We're All Branded. What's Yours?

Branding. If Lance Armstrong can do it, so can you.

Posted Oct 10, 2009

A local television station recently asked me to do an interview about "branding" yourself for the job search. The producer sent me the resume and job search history for someone in the consulting field who has been seeking a job for several months with little success despite several years of experience. She asked me if I would speak about how this individual could better brand herself.

I'm not always comfortable with this notion of branding.  I don't like thinking of people as commodities like toothpaste, and I wonder about our increasingly narcissistic culture with its emphasis on style over substance.  But I've seen the success job-seekers have had when they apply the techniques of branding, and I realize that it's just the current term for what we've always tried to do in the job search: create a good impression.

Branding started as a marketing term referring to the image, look, and reputation of a product or a company. Think Starbucks, Nike, or Google. Their logos and "look" are instantly recognized because they've branded their products and services well. Most people are aware that any business needs to develop its brand. But branding applies to individuals as well. Consider Lance Armstrong-- his yellow LIVESTRONG wristband helped create a powerful brand.

Branding isn't limited to celebrities or media figures either. Branding applies to anyone who wants to present a particular identity and image, and can be particularly powerful when applied to the job search. And it's just as important for the first-time job seeker just out of college to the executive with many year's experience.

One of the leaders in the personal branding field is Dan Schawbel, a social media specialist who, not surprisingly, manages a popular personal branding website (with blog, Twitter, and Facebook links) and has written a successful personal branding book, Me 2.0. Dan is an expert at helping other people develop their brands. He regularly interviews key professionals from a variety of fields sharing their advice with his many followers. Dan interviewed me last spring when my book was published. His information can be extremely helpful to job seekers whether just starting out or further along in a career.

A particular value of branding comes from the mindset you develop when you're branding successfully. Branding means focus. Branding makes you focus in on your key strengths: talents, education, experience, personality, etc. Branding can promote self-esteem, give you confidence, and help you feel in charge of a situation-- particularly helpful in the job market when it's easy to feel out-of-control. You analyze yourself in terms of the marketplace, identify what will be most effective, and promote that. And what's good about this is that everyone can stand out. Everyone has skills and strengths to present.

In the job-search world, first impressions are everything. Your resume will only be reviewed for a few seconds before a decision is made to keep it or toss it. You only have about a minute at the interview or job fair to shake the interviewer's hand, look them in the eye, and say something that will make or break that important first impression. Branding your job search materials (resume, cover letter, writing samples, portfolio, etc.) are a great starting point for developing the confidence to face the employer.

So how do you start creating your brand? Here are three basic steps to get you started:

1. Analyze yourself.

  • What are your strengths?
  • What career field are you interested in?
  • What would you bring to that field?
  • If you had to identify the three things you want an employer to know about you, what would they be?
  • What is your brand?

My favorite strategy for analyzing yourself is to create mindmaps that examine your life from the beginning until now-- looking for threads and themes of interests, talents, and experiences you've enjoyed, and skills you've developed. I call my maps "Wandering Maps" and you can read more about them in my book, "You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path From Chaos to Career."

2. Create job search collateral.

Dan Schawbel calls this your "personal branding toolkit." Once you know your greatest strengths, you're ready to create your resume and other materials to demonstrate those strengths in a clear, succinct manner that will appeal to the employer.

  • Is the "look" of your material professional and designed for the field you're seeking?
  • Do you have a good writing sample if needed for your field? For more information, see my blog on writing samples.
  • Consider your wardrobe: is your interview outfit congruent with the job you're seeking?
  • Is your online presence good? Do you have a linked-in account and is it up-to-date? Many of us (I'm guilty too) create online profiles and then let them gather dust. Set a schedule for regularly checking your online presence.
  • Have you "Google'd" yourself recently? Even if you're not in the job market it's a good idea to check on your online profiles regularly. Google yourself and see what shows up. (If you have a common name, google your name, adding the city and state.)

3. Develop and continue to market your brand.

As you go through the search process, study what works about your brand and what doesn't. Have you focused well toward one career field-- and has that been successful?  Or are you too focused to the point where employers can't see your general skills? Have you developed a brand that is consistent with the industry in which you work?  A well-received brand for the advertising field is probably not going to be as well-received by a financial institution.

In my next blog, I'll walk you through my branding process with the "client" from the television interview. Meanwhile, check out these blog postings on branding: Personal PRBranding for executives, and BizzyWomen.

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