Does the way you choose to show up to the outside world reflect who you truly are inside? If not, your personal brand may need some love. Building your personal brand will help you at any stage of your career, whether you’re looking for a job, vying for a promotion, considering a career switch, contemplating starting your own business, or looking to grow your professional network and claim your stake as an expert in your field.
What Is Your Personal Brand?
Your personal brand is the way you promote yourself to the outside world. Building your personal brand means building your public image by harmonizing who you really are and how others see you. Your personal brand is influenced through a combination of the image others have of you, how the media (and Google results) portrays you, how you’re seen in real life, and your own efforts to showcase your skills, experience, values, and personality. Growing your brand gives you the opportunity to set yourself apart in your professional space. As Forbes Council Member Marian Esanu says, “Your personal brand should communicate your unique attributes, highlight your strengths, build trust and establish a reputation in your current or desired industry.”
Personal Branding in a (Largely) Virtual World
In a virtual environment, the idea of “branding oneself” has shifted. Today, it’s harder—and arguably more important—to be intentional about how you show up. Since building relationships around the office water cooler isn’t currently an option, you’re tasked with communicating what you’re all about through your online presence on video, social media platforms, and electronic media channels. And as your online footprint will potentially last forever, growing your personal brand is a vital way to have more control over your reputation, rather than leaving it up to others. Is your current online presence consistent with the in-person brand you’re hoping to cultivate? You’re not two separate brands (or people!). To have an authentic brand, your online brand should be an extension of who you are in person.
9 Key Ways to Build a Personal Brand
Building a personal brand that feels right to you, and that people recognize and identify with, isn’t as simple as clicking a button or turning on a switch. It’s a continuous journey—often with many twists, turns, and detours along the way.
Following these steps, and the advice of others who have gone down this road, can help you successfully start on your path to personal branding.
1. Get feedback.
It’s important that the perception of your brand is a window, not a mirror. Rather than relying only on your own perspective, seek out others you trust to get honest feedback about your brand and how it’s being perceived. Ask for constructive feedback on your brand’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s vital to branch out and talk to different groups of people with a variety of perspectives. Otherwise, you’re just shouting down an echo chamber, which won’t help to give you useful insights on what you may need to change. Listen and be open to others, while still being true to yourself and your values.
2. Determine where you are—and where you want to be.
Once you’ve collected the necessary feedback, take stock. Are your own observations similar to how others are seeing you? If not, you may need to rethink what you’re putting out into the world. Identify the gaps between your ideal brand attributes and what others perceive (a brand coach or consultant can also help you do this), and strategize ways to minimize those gaps moving forward. Where are you falling short, and how can you fix it? Where are you strongest? What others have perceived your strengths and weaknesses to be may be quite different from your own assessment. Do some soul-searching to find your own True North. Then, focus on aligning your brand to amplify your strengths and key differentiators, in preparation to build a strategy from them.
3. Hone your personal brand strategy.
Who is promotion of your brand intended for, and how far should it reach? For example, are you building your personal brand to reach internal colleagues and further your career for the long-term, or do you also want to be known as an industry expert on a regional, national, or even global level? What do you need to do to expand your skill set and attain your short- and long-term professional goals? Your actual strategic plan will lay out in detail the tactics, tools, and skills you’ll need to reach your brand goals—and this plan should be revisited and refined on an ongoing basis.
4. Hit the ground running.
In a new job position, gaining an immediate understanding of the key differentiators you bring to the role is an important first step to building your brand. This starts in the interview, by asking the right questions and ensuring that the company, department, and role for which you’re interviewing match up with your brand mission and values. Even if your role is a lateral or backward move, speak up to your boss and confidently set the expectation that you’re seeking growth opportunities and that you’ll work hard to earn them. See problems or setbacks as unique moments to rise to a challenge, and become known for your willingness to dig in. You never know who’s observing you from afar; always execute your work with the idea that what you’re bringing to the table is being looked at from every angle.
5. Expand your circle.
Go out of your way and get to know others in different departments or roles who you don’t see often (or ever). Find ways to add value to a project they’re working on or collaborate on something new. It’s important to get out of your silo and, over time, you’ll likely get great feedback about how your role is perceived, while also strengthening your brand and your network across the company. In addition, seek out employee resource groups at your organization to make connections with new peers.
6. Leverage social media.
Find and gain a presence on the platforms where your brand and message will resonate, and follow best practices to grow and nurture your brand on social media over time. LinkedIn is an obvious platform choice for professional networking reasons, but Twitter, Instagram, or others may also be a good fit. In addition, join groups specific to your skills or industry for knowledge sharing, meet-ups and networking opportunities.
Be consistent in how you show up on these platforms. By being authentic, you will attract more people to what you have to share (plus, people can spot a phony from an Instagram Story right away).
7. Seek out a mentor.
You don’t need to go it alone. Consider finding a mentor or coach and tapping into their expertise to help you grow your brand. Be proactive, and seek out people who have worked their way up and overcome their own challenges. Look for leaders who shape ideas, spark conversations, and forge new paths.
The right mentor will help you see how you’re showing up—or falling short. They’ll understand your goals, advocate for you, and guide you as you work to grow into a bigger role or a new challenge.
8. Be your own advocate.
How do you validate your brand at the workplace? It can be a challenge to gain credibility despite your hard work and, often, you must be your own cheerleader. It’s definitely not a natural process for many of us to promote ourselves, but it’s a vital part of nurturing a personal brand, as your brand is directly aligned to the work you’re doing.
Your title may not reflect all of the things you actually bring to the table. Combat this by being vocal about what you’re able to add to an initiative, and ensure that others see it, too. Be public about what you’re doing—not in a mass-email-to-the-entire-company kind of way, but in an intentional way to the people who will help champion your efforts. Though it’s often easier to just go about your own work and get done what needs to be done, that approach doesn’t give you the recognition you deserve or move the needle on your career goals. Imagine a “public awareness campaign rollout” of your achievements to get the word out to your peers, mentors, and other leaders—and start executing it.
With that said, don’t forget to pay it forward by championing others around you. Make a habit of being a vocal advocate for your peers and go out of your way to call out their achievements. Those who aren’t comfortable advocating for themselves may appreciate it more than you know.
9. Continue to grow and stretch.
It’s a sure thing that the landscape around you will change, again and again, and what got you to where you are isn’t going to keep you there. Take time for reflection and re-imagining your goals. Align what you want to achieve in the next year with your brand aspirations. What responsibilities— r new role altogether—might you need to change or step into to further your goals and round out your brand? Constantly be looking for opportunities to grow into new areas, refine your goals, and learn new things to get ahead of the curve. Studying the latest job postings is a good way to see what’s emerging in your industry. What types of roles are just out of reach, and how can you be intentional about growing in that direction?
Get clear about who you are—and aren’t. What have you outgrown? It may be that what others perceive as your biggest strength is a huge burnout point for you. If you want to change that, you need to be intentional about it. Helping to school others on the skills you’re outgrowing, and redirecting what you want to be known for is a win-win.
Being Authentic in an Uncertain World
It’s often tough to cut through all of today’s noise. Building a personal brand gives you a huge opportunity to be transparent and build trust with colleagues, industry peers, and customers. Being intentional about your brand equates to being intentional with who you are as a human being. A successful brand is born out of passion for what you do and the things you believe in—and in a world filled with uncertainty, those are two things you can hold onto.
Much of this information was drawn from Dexian’s ongoing CommunIT series, which brings together IT leaders across sectors and the country to discuss relevant topics, confront challenges, and share best practices from the field. If you’re interested in learning about our upcoming events, please email [email protected].