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Why You Need a Personal Brand

personal brand

Imagine a group of people from across your career at a party talking about you. Whatever they’re saying is your personal brand.

If you think personal branding is some kind of gimmick, or something that is only for young professionals or marketing types, it’s time to change your mind. The concept made famous in the 1990s by management guru Tom Peters may be more important now than ever.

The brand called you was a clever idea then. Now it is essential. Economic shifts, disruptive technologies, corporate flameouts and layoffs mean every professional needs a strong brand.

Why You Need a Brand

Having a great reputation among your colleagues past and present is important, but if you want to build a brand, you need to reach beyond that environment. Simply put, more people–many more people–need to know who you are and what you offer.

Many jobs are filled by referrals, so you want people to have a clear impression of you so your name comes to mind when a job opens up. In industries in which firms hire by consensus, the more people who are aware of you and your accomplishments the more likely you’ll advance. Your brand will help you land speaking gigs or board positions. And if you are self-employed, or if you might one day become self-employed, a strong brand can make or break you.

Simply put, the better your brand, the more career choices you will have. John Purkiss, co-author of Brand You and an executive search consultantnotes that a strong brand will allow you “to attract people who want what you do in the way you want to do it.”

That’s why you don’t want to leave your brand to chance. You want to create one that is both authentic and marketable. Otherwise, you can easily wind up in jobs that are not well suited to you or that don’t really fulfill you, and before you know it, you have been in them for years, even decades.

Your Brand is More Than What You Do

Before you even begin to dial up your efforts to market yourself, take the time to really identify and refine your brand. Too many professionals define themselves by education and job titles, rather than by any larger concept. Showing what you can do is important, but a lot of people have great skills and experience. A brand needs to set you apart. And because you are always growing and learning, your brand is always evolving as well. What you want when you are 25 may be quite different when you are 45.

Purkiss advises professionals to begin by assessing your talents and values. Your natural abilities–your talents–are usually things that come so easily to you that you really enjoying using them.

The next step is determining your key values. List what you believe is most important. If you get stuck, think of people you admire and then consider what traits they have. Do they represent integrity, determination, bravery, kindness? The answers will provide clues to your values.

You can then link your talents and values to specific roles you want to play—your mission. Armed with a better understanding of the image you want to project, you can start marketing that image. You’ll truly understand the product you are trying to pitch. When you have the steak, it’s easier to sizzle.

About the Author

Susan Price has been writing about careers, entrepreneurs and personal finance for more than a decade. She’s been an editor at BusinessWeek, Money, and, among others.