Apple challenged the world to “Think Different.” Nike encouraged people, regardless of age, gender, or physical fitness level, to “Just Do It.” Dunkin’ Donuts persuaded busy professionals that “America Runs on Dunkin’.”
Over the years, these recognizable slogans have morphed into rallying cries—setting the tone for how each company communicates and identifies itself in the market. In just a handful of words, these slogans have told a story and influenced how people perceive the organizations behind them. Together, they represent the power and potential of branding.
“Branding is what companies stand for,” says Dr. Sean Gresh, a faculty member in Northeastern’s Master of Science in Corporate and Organizational Communication program. “It’s reflected in how that company acts, how it serves people, the value that the company shares, and how the company projects those values.”
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But branding isn’t just for companies. Each individual has a story to tell, and goals, skills, and expertise to share. In today’s increasingly digital world, a personal brand is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s expected.
“I would define personal branding similarly as I would for a company,” Gresh says. “Personal branding is who you are, what you stand for, the values you have, and how you express those values. Personal branding is one’s story.”
And that story is what signals to employers whether you’d be the right fit for a new role. It’s what highlights your strengths and communicates to others the unique attributes you bring to your current or desired industry.
While developing a personal brand might sound like a lofty idea, there are steps you can take to build credibility in your field. Here are five suggestions to help you get started.
1) Define Your Audience
Before you start crafting your personal brand, you need to determine who you’re trying to reach. Is it other industry thought leaders? A particular company? Recruiters? The sooner you define the audience, the easier it will be to craft your story, because you’ll better understand the type of story you need to tell and where.
For example, if your goal is to reach hiring managers and recruiters, start by creating or updating your LinkedIn profile. Why? Because 92 percent of recruiters leverage social media to find high-quality candidates and, of those, 87 percent use LinkedIn.
When crafting your LinkedIn profile, you should:
- Focus on key industry skills: Recruiters will often search for keywords that relate to the role they’re trying to fill, so it’s important to feature industry terms in your profile—whether in your headline, summary, or job description—and explicitly state your skills. For example, if you’re pursuing a communications role, zero in on your area of interest and key qualifications, such as public relations, social media, or crisis communication.
- Quantify your accomplishments: Saying you’re “results-oriented” isn’t nearly as effective as your actual results. Quantify your accomplishments when possible, whether it’s the number of articles you’ve written, dollars you’ve raised, or deals you’ve closed.
- Complete your profile: While this might sound obvious, it’s not uncommon for users to leave sections of their LinkedIn profile blank. Recruiters want to see what work experience you have, your educational background, and a detailed list of accomplishments, so make sure you’re showing the full picture. Convince them you’re the person they should hire.
- Use a professional photo: LinkedIn users with a professional headshot receive 14 times more profile views than those without. Upload a current photo that’s closely cropped to your face. Remember, you should be the focal point, so avoid any busy backgrounds—and smile. The more welcoming you look, the more likely recruiters are to contact you.
2) Determine What You Want to be Known For
Your personal brand is more than a reflection of who you are today, it’s a roadmap of where you want your career to go. Gresh suggests you start by assessing your strengths and weaknesses in whatever industry you want to break into.
Through this exercise, you can uncover the skills and traits that make you distinct, as well as the areas in which you need to improve or gain new knowledge. Forecasting where you want to be in five or 10 years can help you better determine what steps you need to take in order to get there and the attributes you want to be known for.
3) Research Your Desired Industry and Follow the Experts
As you start mapping out the careers you want, Gresh recommends compiling research on experts in those roles.
“Find out who the thought leaders are in whatever field you’re interested in and don’t just follow them,” he says, “go online and find out if they have blogs or where they contribute their thinking. Look for people who are successful and examine what they’re doing. Imitate them and then do one better.”
Your goal is to stand out, but you can’t rise to the top without taking inventory of who’s already there.
4) Ask for Informational Interviews
As you start forming a list of those you aspire to, contact those professionals and ask for an informational interview.
“They take 20 minutes, but are of high value,” Gresh says. “Don’t be afraid to ask anyone you’re interested in learning more about. You’d be surprised by how genuine and generous people are.”
When you meet with the employer, ask questions that can help you garner new insights about your desired field, such as:
- How did you break into the industry? What steps would you take if you were to make the transition all over again?
- How do you see the industry evolving?
- How do you stay up-to-date with industry trends? Are there any professional or trade associations I should join?
Informational interviews come with an added benefit. “You’re learning about what it takes to get into the profession,” Gresh says, “but you’re also sharing in the course of this dialogue a little bit about yourself. What you’re doing is building your brand.”
Although there might not be a job on the line, one day there could be, and you want that employer to think of you when he or she is envisioning the ideal candidate.
5) Remember That Your Personal Brand Isn’t Just Online
If the informational interview is any indication, your brand is more than just an online persona; it’s how you carry yourself at home, in the office, or even on your daily commute.
“Your reputation is everything,” Gresh emphasizes. “Those who frustrate or annoy others—that will come back to haunt them. The more opportunities you have to work with others, volunteer for projects, and assert yourself as a leader, take them. That’s part of your brand.”
Leadership isn’t reserved for C-suite executives. Strong leaders exist at every level of the organization.
“Leadership comes from how you behave, how you act, and how you inherently interact with people,” Gresh says. “That’s real leadership.”
And that story you tell, and those everyday interactions, ultimately define your personal brand.