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As the job market recovers and employers compete to hire the most impressive applicants, it's more possible than ever for professionals to stand out amongst their peers and get what they deserve from their careers, whether that's compensation, promotions, or overall recognition.
To make that a reality, there are a few things that need to fall into place—and personal branding is near the top of the list. Below, we'll outline what goes into a personal brand at work, why it's important to develop one, and how to leverage a strong personal brand to accelerate professional growth.
For those who want to see results even faster, we'll also give you the opportunity to connect with one of our career coaches for dedicated, one-on-one sessions to help you pin down exactly what your personal brand should be.
Why Is Personal Branding Important?
While some may believe that personal branding is limited to fields like influencer marketing, the truth is that it's increasingly useful for professionals from all fields and backgrounds. By developing a strong personal brand, you give yourself advantages like:
Defining Your Purpose
Whether it's to yourself or to the world at large (ideally both), defining your purpose as a professional is one of the most important things you'll ever do in your career. Once you've clearly outlined your purpose, ambitions, and motivations, everything else becomes that much simpler to accomplish.
Looking for a new job? Your personal brand can demonstrate to potential employers what you value and offer, both on paper and during the interview.
Deciding between job offers? Referring back to your personal brand can help you decide which opportunity best aligns with your goals.
Negotiating a raise or promotion? A clear personal brand gives you the foundation and confidence you need to advocate for yourself in the strongest possible terms.
Far from being frivolous self-indulgence or a buzzword, a solid personal brand can—and will—serve as the bedrock of your career and ensure you get the most from your time as a professional.
Growth mindset, growth initiatives, and everywhere you look, it seems that growth is on the tip of every tongue. What's talked about less, however, is the fact that not all growth is created equally and, perhaps more importantly, that how you grow is often more important than how much you grow.
To this end, few things are more useful than a well-built personal brand. In taking the time to outline your strengths, skills, and motivators, you simultaneously identify any weaknesses or areas in need of improvement. By doing so, you can focus your growth efforts where they matter most and maximize your personal return on investment.
Owning Your Narrative
Anyone who has experienced a toxic workplace can tell you how frustrating it is to feel out of control of your own story. When conflict or misunderstandings arise within a work environment, it's all too easy for someone else to dictate how others view you and your value.
It's far more difficult for this type of narrative hijacking to occur, however, when you have an established personal brand at work, on professional social media, or in networking circles. The more entrenched and acknowledged your personal brand becomes, the less likely you are to be misunderstood or misrepresented by others.
What Are Some Ways You Can Improve Your Personal Brand?
Regardless of whether you've yet to begin building your personal brand or simply want to do some renovations, there are some tried-and-true methods to get the best results.
Determine Brand Positioning
In many ways, personal brands are identical to product brands, so it's helpful to approach building one as if you were trying to start a business. The first step, then, is determining three things: who you are, what your brand is hoping to accomplish, and who you're hoping to accomplish it for (beyond professional success for yourself, of course).
As you may know, this is called "positioning," and starting your journey with a crystal-clear understanding of your positioning is crucial for long-term success. Even as you progress throughout your career and continue to evolve, it's important that you find time to revisit your positioning and check in with yourself about whether your values and goals have changed.
For many individuals, this step will be the hardest part of personal branding. Narrowing down your values and goals, communicating them in language that resonates with others, and identifying the markets and roles you want to pursue—it can quickly grow overwhelming for those unfamiliar with the process.
Develop a Brand Vocabulary
When designing JobTest.org, we invested a substantial amount of time into understanding job seekers' pain points, or the things about professional life that caused them the most difficulty and frustration. One of these pain points came from an unexpected source: knowing what to say on a resume or in a cover letter.
What was perhaps most interesting about this was the fact that even the most experienced, qualified professionals still often struggled to put their value into words. This, to us, demonstrated the extreme importance of building a vocabulary and phrases specific to the individual that they could use for personal branding and self-advocacy.
Today, this is one of the number-one pieces of advice we give to our customers and is something that our test results focus highly on. By taking the time to establish clear, effective language about who you are and what you have to offer, you can write more compelling cover letters and resumes, speak confidently with peers or potential employers, and bring your networking skills to an entirely new level.
Network and Build Relationships
Once you've established what your brand does and who it aims to do it for, it's time to start building your network. If you've already begun doing this, that's excellent! Keep expanding.
Who you network with typically falls into two groups: potential clients (or employers) and growth opportunities.
For the vast majority of professionals in the early days of building a personal brand, it can seem tempting to focus all of your energy on that first group. And, while landing your first job or scoring a new client is unquestionably important for short-term results, it's the people who constantly network for growth opportunities who often enjoy the greatest long-term success.
Obviously, this kind of growth looks different for different people, but it generally stems from a willingness and enthusiasm to interact with other individuals (and other personal brands) in your professional sphere. The more you engage and interact with like-minded peers or industry leaders, the better you'll understand trends and evolving needs related to your brand.
Master Social Media Platforms
Social media is one of the most powerful tools of the 21st century and serves two primary purposes for those building a strong personal brand: the aforementioned networking and social media marketing.
It's vital to remember, however, that this tool is double-edged, and handling it casually or carelessly can often have a negative impact on your brand's performance.
Social Media as a Networking Event
Just like with an in-person networking event, there are a couple of things to keep in mind when building your personal brand's social media presence.
First, make sure that the people to whom you connect expand or deepen your perspective rather than just confirming your existing beliefs. By doing so, you avoid the dreaded "echo chamber" effect that often inspires personal or professional stagnation.
Second, take the time to make sure your social media adequately reflects the brand positioning you established earlier. Even if that positioning is perfectly clear to you, that clarity means less if it isn't shared by others in your network. Choose language, images, topics, and shared posts from others that effectively and consistently communicate your brand's values.
Social Media Marketing
Unlike a personal website or blog, social media provides a ready-built platform where potential clients and connections gather—complete with the organic traffic you could only dream of having on a personal site.
Now, this means that the possible success from social media marketing is enormous, but it also means you'll be competing against countless other professionals with personal brands similar to yours. While the competition can seem daunting at first, determined professionals soon come to realize that it is one of social media's most potent benefits: when put head-to-head with excellent peers on a daily basis, the only viable answer is to become more excellent, too.
As you see what's working (and what isn't) and experience the fierce joy of success in a highly competitive space, you'll further sharpen and refine your personal brand into something that can consistently perform in even the most demanding environments.
Focus on Consistency
Now that you've built a streamlined, genuine personal brand that communicates your value to the world, the key is consistency.
To be clear, this does not mean you should avoid change. It's crucial to continue learning and growing but in a way that stays consistent with your personal values and brand. Instead of just looking to become "more," the goal should be to become more yourself.
In action, this means holding yourself accountable to regularly posting and interacting within your network and on social media, standing up for your worth and professional values during interviews or salary negotiations, and staying honest and humble when faced with opportunities to improve your skill set.
How to Balance Your Personal and Professional Life
Work-life balance has established itself as one of the keystones of 21st-century professional language, but its meaning continues to evolve. When building a personal brand, there are some key things to consider about the relationship between your personal and professional identities.
Authenticity vs. Professionalism
All too often, we encounter people who believe that in order to be truly professional, you must also be inauthentic to one degree or another. We couldn't disagree more.
In our minds, your professional identity must represent your authentic feelings and personality—just in a slightly more buttoned-up, respectful, and polished way. To put it simply, professionalism is authenticity with a nice pair of shoes.
Now, we realize that not every company will share this view—and that's completely okay. Workplace trends continue to indicate that engagement, respect, and job satisfaction are increasingly important for most professionals. Still, some businesses prefer more rigid, traditional work environments, which is their prerogative. It's your prerogative, however, to opt for a company and workplace that values your personal brand.
Personal Interests Can Strengthen Your Brand
While it may be tempting to strictly separate your personal interests and personal brand, the truth is that combining the two can often create something greater than the sum of its parts.
Specifically, finding ways to organically include your passions and interests in what you share with the professional world can vastly increase feedback and engagement. Rather than coming off as an imposing, single-minded personality, these interests serve as hooks, or opportunities for like-minded individuals to reach out and interact.
In terms of the job hunt, showcasing your passions and personality can also set you apart from other applicants with similar credentials or experience.
How to Know if Your Professional Brand Is Working
Just like with any business, it's important to track whether you're getting the return on investment you need from the time you spend building your personal brand. Luckily, there are a few simple methods to check in on how your brand is performing.
Gather and Analyze Feedback
Feedback is the cornerstone of any successful venture, whether you're building a career testing service or trying to stand out in your field. As you interact with more people and your personal brand gains more attention, consider reaching out to contacts you respect to ask for feedback and insights.
Often, things that we overlook entirely about ourselves can appear obvious to others, so regularly taking the time to seek and consider the perspectives of trusted peers and mentors is an invaluable practice.
Remember that your gathering feedback is only half of the equation, however, and that you should invest time in figuring out how to incorporate that feedback into your personal branding and how you interact with your professional network.
Monitor Your Online Brand Presence
Data reigns supreme in the 21st century—a fact that holds just as true for your brand as it does for a company's. As you establish your personal brand, look for tools and resources that give you objective, data-driven facts about how it's performing.
At the most basic level, this can be something like LinkedIn, which lets you view user engagement on your posts via likes, shares, and comments. Slightly more advanced tools, such as keyword trackers, can be used by those with personal blogs and websites to measure traffic flow and page performance.
Regardless of which end of the spectrum you choose, it's crucial that you're operating on something more than just your own feelings or impressions about how your personal brand is performing.
Why Your Brand Should Evolve Alongside Your Career
Building your own personal brand is one of the best professional investments you'll ever make—but that isn't to say it comes without a fair share of complications and pitfalls. Taking the first steps can seem daunting, overwhelming, or even egotistical to some, and finding the right language to express what you have to offer often confuses all but the most eloquent among us.
And, even after you've successfully established your brand and gained recognition in your networking circles? It still takes constant vigilance and perspective to continue developing and keeping your brand up-to-date.
In our experience, we've found that outside perspectives can help to kick-start renewed insights into a personal brand, from refocusing ambitions to getting a fresh understanding of what truly matters to you in your professional life.
If that kind of expert advice interests you, start with a career test and consider reaching out to one of JobTest.org's career coaches to schedule a session. With industry insiders matched to your experience and needs, a single coaching session often gives you everything you need to take your personal brand from dream to reality.