You Have a Professional Reputation…How About a Personal Brand?

Remember when you only had a professional reputation? It conveyed something like, “Yeah, I’d hire him again” or maybe, “She’s an incredible employee. You’d be lucky to have her on your team.”

Now, it’s an issue of personal branding. What’s the difference? Well, it’s subtle, but Amazon founder Jeff Bezos once said it’s “what people say about you when you are not in the room.”

For Pallas Hupé Cotter, co-founder of New Zealand-based Personal Branz, a full-service branding and communications agency, it goes far deeper than just what people say about you when you’re not around. “We believe when your outside matches your inside, when your personal brand is aligned with your authentic strengths, passions and values, your personal brand can be much more than reputation,” she said. “It becomes a core of confidence about the value you offer to the world.”

With that in mind, how would you define your personal brand?

Own your story!

If you’re stumped on who you are, you’re not alone. Lots of people have trouble articulating their brand—in other words, the attributes that make them a desirable employee, co-worker or job candidate.

Sound like a must-have in today’s market? Yes, it is.

Here’s the rub: if you don’t work diligently to define your personal brand, there’s a decent chance that the world will form its own opinion. That means you lose control of the story—and as a guy with an intimate knowledge of storytelling and PR, I can tell you that’s a bad thing. You always want to be the one telling your story.

Here’s a guide to crafting the best you that you can—whether you’re at your first job or making plans for retirement.

Just starting out

When you’re new to the workforce, it’s important to make a good impression. These attributes will take you a long way in your career advancement: a sense of urgency and passion; be willing to get your hands dirty; and find something in which you can be regarded as an expert.

How can a 20-something be an expert? It doesn’t matter if it’s leveraging Snapchat as a strong marketing channel or demonstrating expertise in Chinese culture and language. Find a way to make yourself the go-to person on something. It’ll be a calling card and the thing people remember about you. In a world where, candidly, lots of employees are interchangeable, it’ll be the one attribute distinguishing you from everyone else. That’s a huge edge in a competitive world.

The career mid-point

For many people, the midway point of their working life can get a bit unsettling. They’re veteran employees, quite possibly very good at their craft, but they also see the increasing speed of technology and tools. That can be daunting. “People often find at the mid-point of their careers that they have clearly identified their weaknesses, and have figured out ways to mitigate them,” Hupé Cotter says. “They often find, however, that they have been playing to one of their strengths, and there are others that they might want to build on or refine a little more.”

She advises a development process of how you present your personal brand, seeking out input from trusted friends and colleagues—and maybe even a life coach.

Getting Your Gold (Apple) Watch

First of all, if your company is going to give you a gold Apple Watch as a retirement present, congratulations! You’ve done some great things, work for a phenomenal company, or both.

That being said, even as you near retirement, it makes sense to retain control of your personal brand. “If you’re late in your career, working on your personal brand may be important as you lay the groundwork for your next career,” said personal branding expert and author of the new book, Stand Out, Dorie Clark. “Many people don’t want a traditional retirement; they’d prefer to tackle a ‘passion project’ or do some consulting work. If you want people to hire you in a new context, it’s worth investing in your personal brand so you’ll be top of mind and others will understand your skills and what you can offer.”

“But if you have even a slightly longer timeframe—let’s say you’re retiring in one to five years—then it can be very helpful to develop your personal brand because it’s a way of ‘reinventing’ your brand amongst your colleagues and reminding them of your expertise,” Clark said. “They may have boxed you into certain roles, and taking control of your brand allows you to reposition yourself. And particularly if your branding activities involve social media, that demonstrates to your colleagues that you’re staying current and need to be taken seriously.”

Of course, if your heart is set on a retirement schedule filled only with recreation, maybe that’s your new personal brand: professional person of leisure! (Again, congratulations!)

This stuff isn’t easy…

To paraphrase an old TV ad: if it came in a bottle, everyone would have a good personal brand. But it doesn’t—and that means you need to work at it. It means being introspective, staying attentive to opportunity, and being able to wrap it all up in a pithy 30-second synopsis of who you are and what you bring to the table.

And in a world filled with ambitious people who can self-promote without being self-absorbed, a lack of personal brand is conspicuous in its absence. Don’t miss the opportunity to market something unique to the world: you!

Have some thoughts on how personal branding has worked for you? Please fire away in the comments below!


About the Author

Paul Herdtner

Paul Herdtner is the corporate communications manager at Adknowledge. He has spent most of his life as a storyteller, first as a journalist working at television stations across the country and now in the business world. Paul is based at the Kansas City headquarters.

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