Personal branding basics: Essential rules for selling yourself in the digital age
So call me old-fashioned, but I find the idea of having to “sell yourself” a little creepy.
For centuries, civilized societies everywhere have shunned showoffs—and rightly so. At school, work, and parties, nobody likes a blowhard. But for nearly a decade now, branding and marketing gurus have bombarded us with the proposition that, in the digital age, our professional success demands self-promotion.
Having waded through two-dozen books on “selling yourself” and “personal branding” so you don’t have to, I’ve distilled all that wit and wisdom into five big ideas.
1. Your brand must be authentic, credible, and inspire trust.
In branding, as in life, honesty is almost invariably the best policy. Yes, we’ve all heard the line about “fake it ‘till you make it.” But the reality is: faking it is hard and the odds are you’ll get busted.
In the digital age, it’s easier than ever for employers, clients, and investors to ferret out frauds. If they think you’re conning them, you’re toast. One thing we hear all the time from prospective employers is that they can’t stand “box-tickers”—people who do things not because they’re genuinely interested but just to get ahead.
So, be confident, be passionate, and never sell yourself short. But above all, don’t lie or pretend to have experiences, skills, or credentials you’ve never acquired. Sometimes, a little old-fashioned modesty can go a long way.
“In the digital age, it’s easier than ever for employers, clients, and investors to ferret out frauds.”
2. Your brand must be consistent.
This is a hard one in the online age. We’re all used to having multiple personas. We might be geeky and shy with one group of friends, and wild and crazy with another.
Even on social media, many of us have different personalities on different platforms. We tend to be buttoned-up and professional on LinkedIn, breezy and informal on Facebook or Instagram, and willing to really let our hair down on Snapchat. From a branding standpoint, this is a problem. As much as we’d all love to believe that what happens on Facebook stays on Facebook, it just ain’t so.
The more important the job you’re seeking, the more probable it is that employers and recruiters will scour the web to find out who you really are. If you’ve made crass remarks on Twitter, or your Instagram feed reveals questionable behavior, that’s not going to do your brand any favors.
3. Your brand must emphasize what it is that makes you different.
Your brand should help you to stand out, presenting you as a premium product rather than a commodity.
This can be tricky, especially in the early stages of your career. But in composing your resume or LinkedIn profile and talking about yourself in job interviews, it helps enormously to highlight things that make you unique from other recent grads.
Do you speak multiple languages? Have you lived in many different countries? Do you have special technical skills? Is there some unusual project you led that will help an employer understand what you’re all about?
It pays to communicate something unique about yourself—even if it’s a hobby or something not directly related to the opportunity you’re seeking—as long it helps people relate to you and remember who you are.
“Your brand should help you to stand out, presenting you as a premium product rather than a commodity.”
4. Your brand must help communicate how you can add value.
This is where the rubber hits the road.
What can you really do for an employer? Make sure your LinkedIn profile, resume, and presentations spell it out.
5. Your brand must be focused.
What’s the one thing you’re really good at? The one thing you really want to be known for? The one thing that unifies all your skills and experiences to date?
Don’t try to persuade a client or employer that you’re a “Jack-of-all-trades,” equally adept at whatever happens to come up. No one wants to hire a Jack. They want to hire someone who is crazy good at one thing, whatever it is, that will really matter. Figure out that one thing and go after it.
“What’s the one thing you really want to be known for? Figure out that one thing and go after it.”
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