ed muses upon

2011/04/06

Personal Branding


Welcome to the second installment of my new, Job Search Best Practices! If you missed previous installments, you can find them here if you’re interested.

Ever since Tom Peters first wrote The Brand Called You [1], the phrase “personal branding” has had an incredible impact, from those who read it when it first appeared August 31, 1997 and all the way down to the present day, as others first encounter the concept. In its original context, Peters meant it from a career management standpoint—but of course, like any good idea, it didn’t take long for smart career management professionals to see its applicability to the job search process.

Today, Dan Schawbel[2] maintains a personal branding blog and even a LinkedIn group, the Personal Branding Network[3]. And if you do a search on the phrase “personal branding” on Google, you’ll get 1.88 million results in 0.09 seconds[4]. Personal branding is everywhere but let’s talk about why it’s so important: where it really delivers ROI[5] for the job search process.

Let’s begin with something very basic. We all know the stat about 70% of jobs being filled through networking, so presumably, educated job seekers are attending networking events to maximize the likelihood of being in that 70%. But I think we’ve all had this experience: we attend a networking event and afterwards, when that person reaches out to us, we don’t remember them. Or worse, maybe you want to reach out to him or her, but you don’t remember a blessed thing about that person or perhaps how to contact them.

That’s an embarrassing situation to be in, but imagine how much worse if you’re the one who’s failed to make a (positive) impression. Indeed, perhaps you’ve even been in that position, too, unbeknownst to you.

The solution is personal branding.

As Peters himself put it:

“What is it that my product or service does that makes it different? Give yourself the traditional 15-words-or-less contest challenge. Take the time to write down your answer. And then take the time to read it. Several times.

If your answer wouldn’t light up the eyes of a prospective client or command a vote of confidence from a satisfied past client, or — worst of all — if it doesn’t grab you, then you’ve got a big problem. It’s time to give some serious thought and even more serious effort to imagining and developing yourself as a brand.

Start by identifying the qualities or characteristics that make you distinctive from your competitors — or your colleagues. What have you done lately — this week — to make yourself stand out? What would your colleagues or your customers say is your greatest and clearest strength? Your most noteworthy (as in, worthy of note) personal trait?”

A lot of people make the mistake of interpreting this as being about marketing. And make no mistake, personal branding is part of it. But to dismiss it as being nothing more is missing the forest for the trees. At its heart, a personal brand is your professional essence.

It’s crucial to understand that understanding one’s personal brand requires a thorough understanding of one’s strengths, aptitudes and experiences. It doesn’t work to hear someone else’s great branding statement and adopt it wholesale, as it speaks to strengths, aptitudes and experiences that another person will not possess. That isn’t personal branding, because it addresses the superficial without engaging the substantial.

So why does it matter?

Two words: corporate culture.

People have been discussing corporate culture and how it can provide a competitive advantage since the 1980s, but at its heart, I think it’s fair to say that corporate culture is really about “the psychology, attitudes, experiences, beliefs and values (personal and cultural values) of an organization”, per Wikipedia.

For several years now in staffing circles the big question is fit: does the candidate fit? Sure, he or she has the right experience and skills, but is this candidate a good fit for our organization?

Doesn’t this sound to you a lot like: is this candidate’s personal brand a match with our corporate culture?

This is why you care.

By now, we’ve discussed personal branding, what it is, what it isn’t, and why you care. So let’s discuss how to propagate your brand and let the world know what your accomplishments are.

In ways both large and small, here are some ways to do so.

  • First things first, business cards. Not just for the employed set, business cards (available for just shipping & handling at VistaPrint.com) are a great way to incorporate a little pizzazz in your typeset contact details. If you’ve ever tried to read someone’s e-mail address or phone number from a smudged, hastily-scribed piece of paper, you’ll know just how important this is.
  • Social networks. Not just LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, but also some others. If you have sufficient experience and facility with the written word, try blogging. And even if you don’t, try writing a guest blog for a blogger you respect and with whom you’ve established a rapport. Hint: you can easily forge a rapport with a blogger by commenting on his or her blogs consistently. Bloggers love commenters because even a blogger with a great read/comment ratio is 12:1, so by commenting, you stand out above 11 other readers. And offering to guest blog? The odds are very good the reaction will be more than mildly positive.
  • Speak at events[6]. There are tons of local networking events going on. You can use LinkedIn Events or Meetup to identify them and the organizer(s), who will likely be open to you giving a small talk, maybe off the formal agenda at first.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg: there are tons of other methods whereby one can propagate one’s personal brand. So what did I miss? Comment and let me know!


[1] Even now, 14 years after the fact, it’s a great read.

[2] whom Fast Company, publishers of the original Tom Peters article, dubbed a “Personal branding force of nature”

[3] Fittingly, this is an open group.

[4] That’s what I got when I wrote this.

[6] I can’t take credit for this: this is from Keith Ferrazzi’s excellent Never Eat Alone.

Welcome to the second installment of my new, Job Search Best Practices! If you missed previous installments, you can find them here if you’re interested.

Ever since Tom Peters first wrote The Brand Called You [1], the phrase “personal branding” has had an incredible impact on those encountering it, from those who read it when it first appeared August 31, 1997 and all the way down to the present day, as others first encounter the concept. In its original context, Peters meant it from a career management standpoint—but of course, like any good idea, it didn’t take long for smart career management professionals to see its applicability to the job search process.

Today, Dan Schawbel[2] maintains a personal branding blog and even a LinkedIn group, the Personal Branding Network[3]. And if you do a search on the phrase “personal branding” on Google, you’ll get 1.88 million results in 0.09 seconds[4]. Personal branding is everywhere but let’s talk about why it’s so important: where it really delivers ROI[5] for the job search process.

Let’s begin with something very basic. We all know the stat about 70% of jobs being filled through networking, so presumably, educated job seekers are attending networking events to maximize the likelihood of being in that 70%. But I think we’ve all had this experience: we attend a networking event and afterwards, when that person reaches out to us, we don’t remember them. Or worse, maybe you want to reach out to him or her, but you don’t remember a blessed thing about that person or perhaps how to contact them.

That’s an embarrassing situation to be in, but imagine how much worse if you’re the one who’s failed to make a (positive) impression. Indeed, perhaps you’ve even been in that position, too, unbeknownst to you.

The solution is personal branding.

As Peters himself put it:

“What is it that my product or service does that makes it different? Give yourself the traditional 15-words-or-less contest challenge. Take the time to write down your answer. And then take the time to read it. Several times.

If your answer wouldn’t light up the eyes of a prospective client or command a vote of confidence from a satisfied past client, or — worst of all — if it doesn’t grab you, then you’ve got a big problem. It’s time to give some serious thought and even more serious effort to imagining and developing yourself as a brand.

Start by identifying the qualities or characteristics that make you distinctive from your competitors — or your colleagues. What have you done lately — this week — to make yourself stand out? What would your colleagues or your customers say is your greatest and clearest strength? Your most noteworthy (as in, worthy of note) personal trait?”

A lot of people make the mistake of interpreting this as being about marketing. And make no mistake, personal branding is part of it. But to dismiss it as being nothing more is missing the forest for the trees. At its heart, a personal brand is your professional essence.

It’s crucial to understand that understanding one’s personal brand requires a thorough understanding of one’s strengths, aptitudes and experiences. It doesn’t work to hear someone else’s great branding statement and adopt it wholesale, as it speaks to strengths, aptitudes and experiences that another person will not possess. That isn’t personal branding, because it addresses the superficial without engaging the substantial.

So why does it matter?

Two words: corporate culture.

People have been discussing corporate culture and how it can provide a competitive advantage since the 1980s, but at its heart, I think it’s fair to say that corporate culture is really about “the psychology, attitudes, experiences, beliefs and values (personal and cultural values) of an organization”, per Wikipedia.

For several years now in staffing circles the big question is fit: does the candidate fit? Sure, he or she has the right experience and skills, but is this candidate a good fit for our organization?

Doesn’t this sound to you a lot like: is this candidate’s personal brand a match with our corporate culture?

This is why you care.

By now, we’ve discussed personal branding, what it is, what it isn’t, and why you care. So let’s discuss how to propagate your brand and let the world know what your accomplishments are.

In ways both large and small, here are some ways to do so.

  • First things first, business cards. Not just for the employed set, business cards (available for just shipping & handling at VistaPrint.com) are a great way to incorporate a little pizzazz in your typeset contact details. If you’ve ever tried to read someone’s e-mail address or phone number from a smudged, hastily-scribed piece of paper, you’ll know just how important this is.
  • Social networks. Not just LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, but also some others. If you have sufficient experience and facility with the written word, try blogging. And even if you don’t, try writing a guest blog for a blogger you respect and with whom you’ve established a rapport. Hint: you can easily forge a rapport with a blogger by commenting on his or her blogs consistently. Bloggers love commenters because even a blogger with a great read/comment ratio is 12:1, so by commenting, you stand out above 11 other readers. And offering to guest blog? The odds are very good the reaction will be more than mildly positive.
  • Speak at events[6]. There are tons of local networking events going on. You can use LinkedIn Events or Meetup to identify them and the organizer(s), who will likely be open to you giving a small talk, maybe off the formal agenda at first.

This is really just the tip of the iceberg: there are tons of other methods whereby one can propagate one’s personal brand. So what did I miss? Comment and let me know!


[1] Even now, 14 years after the fact, it’s a great read.

[2] whom Fast Company, publishers of the original Tom Peters article, dubbed a “Personal branding force of nature”

[3] Fittingly, this is an open group.

[4] That’s what I got when I wrote this.

[5] Return on Investment.

[6] I can’t take credit for this: this is from Keith Ferrazzi’s excellent Never Eat Alone.

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13 Comments »

  1. Ed,
    Great points. One helpful exercise I learned at a session on personal branding by Lynn Hinderaker included using icons or metaphors to summarize your uniqueness. How are you like an ocean wave, an eagle, a telescope, etc? Sounds “out there” but when you do this and then apply it to how your skills fit your target’s needs, this is a great tool to stretch your thinking.

    Comment by Tracy Keith — 2011/04/06 @ 12:30 pm

    • Tracy, thanks for visiting! I like that exercise a great deal: it’s a great way to find a context that can serve as a springboard for powerful statements!

      Comment by edmusesupon — 2011/04/06 @ 1:24 pm

  2. This is the most difficult concept to get across to job seekers, build your brand and use it. Thanks for the in-depth instructions.

    Comment by Julie Walraven | Resume Services — 2011/04/06 @ 12:35 pm

    • Julie, hey, much obliged! I think the personal branding concept is utterly critical for folks, because it drives so much, from the minor things like business cards to one’s LinkedIn or other online presence.

      Comment by edmusesupon — 2011/04/06 @ 1:26 pm

  3. Spot on, Ed! Even if one doesn’t embrace the blog-as-guerilla-marketing paradigm, the benefits of blogging far outweigh the drawbacks. It’s a way to become a more comfortable and confident communicator, and it gets your name out there. After all, who’s the CIO of Me, Inc.?

    What do you think of adapting lessons from business management and strategy books to personal branding and career transition tactics and strategy? If it works for Toyota or 37signals and seems organic and natural to Me, Inc., is it worth a look?

    Comment by Glen Lyons — 2011/04/06 @ 1:25 pm

    • Glen, thanks for dropping by!

      I’m sure it’ll come as no surprise I’m in complete agreement with you. Not everyone, I think, is ready to embrace personal branding and its ramifications, but for those who do, I think the rewards can be considerable.

      I think you’re exactly right re: the prospect of adopting concepts from business management/strategy. Look no further than Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone for a book that has equal applicability for both demographics, although clearly written as a call for culture change. The same applies to Peters’s article as well, as you yourself have noted in some of our other discussions.

      Viewed from the other lens: look at Richard Branson and his personal branding, as well as its attendant effect on the entire Virgin organization. Every story I hear about the recruiting process at Virgin is a 100% match with Branson’s personal brand.

      Comment by edmusesupon — 2011/04/06 @ 2:12 pm

  4. Ed,
    Nicely done!
    The funny thing is, that the advice given by Tom Peters years ago was slow to catch on. Creating your personal brand message is the toughest part. I still struggle!

    So glad you’ve created this post, maybe now personal branding will catch on.

    Comment by Career Sherpa — 2011/04/06 @ 4:07 pm

    • That’s strange, I was sure I responded to this–sorry, Hannah!

      Thanks so much, I appreciate it! I have tremendous difficulty believing you struggle with the idea: I’ve always thought that your branding, Career Sherpa, is superb. It conjures images of someone fearlessly leading others up the highest of heights. So if career management pros like you or Julie haven’t gotten folks to grok the concept , I haven’t a prayer–but I do appreciate the good wishes!

      Comment by edmusesupon — 2011/04/06 @ 5:53 pm

  5. I couldn’t agree more! As personal branding becomes more and more accepted, I think eventually you’ll see resumes fade away entirely. Everything you’ll need to know about a future candidate will be on their website, blog, and social media pages.

    Comment by Noel — 2011/04/12 @ 12:22 pm

    • Noel, thanks for stopping by! I don’t know that I agree the resume will go away completely but yes, a lot of its utility will already be subsumed by something else, I absolutely agree.

      Comment by edmusesupon — 2011/04/12 @ 1:42 pm

      • I’m a wee bit biased but I don’t believe the resume will ever go away. I think we are moving toward a complete portfolio, some of which will reside online. The resume if created correctly provides the base for everything else. If you have not done the thinking part that goes with a well-done accomplishment-driven resume, you will find it hard to create the rest of the picture.

        Comment by Julie Walraven | Resume Services — 2011/04/12 @ 3:35 pm

      • Per my response to Noel, I’m inclined to agree, Julie.

        There’s been a lot of talk lately about people having “portfolio” careers. Perhaps it’s only appropriate that candidates’ marketing collateral will similarly be in portfolio form?

        Comment by edmusesupon — 2011/04/12 @ 3:41 pm

  6. [...] is ultimately a matter of ensuring you are position to propagate your personal brand, as previously discussed. So by researching organizations where you want to work, you’ll be prepared to take fullest [...]

    Pingback by Target Employers « ed muses upon — 2011/05/13 @ 9:02 am


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