Build your personal brand

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What kind of person are you, what do you feel is important in life and how would you like others to think of you?

The answers to these questions are private, you may well reply, yet they can also play a very public part of your identity - your own ‘personal brand’.  

This is the way you promote your talents, personality and experience to help boost your profile – particularly at work - and stand out. Of course, it’s always been important to be recognised for who you are and your achievements.

And in today’s connected online world where social media filters can reveal all manner of information about you, standing out for the right reasons has never been so critical.

We explain why a personal brand can be so influential and show you the building blocks to help you get started.

What is a personal brand – and why is it so important?

Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, once said: “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Yet where once branding was exclusively used to describe companies and their products, it’s an attribute you can now apply to an individual – namely you.

A well-crafted personal brand allows you to clearly show and tell other people who you are and what you’re about.

It can advance your career, increase your influence, and help you have a bigger personal and professional impact.

It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, a compelling personal brand at work can help boost your chances of promotion, bring greater responsibility and open up more opportunities. On a more day-to-day level, it can simply improve your chances of fulfilling, meaningful work.

And if you’re keen to raise your public profile – for example, to campaign for a particular cause on social media or actively support local environmental groups - a strong personal brand can help give you credibility and differentiate yourself from others.

Know what you’re good at - and spell out what you stand for

To develop your personal brand, you must be able to project yourself – and to do this, you’ll need to be confident of your skills and your personal values.

This might sound easy but do you really know what your strongest skills are, and can you articulate them?

Having a clear and consistent personal brand requires putting some thought towards the skills and values you’d like to be known for.

Don’t worry if you’re not 100 per cent clear about your key strengths – you won’t be alone.

If you’re not sure, think about what kind of work you really enjoy and the skills you need to do this work successfully.

As a test, try to remember the last brilliant day you had at work – perhaps one where you felt you’d achieved something spectacular for a project, team or your organisation.

What did you do so successfully? Perhaps it was a technical skill that impressed, your excellent communication that stood out, or quick decision-making that defined you. 

Or consider a strength test to help you get a feel for what you’re especially good at, and keep on developing it through practice and training.

While skills are typically grounded in your work life, your personal values are those you carry everywhere throughout your life.

They’re vital to a personal brand because they represent what matters to you on a moral level, as well as a professional one.

They guide your decisions and ensure you act consistently across situations, over time and with different kinds of people.

Working out what really matters to you is no mean feat, given personal outlooks can vary wildly according to any number of variables including your age, finances, job, location and ever-changing sentiment.

For instance, incoming Harvard undergraduates are asked to identify five words that best describe their values.

The list provided to them includes words like “dignity”, “fame”, “excellence” and “wisdom”. They are then asked to think about the choices they would make if their values are in conflict. This is a good exercise to try with others – friends, family or colleagues - as you can reflect individually before discussing as a wider group. Another way to get to a similar result is to use a longer list of values and highlight those that most resonate with your personal and professional philosophy.

Here, you can choose from values like “generosity”, “loyalty”, “cleverness” and “self-control”. This exercise also allows you to group and prioritise your values, depending on what’s most important to you. You can do this exercise on your own, and at a pace to suit you.

You can also try our own personal values quiz which takes a specific look at how values apply to the workplace. You can either log in or register to take the quiz. 

One of the most critical elements is to be honest with yourself. Your personal brand should be a sincere reflection of yourself, or others will be able to see through it.

A strong example of this is chef and businessman Jamie Oliver. His values might typically include family, enthusiasm, health and cheerfulness.

This comes across clearly in his campaigns for nutritious, easy-to-prepare, accessible food for families. He’s written books and presented TV shows that speak to this, but he’s also worked with schools in the UK and US advising them on healthier school lunches.

He also appreciates a strong work ethic, and is very outspoken. This hasn’t always made him popular, but he’s stayed consistent. This, plus the fact that he lives his values and allows them to come across in his actions as well as his words, has been a clear contributor to his success.

Ask others what they think of you

Asking somebody else for their opinion about you might fill you with trepidation – after all, there’s no guarantee you’ll like what you find.

However, for any personal brand to be effective, it must feel authentic and credible.

If you want to pitch yourself as an open, chatty and enthusiastic team-player when you’re a diffident introvert who prefers to work alone, you’ll struggle to make headway.

For a quick and informal way of gathering feedback, you could try personal branding specialist Leonard Kim’s ‘one word’ exercise. Ask as many people as you can - include friends, family, former and current colleagues - to write down one word which they think best describes you. When you have a few back, compare their words with your self-perception.

For a more thorough academic approach that combines values with feedback, you could try working through this brand workbook from PWC accountant.

This type of feedback – brutal as it may be - will keep you on the right track for a personal brand that’s authentic and which resonates with people.

If people’s answers surprise you, don’t try to change overnight.

These exercises are intended to ensure you play to your natural strengths rather than give off an artificial air that could leave you undone.

Promote your personal brand

Once you’re comfortable with what makes up your personal brand, it’s time to start pushing it out.

The first thing you may want to think about is social media and your wider online presence.

Business contacts might take a look at your LinkedIn page, or a potential new employer might search for you on the web to see how your profile holds up.

In fact, nearly three-quarters of employers use social media to screen candidates while hiring and nearly half use it to check up on current employees, a study found.

So how can you put your personal brand to good use online? 

Use the same photos and bios across all online channels to inspire trust and improve recall.

Update your LinkedIn profile regularly and make sure all your personal info is accurate.

If you’re a frequent social media user, be conscious about what you post and how this could appear to an employer; also double-check your privacy settings so you’re comfortable with what current or future employers can see.

If you’re going to create or share content, try to keep it focused.

Choose one or two topics that you can share points of view on, and try and carve out a niche for yourself. Connect with others who are interested in these same topics and learn from them.
Networking smartly, inside and outside your workplace, can also help establish your personal brand. A good place to start is your professional network – smart choices about how and where you network, and what story you tell, can then help you stand out.

It’ll be worth seeking out networking allies who can amplify your personal brand.

For example, if there is somebody in your peer group who you admire, why not consider working together to increase both your visibility? You could each advocate for the other and highlight your interests, experience and values in appropriate situations. Separately, while mentors are important to one’s development, try to find a sponsor instead. This particular type of set-up sees a very senior colleague seek to help you progress based on the strength of your work and your personal brand. Employees who engage with this system – where it’s feasible - are more likely to move up in their career.

Use your brand to guide your actions

Once you’re comfortable with your personal brand, try to use it as a guide to your decision-making.

Some of the world’s most successful people have narrowed down their core values and use them to guide their actions. 

A high-profile example is Michelle Obama whose personal brand centres on her resilience, role as a caregiver and cheerleader, and her mission to fight for justice and social change.

She clearly values the concept of family, which informs the kind of philanthropy she gets involved in.

Her work with “Let’s Move!” tackled childhood obesity, and her support for military families and the LGBTQ+ community is notable.

Through her actions as well as her writing, she has become a role model for many people who see her as a genuine and authentic individual who wants the best for everyone.

Others who use their personal brand to the same effect include entrepreneur Richard Branson and talk show host Oprah Winfrey – the latter so renowned that she’s easily identified by her first name alone.

Both have relied on consistency (Oprah in her empathy for guests and refusal to change her style to fit expectations, Branson with his maverick entrepreneurial methods) and an uncanny ability to communicate to their fans, to establish their brands so firmly.

You certainly don’t need to be famous to use your personal brand in this way.

You can use your brand to act as a filter when choosing what projects to take on inside and outside work.

If being a thought-leader is important to you, consider writing a blog or if your personal brand centres on fairness and equality, you could get involved with your industry’s union (if appropriate) or volunteer with a charity.

And if diversity and inclusion is a key part of your personal brand, volunteer to help organise learning and celebration events to coincide with Pride, say, or Black History month.

It could even help guide you in your choice of job.

If innovation is one of your core values, for example, you might ask yourself how your new role would allow you to do things differently to bring about change.

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