We learned in Branding: for you about why it is important to actively mold other people’s impressions of you, and to design a systematic way to do so (despite all of the “traditional” anecdotes that suggest doing such a thing is low or not useful).
So what can we learn from my sales-savvy friend who landed the job with PwC? Successful personal branding, regardless of specific manifestation, includes:
Not seeming weak or uncertain of yourself (whether you are or not is a different issue). Confidence is grown through practice.
Keeping your personal branding effort going, despite “not feeling like it” or setbacks. One of the biggest enemies to your effort is yourself and feeling discouraged.
- Creative, but follows successful formats.
The creativity is your unique attributes which are displayed and promulgated via proven and effective means. Do not try to “reinvent the wheel” when you can avoid it. Look for the lowest hanging fruit.
- Ability to handle rejection well
Not focused solely on short-term results, and understanding that efficacy will improve only with practice. Read my article on Understanding failure to gain a better appreciation as to how this should be done.
I don’t want to let this article become a “how-to” list for branding, since that violates the idea of understanding the concept behind branding, and because I want to devote other articles to addressing personal branding in specific circumstances (such as branding for entrepreneurs, students and young professionals). I do recommend the following general points be adhered to:
- Think, first and foremost, in the terms of the other person.
The important thing to remember about branding is that it has to be targeted towards your audience. If you are a 22 year old male, you probably don’t watch Oprah, right? This isn’t a commentary on Oprah: the point is that Oprah has no natural appeal to you. And that’s the point: it’s not targeted to you: it’s targeted to someone else.
So when you are branding yourself to someone else, your brand has to be targeted to them. Much like you won’t watch Oprah because it doesn’t appeal to you, they won’t deal with you if you don’t appeal to them.
So if you’re interviewing, talking about your goals as they relate to the company makes sense. If you’re talking with a shy person, don’t come across as overbearing.
- “What this means to you is…”
Most people assume that, since they understand themselves so well, upon explaining themselves to others, that other person will automatically understand us with equal exaction. I think we find that that is an incorrect assumption, and that it is often difficult for someone else to automatically understand “oh, that’s why what you are saying matters.” So why not avoid the confusion and just tell them?
“I served in the Peace Corps for two years. We worked with individuals in third-world countries….[explains Peace Corps].
Recruiter thinks: “That’s pretty cool. But does that have anything to do with our sales job?”
“I spend two years in the Peace Corps before applying to this job…[explain Peace Corps]. What that means to you is I have a demonstrated drive to go outside of my comfort zone, which is a trait that will help me aggressively pursue my sales goals.”
Recruiter thinks: “Oh wow, that is a cool experience, and it makes perfect sense that his Peace Corps experience can help us get the job done!”
Emphasize unique points in addition to mastery of general points.
As I mentioned in the first article on branding, competition over general points is saturated. Oh, you have a CPA and a 3.5? Good for you, so do half of the other applicants. I think what you find is that general points are actually usually disqualifying, in the sense that not having acumen in a general point area (such as good grades and a CPA) will disqualify you, while having them allows you to stay in the game.
So clearly, demonstrating mastery of general points is important. But displaying unique points is what will actually help you in your endeavor. Think back to the first article, where I mentioned my friend from PwC. He told me that he mentioned his sales experience to his interviewer, and how that sales experience would make him an excellent partner someday. I’m sure the interviewer thought about that for a second, and though “wow, he’s right”; and I bet he was the only guy to play up that angle.
If you’re stumped trying to figure out how you are unique: think deeply about your experiences and try to make creative associations between them. (as we learned in my article about Creativity: the practical implications). Things such as personal hardships, personality traits you think you are better at than most others (extroversion, for example) and even hobbies can lend examples of your uniqueness. It can even be intangible, such as the ability to come across more intelligently in conversation than other people.
An example: “I can mesh well with all types of people [implying I am guaranteed to get along in this office culture] because of my extensive experience living in other cultures, such as when I lived abroad in China”. China has nothing to do with accounting directly. But there is a creative (and valid) association between the two (China taught you how to deal with people better, so you will do a good job here) that makes you unique. That one was from my life: think about your life and apply the same sort of reasoning.
- Manifest your brand both through your actions and through objects.
Most of the examples I have given so far focus more on interpersonal interactions. But you are not omnipotent, and people don’t stop judging you just because you are not in their physical presence. And people are wary of “just talk”. So promote your personal brand through objects. Obvious examples are LinkedIn, business cards, resumes, and the likes. But telling you to have a resume isn’t why I wrote this; to do so would be to insult your intelligence.
The type of object I’m getting at to promote your brand is less obvious, and takes actual work. The types of objects that are the most important are those that provide value to the other person. Companies do it all of the time: most obviously through things such as giveaways; less obviously through things such as whitepapers posted on their website.
An example: I recently started a radio show at ASU about entrepreneurship. After I completed an interview with a start-up, I asked my interviewer if he or someone from his company could be a guest on my show. My offer was sincere: their company is awesome, and my listeners have a lot to gain from listening to their story. But the underlying point was that I displayed my personal brand of being an outgoing, leader-type by providing something of value to them; in this case, the intangible object that is appearing on a radio show.
Things you could do: make a website where you post some projects you have worked on. Offer to help small businesses with their problems for free on a small scale (as a lead-in towards networking to bigger opportunities). Join an organization where you can work in a position that mirrors your talents (and if you picked that organization intelligently, it is one where other people will see you working).
- Win the endorsements of others.
We trust people we know over strangers. Most of the meaningful connections I have made have been because I had the backing and support of others. It wasn’t necessarily the endorsement of “people in high places”: it is oftentimes just a friend whose other friend (that I wanted to meet) was working on a startup company.
How to win the endorsements of others is another issue, which I will devote the article Win the endorsements of others to.
- Do not see branding as an “ad-hoc”, only-when-I-want-something task.
Wal-Mart doesn’t only brand itself when it wants more shoppers.
I know a lot of people who say “I guess my internship is done. Better update my LinkedIn and go meet some new people to network for that new job.” That’s a flawed approach. You approach must be to constantly define, display and invigorate your personal brand.
Why is this concept important?
It makes more sense to constantly be on the lookout for opportunities, since opportunities don’t just magically happen only when you want something. As such, you need to keep your brand going constantly.
Opportunities are all around us at all times. If you haven’t read it already, read my article on Finding opportunities- redefined. I feel like most people say that their work is “okay”, but they wish it was better. Simultaneously, they take no actual action that could better the situation for them. Do you really want to be like that? By not looking for opportunities, you limit yourself only to what you have now, rather than being receptive to positive change. If you want to effectively pursue these opportunities, your branding has to be proactive, rather than reactive (and by definition ad-hoc), because it will probably be too late.
Articles for these specific groups coming soon:
Personal brand development for college students
Personal branding for young professionals