How to Build Your Personal Brand

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Posted by Lindsay Hicks on June 15, 2011
How to Build Your Personal Brand

You've been developing a personal brand since the day you first stepped into a classroom. Those bright white socks and new shoes. The backpack you hand-picked for its cartoon character theme. And remember when the teacher asked you to stand up in front of your peers to describe yourself in three words? Even then, you carefully selected the adjectives that described you best with hopes of leaving a good impression on your teacher and classmates.

Your response to the same question has likely evolved into something more sophisticated by now ("funny" shouldn't make it into your cover letters), but the end goal remains the same: to broadcast your strongest attributes and interests so that others know what you bring to the table.

There are countless career benefits to being associated with certain interests and characteristics, such as solid leadership skills, environmental activism, a great sense of humor, or a knack for public speaking. A strong personal brand makes you stand out from other job applicants or colleagues with similar educational and professional backgrounds. A strong personal brand also leads to more unsolicited job offers, as recruiters hear about you through word of mouth or stumble across your blog. It can even raise the confidence coworkers, managers, and clients have in you.

By knowing your passions and strengths, you're more likely to find greater job satisfaction than someone who hasn't spent enough time really thinking about who she is and what she can offer. The point here: a successful personal brand is an essential tool for opening yourself up to new opportunities and achieving career satisfaction.

1. Watch the Pros
To understand the concept of a personal brand, consider one of the strongest consumer brands out there: Apple. In one of the most successful ad campaigns in recent history, Apple personified the Mac as a hip, attractive, worry-free young man. In the same campaign, the competitor-the PC-is an old, out-of-touch stick in the mud. By painting itself as a company with sleek, "cool" products, and portraying its competitor as square, Apple was able to win over consumers not just on the strength of its products, but also with its attractive personality-or brand.

Most corporations employ brand management and marketing teams that spend countless hours dreaming up ways to make their products more attractive to their target group. No doubt, Apple has a crack team of marketing types in a locked room brainstorming and scribbling keywords on a white board. These are the handful of words (the emotions and qualities) they want their brand associated with. The only difference with personal branding is that you are the product.

Career expert and author Lindsey Pollak urges young professionals and students to get over the idea that a brand is something they should be embarrassed to develop and promote. "It's about differentiating yourself. It's not cheesy. It's not skeevy," she says. "None of this is about being fake-just being the best version of yourself."

2. Draft Your Brand Manifesto

A manifesto might sound a bit extreme, but as the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it-a written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives, or views of its issuer-it makes perfect sense. Defining your brand requires some serious introspection. And writing it down helps you solidify and make real what you're trying to achieve. We've assembled the following game plan for developing a personal brand manifesto:

Define The Words and Phrases That Define You
Make four lists, each with a handful of answers to the following questions: Who am I? What motivates me? What adjectives describe me? What are my skills? For example, use nouns to answer the first question: "artist," "entrepreneur," "baseball enthusiast." Narrowing your descriptions down to only a few words helps you find focus. Excluding something from the list doesn't mean you're not interested in it. This is about getting to the core of who you are.

Focus On What Motivates You

Just because you're good with numbers doesn't mean being an accountant will make you happy. Many people pursue a certain career path because they are confident with a particular skill, but that one skill-such as number crunching-might bore the hell out of you. Brand expert William Arruda suggests making a list of all your skills, then identifying whether each one is a skill that energizes you or burns you out.

3. Get Feedback
Being self-aware is crucial to building your brand. Knowing what others think you're good at is very useful; knowing your weaknesses can be equally important. The best way to get people you know to provide honest feedback is to ask them to do so anonymously. Online tools such as 360° Reach or Rypple.com allow people to name your strengths and weaknesses without worrying about offending you. Once you get a good sampling from family, friends, professors, and current and former coworkers, turn these insights into action.

First, you need to develop brand aspirations, says Arruda, who is also the founder of 360° Reach. Which of the personas within your feedback results do you want to be known as? Do you want to be seen as funny and creative or organized and good at project management?

Second, commit to a list of actions. For each aspiration, Arruda recommends writing down a list of corresponding actions. Some people identified you as a person with creative ideas, while many others didn't. Are the respondents that didn't your coworkers? Well, it might be time to stop reserving your great business ideas for conversations with friends. Here, the specific action might be "Share at least one idea at weekly brainstorm meetings." For weaknesses, identify the shortcomings that could hinder your success, and start working on these faults to reverse people's perceptions.

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