Written by Jennifer Mayberry
Graphics by Krystn Stockbridge
What is Your Personal Brand?
Many job seekers may not realize the importance of creating a personal brand. We know the hopeful emails, the sent resumes, the gaps in employment; the open tab after open tab of online searches that lead to nowhere. We know the well-intentioned questions.
“Hey, whatever happened with that job you were so excited about?” a friend asks.
“Oh, I applied, but I never heard back,” you say.
What you may not always realize is just how many people are applying to the same jobs online. Now there is an additional new hoop to jump through: developing your personal brand. It sounds worse than formatting your resume. It seems fake; marketing yourself like a product; like some ridiculous Facebook quiz has come to take over your life and ask, “What kind of shampoo are you? Are you minty fresh, citrusy, or floral? Which kind of plastic bottle do you come in?”
The New Reality of Personal Brand
Those of us who remember the time before tech took over may long for a way back, but for all of the technology that dominates our lives, there is no time machine. Until there is, we need to find an exciting way of creating our personal brand. Even those who grew up or came of age in the online era may not realize that every public post you make becomes attached to your personal image. This can affect your job prospects. In 2018, every job seeker needs to think about their personal brand.
Although it may be weird to think of ourselves in this way, our personal brand is a reflection of who we are, what we do, and our reputation. It’s what people come to expect from us both professionally and personally. It is an expression of our personality, approach to life, and our style. At best, it embodies the authentic qualities that we value in ourselves, and which other people find value in too. The most significant thing about your personal brand is that you are probably going to need it to get the job you want.
The Bad News
According to a 2017 survey published by careerbuilder.com, 70 percent of companies screen social media accounts when considering applicants. As Matt Sweetwood puts it in an article for Entrepreneur, “Everyone has a unique personal brand, whether they know it or not.” If you haven’t honed your online presence to reflect your personal brand, prospective employers are likely to find an underdeveloped and potentially damaging representation of it. That could hurt your chances of getting hired. In fact, CareerBuilder’s survey found that 54 percent of employers decided not to hire candidates based on social media screening.
Beyond criminal behavior, the list of hiring deterrents included lying, partying, risqué images, and bad-mouthing past employers. Even the seemingly innocent offense of too frequent posting made the list of negatives. The thing is, employers aren’t just nosing around for juicy dirt on you. As Cory Fernandez explains in this Fast Company article, employers want to see if you are someone they will want to put up with on a regular basis.
It may not seem fair that we can’t just be our unfiltered online selves like in the good old days of early social media. Unfortunately, we can’t; at least not without consequences. We can’t hide, either. Although over-posting may turn some employers off, being invisible may look even worse. According to the CareerBuilder survey, 60 percent of employers were less likely to go forward with a candidate if they couldn’t find them online.
The Good News
Beyond the potential negative consequences of failing to shape your personal brand, there is an excellent reason to cultivate it: opportunity. While 70 percent of companies are looking for red flags on social media, 69 percent are using search engines to find candidates to hire. Today’s online environment offers job seekers the chance to hone their personal brands and attract interest from employers for the jobs they seek. Social media, particularly LinkedIn, gives you a way to market yourself to employers that would not have been possible in the past. As Matt Sweetwood puts it for Entrepreneur, if you have an attractive brand, “opportunity finds you.”
Cultivating your personal brand can be fun! There is a reason that those silly self-definition quizzes on Facebook are so popular. People like defining themselves. The way we dress, the cars we choose, and the way we decorate our homes all reflect our personal style. So why can’t our work reflect our tastes and preferences in the same way that our personal lives do? Katherine Minshew, CEO, and founder of The Muse advocates the importance of meaningful work. In an interview with the Forté Foundation, Minshew explains that these days, people, “expect to work for an organization that shares their values.” Creating your personal brand gives you the chance to attract the kind of organization that fits who you are. It gives you the power to attract the kinds of work that you care about.
So how do you Create Your Personal Brand to Land a Job?
Defining who you are and what you want will help you to resist the temptation to go for a career that doesn’t suit you. Taking a survival job is one thing but feeling locked on a career path that you hate is no way to live. Developing your personal brand can help to attract those opportunities you actually want. As quoted in an article for Forbes, Kelly Weber of The Wander Project says, “speak to what you want to attract. Share your personal definition of ‘meaningful work,’ then focus on outlining clearly how you serve others.”
Figuring out what you have to offer increases your value and makes you more competitive as a prospective hire. Devin Quick, a Senior Human Resource Recruiter at SuperInterns.com puts it this way, “Why should they hire you if you don’t know what you bring to the table? Knowing who you are as a person can give you that step up over people who are just randomly applying.” Be specific about what you are good at, what you have to offer and the kind of work you do. This will help prospective employers envision what you can do for them.
Let’s face it, not every authentic part of us brings value to others. Our stumble out of bed, one too many cocktails, or our need a sandwich selves, while totally authentic, are probably not the best we have to offer. The list of behaviors we need to edit for the public eye is lengthy. On the other hand, a personal brand that is only constructed to appeal to other people won’t work either. Filtering yourself for your personal brand does not mean taking away all of the real you. In fact, in this Forbes article, Brand Marketer Joseph Liu argues that authenticity is essential in building a successful personal brand.
SuperInterns.com’s CEO, Super Julie Braun, also stresses the importance of showing people the real you; even some of the quirky parts. Who you are is what makes you and your personal brand memorable. If you are only thinking about impressing people, it may be hard for them to get a sense of who you are. What should they remember about you? Of course, you want them to remember the good parts. So skip posting that picture of that time that your friends sprayed shaving cream all over your face and tied your shoelaces together while you were passed out. It’s okay to let people know that you love cats. Just don’t post all 2,000 pictures of your cats from your phone.
Create an Online Platform for Your Personal Brand
Create an online presence that showcases your strengths. LinkedIn is not only important for networking, but also as a way to showcase your personal brand to potential employers. For this reason, it is to your benefit to make it as easy as possible for recruiters or clients to find you, identify what you do, and take away something memorable about you. A personal website is also extremely beneficial because it provides a central location where you can share information about your personal brand. Use your website to post original content. Link to your fan fiction, your cooking blog, or anything else that you feel shows your best work.
Consider Image and Visual Style
What colors and visual style represent your personal brand? Creating a unified visual theme will not only make your presentation look more put together, but also, as Suzannah Weiss of Bustle.com points out, “The more you can give people a visual that automatically makes them think of you, the more they’ll remember you.”
Devin Quick and Super Julie Braun of SuperInterns.com recommend the following for your LinkedIn profile picture. Dress for your industry. Use a professional looking picture. Avoid blurry images, distracting backgrounds, and ridiculous peace sign selfies. Do not make a duck face. Whatever you do, Braun warns, avoid “the bathroom selfies.” Save it for a dating site (maybe). You may look hot in the mirror, but it’s unprofessional. Also, as Super Julie puts it, “I don’t want to see your toilet paper!”
This type of polite consideration is important for your online personal brand. Think of it like you would personal hygiene and appropriate wardrobe for an in-person interview. The other part of your online image is behavior. It would be better not to get into a screaming match of obscenities and nastiness online, but if you must, don’t do it on LinkedIn! It’s probably better to avoid inflammatory posts on Linkedin entirely.
Follow Industry Leaders & News, Interact, and Share Original Content
As Matt Sweetwood writes here, candidates who share relevant content for their fields have the edge over equally qualified candidates who don’t. Consider sharing a personal blog or industry news. Search for thought leaders in and outside of your industry. Following people who are posting about new ideas and trends can help you stay current. This will also give you relevant topics to post about. Additionally, top blogger Neil Patel advises readers that the best way to build your personal brand and gain credibility is to share valuable content. Google SEO rewards content that users find valuable. The more solid and credible your personal brand and content, the more interest you will attract.
While it may feel a little strange at first, creating a personal brand could be the key to getting the job you want. Failing to manage your online image can put you at a disadvantage when employers search for you. The good news is that creating and refining your personal brand can be fun. Best of all, it can help you attract the kind of opportunities that you want. For more information about branding and other career-related topics, check back at SuperInterns.com. To read more about finding a job, check out this great article by David Miller on SuperInterns.com.