Before I go into the above, let me define personal branding:

Personal branding is the deliberate, multifaceted act of promoting (not just displaying) your value in the most optimal way, and making it easy for others to know and understand the value you present.

Personal branding is valuable because it gives you control over yourself and the way other see you.  Since you control the ways others see you, you can make a favorable impression.

A lot of people probably read that and cringed.

“Branding?  Isn’t that something that big companies and salesmen do?  Those kind of gimmicks are way beyond me.  Acting in a certain way to get something from others is low and manipulative.  My success will come as a result of personal effort and accomplishment, not personal marketing.”

Many of us have negative connotations about sales and branding.  I’ll dissect the main points above.  But before I do, Challenge your assumptions!  If you haven’t read my article on challenging your assumptions, read it first, and then come back and finish this one.

So now, you can approach the issue with an open mind.

1. “Acting in a certain way to get something from others is low and manipulative.”

Don’t you realize that you are already “manipulating” others?  Given that you interact with others, your actions serve to cause the person you are interacting with to form certain opinions about you, regardless of whether or not you are trying to “act in a certain way”.  Since your actions have been misguided, you simply “manipulate” people into having a less favorable impression of you, and cause yourself problems along the way.

So given that you are already making impressions with other people, why not try to make the most favorable impression of yourself possible?

2. “My success will come as a result of personal effort and accomplishment, not personal marketing”.

Hah!  No way.

A stroll around the typical office cubicle farm ought to prove to the contrary.  Do you know how many people I have met, during my internships and amongst my peers, who work hard on a daily basis, but whose career success has lagged far behind others of their age, skill level, and education?  I know people that are absolute geniuses at taxation that have been working in tax accounting for twenty years…and still work at a mid-level position.  In my opinion, the Real value of hard work is misunderstood, and in some senses overrated (read the article to see why).

I work hard every day.  Do you?  If all that’s needed is hard work, we would all be CEO’s by now.  Clearly something else is needed.

Let me tell you how I developed my philosophy on personal branding:

One thing I never learned in school was how to brand myself.  The formal educational efforts that sought to teach this concept were there were few and far between, and usually consisted of the usual “remember to shake hands firmly; be sure to check the spelling on your resume” stuff that you could have searched for on Google and figured out in about 2-3 minutes.  Good to know our tuition money was being put to good use.

Like I had always been taught in school, I used the most basic (and most saturated) ways of trying to differentiate myself when I applied for jobs and met recruiters.  I made sure my resume was fit for an audience before the Queen herself.  I made sure that I went to all of the career fairs and talked to the right people.  And, my efforts to promote myself were always limited to an as-needed basis (so I wouldn’t actively try to do anything when I didn’t need something).  Then when I had an interview, I made sure to talk about specific tax projects and accounting classes I had taken; and why yes, I am a member of the Honors College.  Boy, I thought.  They sure know how good of an accountant I will be!  How could they want anyone else?

Well…then I couldn’t get a job.


I was pretty upset.  Years of school…only to have nothing?  Woe was me, and it was me for a very, very long time.

Then I had a chance meeting with one of my classmates who had gotten a job with PriceWaterhouse Coopers, one of the Big 4 accounting firms.  He said he had no prior work experience in accounting, and in fact a day-long visit to another accounting firm was the most exposure he had to professional accounting.  I was amazed.  Here I was, an accounting student with good grades and two prior internships.  But I had nothing, and he had the holy grail of accounting jobs.

“Then how did you do it?”, I asked in amazement.

“It’s actually pretty easy.  I’m just good at talking with other people.”

He went on to talk about his years of sales experience had given him the ability to instantly connect with others and get them to like him.  By using his charm and his keen sense of dealing with others, he was able to add that something special to get a job that hundreds of others had applied for.  Not that he wasn’t technically qualified for the job.  The point here is, that out of a huge pool of qualified candidates, this one was able to get the final offer.

Are you convinced now?

Whenever you think you are already so wonderful that personal branding is unnecessary, remember that it is impossible for others to fully appreciate and understand your unique values and

attributes in the time you have available to do so.  They don’t know you well enough, they don’t have time to know you well enough, and the odds are they don’t care.  Since people do not have the time to get to know you, they use heuristics and their own predispositions to sum you up.  So they’ll just make their decision based on their limited time and knowledge of you.  If those limited resources you give them are resources that work against you, you dug your own grave.

Think about your interactions with people.  Aren’t you usually pretty quick to judge others?  If you judge them in anything short of hours of having a deep, philosophical conversation with them, I would say you are.

So the point is that you must take ownership of your identity and your value, and make it easy for other people to look at you and say “ah!  That’s why R.C. is a good guy to help us with our business consulting.”  The converse?  “I don’t know R.C., he seems all right.  Let’s interview a few more people first before making a decision on him.”

So, rather than personal branding being dishonest, it is actually value-added for the other party, as well as yourself.

A deliberate effort at personal branding:

  • Helps you develop unique value, above and beyond being a “typical” student or a “typical” professional.

Display unique qualifying factors rather than just trying to be the best at the basic.  So if you aren’t the best accounting student in terms of grades or knowledge of the Internal Revenue Code, why would you try to compete by trying to talk up these areas?

  • Gives you more power in your interactions.

You don’t leave others’ assessments of you up to chance and an “I hope they like me!” or hope that they got the value you were trying to convey.

  • Helps other people understand how you are unique–and why that is valuable to them–very quickly.

Leaves no room for ambiguity and allows for that “aah!  that’s why we want him” moment to occur.

So now you understand, from a broad level, why it is important to act deliberately to give others a the impression of yourself that you want them to get.

See Part 2: Branding: making it happen.