiters, hiring managers, employers and others sourcing top talent, when they’re assessing you as a candidate?
- Help them see what makes you a good hiring choice through what they find about you online?
- Position yourself as someone who is savvy with technology and the new world of work?
- Be sure your personal brand and unique promise of value are abundantly evident in what people find?
Of course you do.
Whether you’re actively job seeking or think you may be in the future, you need a strong, clean online presence.
Even if you feel secure in your job, you need to be visible online. That’s just the way it is today.
Most recruiters and hiring decision makers source and assess talent through Google, LinkedIn and other search engines. You’re being tapped, tossed aside, or overlooked based on what they find (or don’t find) about you online.
And don’t forget that, as you’re networking in person and virtually, you want people to find plenty of information about you online to refresh their memories (if they already know you) or as an introduction to you (if they don’t know you).
Design a solid online reputation management strategy
As you’re building your brand online, always be mindful of the 5 online reputation management keys:
- Relevance – Stay on-brand and relevant while being visible to your target employers.
- Quality – Self-Google regularly to monitor and fix (when possible) what people will see when they Google “your name”.
- Diversity – Build a good mix of static profiles or web pages and vibrant real-time content. Establish yourself with at least, say, 5-6 static web pages about you and regularly post to your social media platforms. Experiment with your mix, adding more static pages when you can, and see what gets more attention and engagement.
- Volume – Work on continuously building more and more search results for your name, and increase your number of diverse and accurate results on the first few pages of search results.
- Consistency – Express the same personal brand message, designed to resonate with your target audience, across all communications channels you decide to use.
Monitor and prepare to build your personal brand online
Here are some of the best ways to build your personal brand online for job search:
- Make self-Googling a regular practice
- Set up Google Alerts for “Your Name” to track when your name shows up
- Claim your name online by getting the domain name “yourname.com”
- Create a brand-charged email signature
- Use LinkedIn effectively
- Create videos and upload them to YouTube
- Get busy on other social networks – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.
- Get involved in blogging, in some way
- Write book reviews on online bookstores
- Join and participate in professional associations
Monitor Your Online Personal Brand
To elaborate on the first item in the list above,
What if there is someone with your name involved in nefarious deeds, and people assessing you think you are that person?
What if someone has posted something negative about you (whether or not it’s true), that damages your reputation and could sabotage your chances?
You’ll be out of the running without even knowing it.
You may say:
“But I don’t have an online footprint, and I don’t want one. I don’t want to put myself ‘out there’. I don’t need to self-Google at all.”
It may well be that you can land a job without having an online footprint, but those opportunities become more and more rare in the digital age.
Face it, just to keep pace with your competitors, you need to get with it, and take control of your online reputation.
Take a look at your online footprint right now. Type your name into a Google search, and see what you find.
- Do you “own” the first several search results?
- Or does it take several pages of results before you get to anything related to you?
- If you have a common first and last name, are you distinguishable from the others with your name?
- What information will people find about you when they click on those search results?
- Is it what you need them to know about you and your potential value to the companies or organizations you want to work for?
Brand Your Email Signature
An often overlooked social branding tactic, savvy job seekers take a few moments to provide a little bit of concise information about themselves in their email signature, along with their contact information.
You can add enhancements and set your outgoing email message to automatically insert your signature, once you create one.
Here’s what you should include in your email signature:
- Your name (use whatever name – full name or nickname – that you consistently use online and in job search)
- Current job title and employer (if you’re employed). If not, include the job title or job function you’re seeking, such as “Global Business Operations Leader” or “Senior Turnaround Management Executive”
- Brief tagline highlighting the unique value you offer
- Email address (use your personal email, not one associated with your current employer, unless you’re self-employed)
- Phone (the best one to reach you – don’t confuse by including more than one)
- Your personal website name with URL (if you have one and it’s job search-focused)
- Social media – include links to each of your accounts where you’re active. At the very least, link to your LinkedIn profile, if it contains plenty of brand-reinforcing content.
Here’s an example of a branded email signature:
Chief Data Scientist for the Fortune 500 | Artificial Intelligence, Data Analytics, Product Development, Thought Leadership. My mantra for business survival in the technology sphere: Unlearn. Transform. Reinvent.
firstname.lastname@example.org | (555) 422 – 5321
Get Personal Branding into Your Job Interviews
Storytelling is the best way to describe contributions you’ve made to past employers that will resonate with future employers.
It’s also one of the most natural ways to make your personal brand clear in job interviews.
Develop career success stories to provide evidence of your brand and what you will do for the company.
Use the Challenge – Actions – Results (or similar) exercise. Use your practiced stories to deal with behavioral-based questions, such as “Tell me about a time when you . . .”
Here’s how it works:
What was the specific CHALLENGE (or Situation) facing the company and/or your team? Were you/the company facing particularly difficult odds with this situation? What were the stakes?
What specific ACTION(s) did you take to meet the challenge and improve things (whatever the goal was or whatever needed turning around)?
What were the long and short term RESULT(s) that positively impacted the company? Did you meet the goal, improve things, and/or turn around the situation? How long did it take to see the results? Monetize the results and/or use metrics whenever possible. Numbers have a huge impact!
Build Personal Brand Evangelism
The term “personal brand evangelism” rubs some people the wrong way. It may even turn you off to the whole concept of personal branding.
Don’t let it.
We all benefit from, and need, the support of the people who surround us – friends, peers, managers, staff, employees, clients, mentors, mentees, etc.
When we’re job hunting, we need them to provide input and help promote the unique value we offer our target employers. In other words, we need them to be brand evangelists for us.
Successful job search is all about targeted marketing – communicating your unique value to your target audience across various channels, online and off-line.
Simply put, all job seekers need to think of themselves (in some regards) as a product that requires promotion to “sell” well.
They need to know who they’re selling their product to – that is, which specific employers.
And they need to know why those employers need them.
What is personal brand evangelism?
According to digital marketing expert Neil Patel in What Does A Brand Evangelist Do, And Do You Need One?, brand evangelism is much more than a gimmick, and it’s one of the oldest forms of marketing:
“A brand evangelist is a person who believes in your product or service so fervently that he or she aggressively promotes it to others.
Customers buy things. Brand evangelists preach about the things that they have bought.
A brand evangelist is a true fan, someone who wants to talk about and share your message and get involved in any way they can.”
Brand evangelism comes about when you network well. Stay top-of-mind with your networks. Practice “give to get” networking.
That is, do things for your network without being asked. They’ll be much more likely and willing to reciprocate, and support you when you need it.
A Personal Branding FAQ for Job Search
Does this describe you?
You have a diverse background with widely varying expertise and success in many disciplines.
Do you wonder how to develop your personal brand around that kind of background?
As I mentioned earlier, branding starts with targeting and researching specific employers, so you’ll know what specific value you offer and what makes you a good fit for those employers. You need to know who you’re writing your personal brand content for.
How else can you whittle down and focus what to include, and what NOT to include?
Being generic in your approach and including everything about yourself – all your strengths and areas of expertise – will dilute your message. Your content may not resonate with the people you want it to, unless you’ve found that your target employers want and need a “jack of all trades”.
Through your research, uncover your target employers’ current pressing needs, and then build your personal brand content (for your resume, LinkedIn profile, biography, etc.) around positioning yourself as the best-fit candidate, and differentiating the value you offer over your competitors.
Although it may seem counterintuitive to limit your possibilities by niching your focus, narrowing your search is the way to go.
This also allows you to effectively manage relevant keyword density (that is, your personal SEO, or Search Engine Optimization) in your LinkedIn and other online profiles. You need to be sure you balance personal branding with personal SEO.
Why and How To Refresh Your Personal Brand
For career health and fulfillment it’s wise to revisit your personal brand at least once a year, whether or not a job search is looming in front of you.
And, if the value you offer has changed or grown significantly, you probably need to refresh your personal brand.
You never know when a new job opportunity (internally or externally) may come your way . . . or your job may be pulled out from under you.
And there you’ll be, scrambling to pull everything together.
Whether you’re focusing on a move within your current company or looking elsewhere, remember this: the employers you’re targeting and their needs will impact your new brand messaging and content.
With your brand refresh your resume, LinkedIn profile and all your other personal marketing communications will probably have to be adjusted.
These questions will help you determine whether you need to re-brand:
- Did my brand reputation change over the past year?
- Am I targeting a different kind of employer and different kind of job now?
- Have I become the “go to” person for new areas of expertise?
- What value do I now offer in the marketplace?
- What ROI (Return on Investment) do I offer that my job-seeking competitors may not?
- Which driving strengths and personality traits of mine are now particularly important?