Nike, Microsoft, Arthur Andersen, Pfizer, and Boeing: What do these companies have in common? Brand power. When anyone mentions these companies, the same things come to mind for everyone: shoes, software, accounting, pharmaceuticals, and airplanes, respectively. Through effective brand development, these firms have removed a major obstacle to effective marketing and ensured that their message always arrives to a primed and receptive audience.
What does this have to do with job searching? More than you might think! A job search campaign is a form of personal marketing where you seek to "sell" a product (your skills and experience) to a customer (the company). So what would happen if your customer already associated you with your product? This is what personal branding is all about.
This is an important question. According to Dan Schawbel, a personal branding expert and author of Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success, job seekers all too often seek to brand themselves just for the sake of branding without considering the reason or ramifications.1 Your brand should reflect what you want to do: it needs to be presented so that it becomes the way that people perceive you. Are you a skilled accountant with proven success in auditing? Are you a future-driven IT professional? An online media powerhouse? Regardless of the answer, your brand will point the reader in the right direct.
It is worth noting that if you are considering multiple goals or anticipate changing careers in the next few years, then personal branding may not be for you.
As with a corporate brand, personal brand is developed through the sum total of your personal marketing materials: It is a matter of ensuring that the message in all your materials tells the audience the same thing. Schawbel lists a number of materials that can be loosely broken down into two categories: Traditional and online materials.2
Traditional materials include your business card, a professional resume and cover letter, portfolio, and personal appearance. These must send a consistent message and be immediately recognizable as presenting your brand. The professional clothing you wear will be depicted in any photos of you in your materials (especially online) and it is important that this remain consistent. Font, paper color, graphics, etc. should be similar in all print documents to establish consistency that, in turn, builds recognition.
Online materials include social media sites (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter), professional web page, an online portfolio, blog, and email address. When building the online identity aspect of your brand, it is vital that you are sending a consistent message. Also, because online environments are dynamic and social networking is unpredictable, it is critical to manage your online presence.
Given that social media networks are saturated with job seekers attempting to carve out a space, it is important that your presence truly stands out if it is to amplify your brand. According to Dr. Hubert Rampersad, author of Authentic Personal Branding: A New Blueprint for Building and Aligning a Powerful Leadership Brand, the secret is authenticity.3 If your brand demonstrates more than your skills and accomplishments to include your career purpose and vision, it will resonate with a broader audience.
Now that you have designed your personal brand, it is time for self-promotion. The goal of personal branding is for people and companies to think of you and your branded skills on their own without your prompt at the time: When a company in your area is searching for a new sales representative or controller, they will contact you to see if you're available. This is a matter of networking, both online and in person. According to Schawbel, this can include writing and commenting on blogs, writing articles for publications in your field and area, attending and speaking at events, and pitching yourself, your skills, and your products.4
In addition to getting your brand out there, it is critical to maintain it. More than just managing your content to ensure your brand hasn't been clouded by outside information, this involves regular spring cleaning to ensure the information is current and accurate, that all links are active, and that your full value is being presented.
In short, personal branding does not apply to every job seeker. But for those who can use it, brand power can be one more tool in the job seeker's toolbox.