How to define your personal brand

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If you’ve ever conducted a job search, you’re probably familiar with a search strategy we like to call “the lottery mentality.” It’s the idea a lot of job seekers have that — like someone who buys three dozen lotto tickets hoping to win the jackpot – sending out dozens of job applications will increase the odds of landing a job.

While this approach seems to be pretty logical at first (more applications = more chances), the bad news is that it’s a better strategy for wasting time than it is for job search success. That’s because, instead of playing a job search like its a game of skill, the lottery mentality turns it into a game of chance.

Here’s why. By applying to every job you see, you start sacrificing quality for quantity. The quality of your application — the time you take to highlight what sets you apart from everyone else and what makes you special — is what will ultimately land you a job. So by giving away the quality, you’re giving away any advantage you may have had against your competition, and relying purely on chance to get you noticed among what could be hundreds of other applicants. If you’ve ever walked away from a casino $100 poorer than you walked in, you know that games of chance don’t always (or even usually) work out the way we want them to. If you’ve ever won a soccer game or a wrestling match, you’ve experienced the control you have over the outcome of a game of skill.

The easiest way to forever break the time-wasting cycle of — please excuse the bad business jargon — throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks, is to establish your personal brand, and to govern your job search by it.

What it is

If you’re still new to the idea of personal branding, the overarching idea is this: In the highly competitive labor market, you need to hone in on what makes you special, what you’re good at and what you want to do, and then you need to let other people know about it. The narrower your focus and the better you can promote your expertise, the more success you will have.

How to start

“To go about [discovering your brand], you first have to figure out who you are, how you want to position yourself in the market, and the types of jobs, career and companies you’re interested in — you’ve got to get all of that information down,” says Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Millennial Branding, LLC and author of “Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success.” “It’s the hardest part for people, but once you know how you want to be positioned in the marketplace, you can tailor your brand to reflect that.”

When it comes to defining your area of expertise, which will be at the core of your brand, the narrower the better, Schawbel says. “If you brand yourself as just another marketing expert or operations specialist, you’re competing against millions of people worldwide because it’s a global economy, but if you narrow it down to, say, what specific audience you can best serve, then instead of becoming one out of a million [people with that expertise], you’re one in 10,000. That really helps your chances of getting your name out there and becoming more visible, and visibility creates opportunity,” he says.

Not sure which niche you want to hold in your industry? That’s OK, too. Start out with a broader focus and tailor it as your career progresses, Schawbel says.

In choosing your focus, beyond being  narrow, it should also be something that you’re good at, and something that will be desirable to potential employers, says Lisa Johnson Mandell, resident blogger for Aol Jobs and author of “Career Comeback–Repackage Yourself to Get the Job You Want.” “Before, employers may have gotten 20-30 applications for each position, but these days they’re getting hundreds, so it’s essential to make yourself notable, so that out of all of those applicants, you’re the one that stands out,” she says.

Once you’ve honed in on what sets you apart, Mandell suggests creating a quick tagline or mission statement around it, and letting that tagline dictate the rest of your brand-promoting efforts. As a job search expert across multiple platforms, Mandell’s personal tagline is “Saving America one job at a time.” Schawbel, on the other hand, markets himself as a personal branding expert for Gen Y.

39 Comments
  1. Kaitlin
    Looking forward to the next post. Personal branding is something we all need to focus on, even those of us “in the industry.”

    Small business owners are usually quite good at creating their own niche to separate themselves from conglomerates and the like. People need to think of themselves more as businesses or contract workers looking for clients. This way they could see the resume for what it really is – a sales pitch.

    A good sales pitch has a theme and a driving point. If your resume package has that – and- you have supported the resume with social media and network branding, your chances of landing a job are much greater!

  2. This is vital to GEN Y job search. We might want to rethink what we post on places like FaceBook! Nothing like the pix from that wild party popping up at the interview!

    • With my employer, there are those that just troll FB looking for things that can be taken out of context, pictures or actions that are questionable, or are a clear cut violation of someone’s rights, be they adult or child. This not only goes for Gen Y, but for those Gen Xers who think they’re just as infallable.

      I know of an incident at work that someone posted on, and went to another site and the gossip spread like wildfire, violating the rights of the adult and child involved. The only thing that happened to the gossiper? A 2 day suspension. If I was in charge of disciplining this non-permanent employee, they would’ve been fired. Period.

  3. Another thing that is worth mentioning is that when you are defining your personal brand it is important to remember the 3 principles of a strong personal brand.

    1. Be distinctive, relevant, and consistent

    2. Make a difference in every interaction

    3. Brands are perceptions and perceptions are reality.

    By making sure your brand promise or mission statement aligns with these principles, you will project a more cohesive package to your potential employer.

  4. All in all, you want to look consistent across the board as well — how you dress, present yourself, your presence, down to your logo and font you use on your letterhead. Consistency is key.

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  27. Unusual advice. A brand originally meant the burn mark on a cow’s fanny. Generally, it means a distinctive characteristic that any observer can identify and which causes in that person a predictable perception ( Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge, Mercury, Buick, Lincoln, Honda, Toyota, etc.). Even so, “car” still means something and if the buyer needs one, the brand name may not be important.

    Also, generally, it is not possible for a newbie, beginner, entry-level, hopeful job applicant to establish anything even resembling a “brand.” Initial job inquiries are a “lottery,” and the more stuff you can throw at the wall, the better your chances. Your resume, letter, application, and references are expected to meet some minimum criteria . . . the rest is just LUCK (unless you were captain of the US Olympic widget team, or somesuch, and the potential emloyer knows about widget teams). Time spent on something resembling “branding” for a new-hire seems really off-topic. It is imperative to cast the widest, farthest range of applications possible.

    For mid-level jobs, the idea of branding can have some merit if you’ve established a reputation in your field, in a geographic area, or have demonstrated achievements and recognition.

    With high-level jobs, branding is everything, but such people have already done that, haven’t they?

  28. Make what you say relevent to those of us who find retirement is not all it’s presented as. I know everything you say is correct and good advice, but for the older generation, we are not painting a picture for 25 years employment. Besides, a retiree is more likely to stay for 5 years than a college grad just getting started.

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  30. Kaitlain – You hit it on the head with this: “In the highly competitive labor market, you need to hone in on what makes you special, what you’re good at and what you want to do, and then you need to let other people know about it.” There’s so much room for failure if you don’t know what you’re doing, which is exactly why I put together our home-study course called “Make Them BEG: Stop Selling and Start Seducing with Your Irresistible Personal Brand.” http://www.MakeThemBeg.com Kudos to you for bringing light to this super important aspect of career building. You are right on target.

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  32. I like the lottery/casino comparison! Flooding HR departments with resumes from people who are unqualified has to be making it harder on the people who are applying that are qualified. The HR reps will be overworked looking at resumes that shouldn’t have even been submitted and that could lead them to be overly critical of the qualified people who apply out of frustration. Just my thoughts on it.

    • Great input! And that’s why we always encourage individuals to be focused in the jobs they are applying to and give up the scattershot methodology of just blasting it out to positions they aren’t even qualified for. It’s a waste effort on the job seekers part.

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