How to Brand Yourself to Advance Your Career
By Ashford University Staff
What makes you stand out from the hundreds of thousands of students graduating alongside of you? It's not all about your GPA, even if you're entering a competitive or technical field where relative success is a major consideration.
Most of the time, the unique value you can bring to a company is the factor that differentiates successful candidates from everyone else in an applicant pool – but only if you're clear about what that unique value is. In other words, a lot rides on your personal brand these days.
What is a Personal Brand?
At its root, a personal brand is made up of what you do and how you communicate it. Branding goes beyond your resume, LinkedIn profile, or personal blog – though these tools can help you communicate, promote, and advance your brand.
More than making your online profiles consistent, a strong brand aligns your past experiences, future goals, and messaging into a single story that connects with likeminded people and serves to inspire them. You want to be the premier authority on what your personal brand has to offer, and every moment online and off is a chance to reinforce or weaken that brand.
You alone have the power to establish your personal brand with the actions you take and the stories you tell. That's why the process always starts with deep self-reflection and visioning.
What Can You Brag About?
Self-reflecting on your personal brand starts with "brag-storming" a list of your personal merits. What have you achieved? Who have you helped? How do you work? Capture as many personal details as you can and figure out the value of each – even failures can demonstrate how you learn from and solve problems. You will use this list as the basis of your brand story.
Take a look at everything you've listed and start looking for a common thread. If you notice that even in your volunteer work, projects seem to be completed quickly and cost-effectively, you can start tailoring the way you talk about yourself as "on time and on budget." If you consistently find you keep a cool head during tough challenges, start selling your skills as a prolific problem solver.
It might take a lot of thought before you see a consistent story start to emerge. If you're stuck, ask your friends and mentors which of your qualities they appreciate most. Take note when you're drawn to do something, and ask yourself why. Soon, you'll see a pattern.
How Will People Know?
Once you've figured out what your personal brand is, you have to help others see it. Authority development is using all the means available to you to reinforce the brand you've identified. From social media to volunteering to the way you interact with colleagues and clients, every moment is a chance to support your personal brand.
For established professionals, providing interviews in the media and guest articles in reputable publications are great ways to develop a brand. For those just starting out, writing a personal blog or volunteering with an organization that fits your brand image can serve a similar purpose.
Social media, from Twitter to Facebook to LinkedIn, let you participate in the conversations that apply to your brand focus. Join, share, comment on, and engage in the things that align with what you're saying, and the people who agree will find and connect with you.
The Double-Edged Sword of Social Media
The reason so much self-reflection is necessary before you start promoting your brand is that people can smell fake from a mile away – especially online. When you share your story, you have to sound sincere, and you have to be consistent.
Once you incorporate social media into your personal brand, everything is fair game. Tweaking your privacy settings to "friends only" for those selfies from a wild night out can help, but it still puts your personal brand at risk if "party animal" runs contrary to your messaging. Do you promote a perpetually positive attitude? Then you may want to steer clear of complaining on social media sites.
In today's highly connected world, a resume often isn't enough. Take the time to brainstorm the touchpoints of your personal brand – the unique value you bring to the table – then cultivate it with care. Doing so will put you in a much stronger competitive position when you're looking for a job or promotion.
Written by Ashford University staff