Every person has a personal brand — regardless of whether or you are consciously projecting that brand or not. 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 desired personal brand (what you want to project), you’re likely missing out on opportunities.
When working on a promotion or searching for a new job, knowing and clearly articulating your personal brand is important because that is what differentiates you and makes you memorable (both important aspects in a crowded and competitive world).
It’s a mistake to be complacent about your personal brand, regardless of your job status. For instance, if you don’t have your own brand, then people will assume your company’s reputation is your reputation. You have no control over your company’s reputation, and it may negatively change at any time. Remember: there are no guarantees that you’ll stay at your company.
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.
5 Steps to Level Up Your Personal Brand
Follow this process to create or give your unique personal brand an upgrade.
Articulating Your Brand
Your personal brand is about knowing yourself and being clear about what makes you different. It’s important to be authentic; it’s not about being perfect, creating a façade, or being something that you are not.
To get started with articulating your brand, do these exercises (write it all down, do not let this only be a thought exercise):
• How would you describe yourself to a new friend? How would your best friend describe you? How would a work colleague describe you?
• Who do you want to become? Imagine 20 years from now… 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?
• What have you accomplished that you loved working on it?
• What do you get complimented on by your peers or boss? (current and/or historically) What are the strengths that others acknowledge in you?
• When faced with an overwhelming obstacle, what is your “go-to” skill to overcome it?
• What superpowers do I enjoy using, as often as possible, regardless of the task?
Review everything you’ve written and notice the patterns. Which superpowers come up over and over? What are the repeated things you do for which you’d like to be known?
If you are creating your brand to get a promotion or new job, be sure these are related to your work.
What are the top 3-5 strengths/superpowers that you WANT to use regularly (just because you’re good at something or can do it, doesn’t mean you want to or should)?
Identify Your Differentiators
Then, you want to determine how are you different. Write down the top 3 adjectives that describe yourself (feel free to use a thesaurus).
Keep in mind that you may be good at your job, or even great at it, but that isn’t a differentiator. It doesn’t help you get noticed (you still might get lost in the crowd), because others share it with you.
Instead, you must show how you’re unique. This is the adjective that describes what you do that makes you different.
Use the formula: (How you are different) + (What you do best)
In the following example, notice the first part is “how I’m different” and the listed items show “what I do best.” I’m not just a great coach (there are a lot of us great coaches), but here are a few things that differentiate me as a coach:
• I’m a pragmatic thought partner.
• I excel at simplifying complex ideas into an approachable methodology.
• I’m an exceptional reframer.
• I’m passionate about learning and sharing brain-based science.
Now it’s your turn to identify your top 3 brand differentiator phrases.
Validate Your Reputation
Next, you need to determine if your phrases are what come to mind when others think of you. Ask for honest feedback from a few people you trust. Before sharing your phrases, ask them what three words or phrases come to mind when they think of you. Tell them to use positive words only.
Compare this with your own set. 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 using 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 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)
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 a first impression on others but also with how you view yourself.
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, with 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. Things got extremely casual while the world worked from home, but it’s time to reset and get back to business casual, not casual-casual.
Studies confirm the psychological consequences of clothing. This study found that formal clothing makes people think more expansively and abstractly. In essence, more like a leader. This isn’t to say that clothes actually make the woman, but they can tap into people’s sense of power. The effect comes from being better dressed than your peers.
Therefore, how you dress and the photos you post online are important parts of your personal brand. Be thoughtful in your wardrobe and online presence. It doesn’t need to be expensive, but it does need to be reflective of the brand you want to project.
Don’t just use any photos for your headshot, even if you think you look good. Here are a few tips:
• 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 you; only you should be in photos used for business purposes).
• You need a recent 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.
Be Heard and Advocate
You now know how to articulate your brand and make a positive first impression, but it’s not enough. You need to get the word out! You must advocate for yourself. Advocate like a Rockstar!
If self-advocating is hard for you, reframing the intention for your brand may be helpful. This is my reframe: “The work that I do with my clients brings them more joy and 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 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? 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.