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Personal Branding: Promoting the Brand Called You

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While writing a recent blog on college branding I came across a great deal of information on personal branding. Personal branding involves promoting what makes you unique and necessary. It’s why people want to hire you, work with you, have lunch with you, and generally associate with you. Your personal brand prevents you from being outsourced, ignored, or easily replaced. Your personal brand is the unique value you bring to the table. Some people get it by luck – they were in the right place at the right or win the lottery. For the majority of people, self-promotion is a conscience effort – we have to develop our personal brand purposely. Personal Branding is a mindset.

Why the sudden push to create a personal brand? Technology is a factor. Our society has adopted new forms of communication and new vehicles for promotion and self-expression. A large factor in personal branding for college students is the increasing competition for employment opportunities. The increasing competition for jobs has necessitated candidates to differentiate themselves to potential employers. In addition, the recruitment process has changed. Recruiters now use Google searches and social networking sites (like Facebook and MySpace) to help evaluate candidates. A recent study revealed that 77% of recruiters use search engines to learn more about candidates and that 35% of recruiters have eliminated a candidate based on information uncovered online. This trend is reflected even in college recruitment, where companies are searching for references to candidates on the Internet.

Establishing a personal brand is a process. The process is about finding your niche and making yourself known for it. Just like large companies are recognized by a logo, people can be identified by their self-proclaimed area of expertise.

The first step in Personal Branding is discovery. This is hard for some people. Many have not identified their uniquesness; others cannot express it. In order to build your brand, you must know yourself well. Consider your interests, career aspirations, strengths, weaknesses and resources. Take awhile to brainstorm and write down everything on your mind pertaining to these categories. When you are done, you can start connecting the dots and form a plan.

The most honest and effective way to market yourself is to let your qualities and accomplishments speak for themselves. Don’t join a club because you think it’ll help you get something. Be a part of whatever you want – it’ll diversify you as a person and distinguish you from the rest of the applicants. Be real to yourself about your preferences, abilities, and ambitions. This may require a bit of harsh introspection. You don’t want to wake up one day after graduation and realize you’ve got a resume full of things that don’t apply to the job you want.

It is not difficult to stand out in a subtle way; it just requires a conscious effort. Try to excel at the things you enjoy doing. You might be an excellent candidate for whatever job you’re applying for, but so is everybody else. It will speak better for you if you have a couple things that you’re really good at rather than a bunch of things that you’re only mediocre at. Distinguishing yourself with what you are passionate about will say much about you and imply much more. Strive to stand out. You won’t catch people’s attention by wearing the same clothes or saying the same things as others. We are often judged by the smallest of superficialities – our clothes, our cars, our hairstyles. Try to stand out with your personality and your individual style. Don’t be a peacock, but don’t let yourself become replaceable.

One of the most important parts of building your personal brand is to expand your comfort zone. Never stop putting yourself in uneasy situations which require quick thinking and a high-level of skill. By forcing yourself to work under pressure, and in an unfamiliar environment, you will become comfortable with your skills and ability. This brands you as a leader and not a follower.

A personal brand has four elements: personality, appearance, competencies, and differentiation.

  • Appearance: Your personal appearance is a combination of the way you dress, your behavior, and your body language. The first impression you create is critical to your acceptance and credibility. If you dress in a suit, stand upright, and act professionally, you will probably be viewed positively. This contributes to your overall personal brand.
  • Personality: Your ability to communicate and how you interact with your peers and colleagues forms your personality. Personality can be developed through time, especially with experience and maturity.
  • Competencies: This area is a combination of experiences and technical skills that you acquire over time. Typically, this information is relayed in the form of a resume and cover letter. These skills enable you to fulfill your job responsibilities and are required for most job openings. The more diverse your skill set, the more adaptable you are. This will allow you to apply for a wider variety of jobs.
  • The Differentiator: The differentiator is possibly the most important part of your personal brand. This is what makes you unique. If you were a recruiter, would you want to hire an average candidate? Of course not – you would seek out a candidate who possesses exceptional abilities that no other applicants demonstrate.

When these four elements are combined, they become a personal value statement or a core message for that individual. When this message is communicated to an audience, the person is more prone to be noticed.

College students have technology to communicate this message. To form your brand online is to network – you form relationships with people who are interested in what you’re interested in. This can be a bridge to new opportunity. It’s all about constant communication – all your hard work is wasted unless people know about it. Use technology to your advantage when telling people about your brand, but be accountable to yourself first. If your Facebook or MySpace page might get you in trouble, take the offending information down. The only alternative is to work at a place where they don’t care about that sort of thing.

Do not convolute your brand by trying to be all things to all people. Finding a niche is the easiest way to find success (depending on how you define success). As simple as that sounds, many college-age people are uncomfortable being pigeon holed. While one option offers security, the other offers freedom. The hardest thing for an entrepreneur to do is to let go of parts of their identity to focus on one specific, targeted brand. Most people think that targeting a specific market niche is limiting and restricts opportunity. Actually, the opposite is true: the more specifically you define who you serve, the better chance you have at finding them, and they you.

Personal Brands evolve over time and build as someone grows and develops. Maintain your personal brand. The brand must be updated with the latest technical competencies and skills in order to survive. The market changes rapidly and corporations transition, forcing you to evolve in the same fashion. It’s all about knowing where you are, who you want to be, and strategizing how to get there.

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