Advice to establish your own personal brand is not hard to come by these days. It’s now expected as part of your career development efforts and the job search process. Quintessential Careers describes branding as “a combination of tangible and intangible characteristics that … help define who you are, how you are great, and why you should be sought out. Branding is your reputation.”
I’ve avoided references to branding, in past posts and presentations, choosing to focus instead on establishing a professional online presence, but a recent conversation with author and professional development explorer Nacie Carson prompted me to reconsider my approach. There’s more to it than creating profiles and posting updates, and it doesn’t have to be a gimmick or hard sales tactic.
Carson had great insight to share about how the nature of what we commonly describe as jobs and careers is changing, with less linear paths, more temporary and freelance work, and the emergence of what she calls the “gig economy.” All indicators are that this will become more prevalent, so how can you create a personal brand that will serve you as your career evolves? Intrigued by Carson’s broader view, of a brand that could last through a varied career, I set out to create a list of actions we can all take to prepare ourselves for the opportunities and conversations to come.
Define your professional identity.
How do you describe what you are or what you do when meeting someone for the first time? This is an issue I struggle with, too, as I manage different professional roles, including blogger and online instructor. Here are a few strategies for defining your professional identity:
- Write a mission statement. Businesses do this to help formulate their brands and you can borrow the technique. Marketing consultant Soma Jurgensen recommends beginning with a situation analysis to “define your values, attributes, and passions” and ultimately answer the questions, “What will I do? How will I do it? and Why do I do it?”
- Join a professional organization. An article posted by the University of Michigan Alumni Association encourages membership in groups that represent your area of interest. You’ll find not only job postings and networking opportunities, but also references to how the larger group defines the work being done in the field. Look for local and national groups, as well as online forums.
Enhance your marketing skills.
A student in one of my courses this term turned a project management assignment into a focus on the need for all team members to have an awareness of marketing. I completely agreed with her angle, as business development becomes a part of everyone’s job in a tough economy. Marketing and promotion, however, don’t come naturally to everyone. Get more involved in marketing your brand with these activities:
- Google yourself. It’s no secret that employers are using social media to recruit, as well as screen, new applicants. What will they find when they search for details about you? The search results say something about your brand. Start with your current online presence and review it from a hiring manager’s perspective. As BackgroundCheck.org states, “you may be surprised how much information is public.”
- Prepare your materials. Career development and the search for a new job require specific documents, both printed and digital. Your resume, cover letter, portfolio, websites, and social networking profiles all represent you when you aren’t there in person to describe your skills and experience. Maintain these materials by keeping them up-to-date, error-free, and full of examples of your best efforts.
- Become your own social media manager. Career writer Vickie Elmer recently wrote about a trend in job titles and descriptions. It seems that while jobs with “social media” in the title showed slower than usual growth last year, “jobs that mention social media in the description but not the title gained 89%.” The skills you learn in marketing yourself via social media platforms may be part of your next job.
Balance promotion and participation.
Industry analyst Jeremiah Owyang describes some differences between personal and career branding: “The ‘personal’ brand focuses on the individual, essentially focusing on ‘me’,” while a career brand is “focused on ‘what can you do for your clients or employer’, with a focus more on ‘we’.” As you develop your branding, it’s important to address both sides with these techniques:
- Don’t just join, be an active member. Whether it’s a large professional association, an online discussion forum, or an in-person event schedule time to take part in activities, comment on posts, and ask questions.
- Complete your profiles. Be strategic in the professional information you share about yourself online, but provide enough for others to get to know you and your work. Adding images, links, and brief biographies where possible to do so can help you build your reputation and spread the word about your brand.
- Share your expertise. You may have more questions than answers to contribute, especially when you are new to a field, but you’ll find opportunities to aid others by sharing your insights and favorite resources. Help out when you can.
Develop a long-term approach.
As you define your identity, develop your materials, learn how market yourself, and participate in networking activities it’s critical to target your brand for the job you want to have, but there’s also a need to adapt as job and careers change. A nursing assistant interested in becoming an entrepreneur, a culinary professional who wants to compete for retail positions – these are just two examples of how career paths may shift and evolve. Consider these activities to prepare your brand for new opportunities:
- Expand your network. Be open to meeting new people working in your field and across industries. Find ways to network in your local area, as well as more globally through your use of social media. Reach out to connect with classmates, co-workers, and beyond.
- Collect experiences. Seek out chances to take on projects that require you to stretch your skills a bit. These could exist within your current company, your course work, or in your community, and often lead to more networking, as well as the development of new skills that will help you bridge from one opportunity to the next.
- Think about how you want to be perceived. Career coach Dorothy Tannahill-Moran reminds us that “with personal branding, you are not only thinking about your assets, you are thinking about what you want to be known for.” What do you want to be known for and how do you need to modify your brand to help others connect you with that role?
Many online students are already working, and chose to pursue higher education with career advancement, career transition, and other future employment needs in mind. If this sounds like you, you may already have a career brand. Take a first step and evaluate what already exists. Then be proactive about making choices and researching options to build a brand that will last.
We all have multiple roles in life, and often in our work, as we juggle different types of employment (i.e., full-time, part-time, contract projects). Know that your brand can and will evolve, along with your skills and career. There will be room to make changes, adjust strategies, and try new techniques, but your consistent attention is required. Create a brand that represents who you are, but is flexible enough to adapt to different opportunities available in tomorrow’s job market.
Source: Inside Online Learning Blog