The concept of developing your personal brand can be elusive, especially to early stage professionals. How do you define personal brand, and why is it important? In layman's terms, a personal brand is how people describe you and think about you when you’re not around.
Your personal brand is not necessarily dictated by your title or rank within the workplace, but rather it’s your reputation based on performance and interactions with others. And, remember this: You will have a personal brand, whether you want one or not. So ultimately, you have to decide if you want to play a mindful and proactive role in shaping it, or not.
Throughout my career in HR, I have watched employees at all levels of the organization torpedo their careers because they have under-anticipated the importance of their personal brand. Don’t let this be you. If you’re unclear how to manage your personal brand, here are some quick tips:
1. Be the person you want your brand to be.
Ask yourself what reputation you want to have, and how you’d want people to describe you. Do you want to be known as the good-humored and friendly person employees love hanging out with after work? Do you want to be known for being knowledgeable and always helpful? Or, as someone who is unable to keep information confidential?
The credibility you build by consistently delivering high-quality work will be your most important asset in shaping how people view you over the longer term. Being a team player who supports their colleagues trumps being the class clown. And, if you can pull off being both, all the better.
2. Be authentic.
Authenticity is probably one of the most important parts of your brand. If you aren’t true to yourself and those around you, people will see through it quickly. Humanize your brand by allowing people to get to know the person you are through participating in company social events such as volunteer days, happy hours, company picnics and so on.
While it’s important to be accountable and smart at work, it’s equally valuable to have a personal connection. But, do what feels natural and comfortable to you, and figure out how to contribute and be part of a team in a way that best suits your personality.
3. Every interaction shapes your brand.
After interviewing candidates, I often walk over to the front desk and ask our receptionist how their interaction with the candidate was. If the candidate was rude to the receptionist (unfortunately, this is much more common than you’d think), this immediately impacts our decision during the hiring process. Your brand is not just who you claim to be, it’s equally shaped by what you do when you don’t think anyone is paying attention. And, your brand image can start far ahead of joining a company you have your eyes set on.
4. Network to create real relationships.
For the longest time in my career, “networking” was an awful buzzword for me. It felt dishonest, awkward and inauthentic—like I was only meeting people because I wanted something from them.
Since then, I’ve gradually started to appreciate the power a genuine network can yield. If networking feels unnatural to you too, remember that when you get to know people, don’t focus on what they could do for you. Instead, get to know them because you’re genuinely interested in learning more about them as a person. If, over the course of time, they help you out, or you help them, that’s a natural human interaction, and should feel so. You’ll be surprised how ex-colleagues from years past reach out and ask for a favor--or I ask if they can help me with something. But, it was never something I expected when we first met, and that in itself helped the realness of the relationship (and my willingness to help).
5. Your brand is your responsibility.
A good manager should help promote your brand—he or she should recognize your achievements in public forums, and share your strengths with other leadership. Unfortunately, we don’t always get the kind of a manager who has the time or skill to do this. Help your manager promote your brand by equipping them with the right ammunition. Be buttoned up and attend your one on one meetings prepared. Always make sure your manager knows what you’ve accomplished.
I find that people assume their manager is familiar with their achievements, but most managers I speak to are senior several team members on top of their own responsibilities, so they are often unsure where each team member stands. It’s important to help busy managers shape your brand in a non-braggart fashion where they know exactly what you’ve done.