Every person has a personal brand, including you — regardless of whether or not you are consciously projecting that brand. Simply put, your brand is how you are perceived by others; it’s your reputation, which includes your values, traits and capabilities.
People are constantly forming impressions of you, even if they aren’t aware of it themselves. Like it or not, according to this study, you are being evaluated for trustworthiness, status and even attractiveness based on your very first impression, which happens in less than a second. Sometimes this first impression is made in person and other times it happens online without your knowledge.
People act on their perceptions of you, including deciding whether to hire, promote, or simply connect with you. If your reputation (how you are perceived) doesn’t reflect your personal brand (what you want to project), you’re likely missing out on opportunities.
When it comes to personal branding, it’s a mistake to be complacent. You may think that you don’t have to worry about your personal brand — you’re not a freelancer or in sales, you have a cushy corporate job, or your company has a decent brand that you can hide behind. But here’s the reality:
- There are no guarantees that your company or your company’s reputation will remain
- There are no guarantees that you’ll stay at the company
- Other people also work at your company, which means they can impact your work and potentially your career
Regardless of where and with whom you work, it’s important to be aware of any gaps between your personal brand and your reputation — and worth doing some investigation to get real-world feedback. Don’t be content to simply rely on what you THINK people think about you. This is a lesson I learned early in my HR career.
Don’t Let This Be You
When I was just starting to gain momentum in my career, I took a job at a company that was larger and gave me more responsibility than my previous employer. In fact, it was large enough that knowing everyone’s name and a bit about them personally (as I had done at my previous job) was no longer practical.
In the first few months, I was insanely busy learning the ropes, which meant that I didn’t have much opportunity to personally interact with co-workers. I also traveled regularly to give trainings at our branch locations. I would be totally exhausted after travelling and talking all day, so all I wanted to do after work was go back to my hotel room and check email. I didn’t have the energy to go out for drinks or socialize with colleagues, though looking back I realize they wanted to get to know me.
I was also the designated “heavy” on the management team when there was a challenging employee issue or potentially hostile termination. This was only time some of the staff would see me, so it’s no wonder that I earned the reputation of being unapproachable, uninterested in others, and The Terminator. By the time I learned about this perception, it felt too late to reverse course. When I gave people the opportunity to know me, things were great, and I developed a lot of positive friendships with co-workers. But the company was too large to connect with everyone, so this negative reputation is all that many people ever knew.
- In hindsight, I didn’t do a great job of connecting personally with the office influencers because I saw it as “playing politics” and felt self-promotion was wrong.
- I didn’t think about my larger reputation and how that impacted my work and possible promotion or additional resources for my department.
- I believed that putting in long hours and working hard was enough and spoke for itself.
- I failed to be my own advocate, let others know what I needed (rest), and occasionally power through my exhaustion for the greater good of connecting with others (self-promotion).
5 Steps to Level Up Your Personal Brand
Follow this process to create or give your unique personal brand an upgrade.
1. WRITE DOWN YOUR PERSONAL BRAND
Your personal brand is about knowing yourself, being clear on your strengths and abilities and knowing your value. It’s about knowing what you stand for and identifying environments in which you thrive. It’s about being thoughtful with your language and how you put yourself out in the world.
It’s not about being perfect, creating a façade or being something that you are not.
After thinking through your personal brand, put it in writing. Include who you want to become, even if you’re not living it right now. You can always start today. This is about believing in the best version of yourself and articulating it.
Questions to help get you started:
- Look forward 20 years… you are attending a function where someone is giving a speech about you. What would you want them to say?
- Think about one or two people you know who really inspire you. What about them is inspiring?
2. FIND OUT YOUR CURRENT REPUTATION
Ask for honest feedback from a few people you trust. What are the three words or phrases that come to mind when they think of you? Tell them to use positive words only.
Then compare this with your own set of three words or phrases. What’s the gap?
Note: By asking for positive words only, you’ll get feedback easier. And if their positive words are way off from your positive words, you’ll know there’s work to be done.
Investigate yourself online; Google your name in incognito mode or using a private browser window to see what others can see. Do the images and posts align with your personal brand? Do you need to remove some posts and do some cleanup?
For consistency and to build a stronger brand, make sure that all of your social handles are professional and the same. The same goes for your email address; it should be professional and with an up-to-date provider. (Nothing says outdated like @aol, @comcast, @yahoo… sorry).
3. CHECK YOUR ENVIRONMENT
If you are working in a corporate setting, there’s another brand that influences and impacts your personal brand: your company’s brand. People outside the company will always view you as aligned with the company brand.
Does this company brand align with your values and priorities? Are you proud to work there? Is the company culture one that helps you thrive, not just survive? Ultimately, no matter how much you try, if you are not in the right culture, you won’t do your best work.
Most of us are familiar with the idea that the environment we live in affects who we are, the characteristics we portray, and the way we behave.
More specifically, who you hang out with matters. According to Jim Rohn, “You’re the average of the five people you spend most of your time with.” Put another way, the five people around you most frequently are determining your success.
Ask yourself, “Do the people around me inspire me, help me learn, or be a better person?” Are you doing the same for others? If not, change this.
Be relentless with surrounding yourself with those who bring out the best in you and do the same for others.
4. Looks Aren’t Everything, but First Impressions Are
Like it or not, the way you dress is important because the first impression happens instantly — and how you dress is how you’ll show up. “Dressing for success” helps not only with the first impression of others but with how you view yourself, as well.
I’m not a fashionista and always prefer to be comfortable. However, I’ve been given compliments for my attire over the years and not necessarily because I wear the season’s hottest styles. I couldn’t afford expensive clothes for most of my life, but I do always try to take the time to put my outfits (and myself) together in a way that communicates professionalism, confidence and expertise.
In the new world of business casual and dress code policies being tossed aside and replaced with “dress appropriately”, if you aren’t a savvy dresser you could be missing opportunities to make a good first impression. Here are some guidelines and tips:
- Know the environment, whether it’s the company where you work or a sales pitch in front of others. Meet them where they are and then go a notch above. When in doubt, go two notches above (but never err on the side of dressing below).
- Wear clothing that is the correct size and fits your body type well, having it tailored when appropriate. An expensive outfit can look sloppy if it’s ill-fitting, and a less expensive outfit can look fabulous if it fits well. Do not continue to wear something that is too small (and then beat yourself up about it)
- “Athleisure” is not work wear unless, of course, you are in the fitness industry. This is true even if you are working from home — because what you wear is how you’ll show up, even if you’re the only one in the room.
Studies confirm the psychological consequences of clothing. This study found that formal clothing makes people think more expansively and abstractly, more like a leader. This isn’t to say that clothes actually make the woman, but it can tap into peoples’ sense of power. The effect comes from being better dressed than your peers.
This is why how you dress and the photos you post online are important parts of your personal brand. You need to invest in thoughtfulness for both your wardrobe and online presence. This doesn’t have to be expensive, but don’t let me stop you from a shopping spree if it’s time for an upgrade.
- Hire a professional photographer (or at least an amateur with the artistic eye of a pro).
- Don’t use selfies, vacation photos, or images with other people (no cropping out the person next to; only you should be in photos used for business purposes).
- You need a recent (within 2-3 years) headshot of you in appropriate professional clothing (this varies for every industry), with good lighting, and smiling.
- Be consistent by using the same photo across all your social media profiles and online accounts; this helps others recognize you and take notice.
5. Be Heard
If you want to be successful with getting your personal brand out there, you need to find a way to let others know about it. You have to be your best advocate because your positive contribution is important to the world. This can be done in several ways.
The absolute first step is to live your personal brand. You need to embody and take action that honors your personal brand consistently.
If being a self-advocate is hard for you, it may be helpful to reframe the intention for the brand. This is my reframe:
“The work that I do with my clients brings them more joy, less stress and allows them to make a bigger impact. This makes the world a better place to live. For me to have a larger impact, I need to invest in my brand and develop the connections and visibility so that others can see the value that I bring. Only then can my contribution help more people and make a positive impact on a larger scale.”
Let your voice be heard. Speak up and contribute thoughtfully at every opportunity.
When referring to yourself, use the words that you want to be associated with. A great example is in the book “Expect to Win” by Carla Harris, Vice Chairman of Morgan Stanley. When needing to be seen as “tough” at one point in her career, Carla succeeded by using the word “tough” as often as she could: “I may be too tough here, but we should do this …” “Let’s be tough on this one…”, etc.
Invite others to see you in action. Invite an influencer or decision-maker to see you demonstrating your personal brand, perhaps in a speech or client pitch. You could be creating a future advocate.
You are constantly projecting your brand, consciously or unconsciously, and others are taking action and responding based on how well (or how poorly) your brand is communicated. To rise to your full potential, it’s important to ensure that your reputation accurately reflects your true brand — and only you have the power to make that happen.
Do you need help getting control of your personal brand? Are confused or overwhelmed about where to start? Do you need a thought partner to help you take your personal brand to the next level for your career? If you need help, I’m here for you. Connect with me to schedule a complimentary Strategy Session.