A lot of people have been asking me questions about personal branding, what it is, what it isn’t, and why they should be worried about it. So I thought I’d lay out all of my ideas here to explain why I think it’s so important for young professionals to consider personal branding an essential part of their professional development. I was inspired to use this format by this post by Ian David Moss over at Createquity.

  • Let’s face it. Everyone has a personal brand, whether you like it or not. Sorry.
  • But wait. What the hell is a personal brand, you ask? Business management guru Tom Peters coined the term in 1997 with this bold statement: “Big companies understand the importance of brands. Today, in the Age of the Individual, you have to be your own brand.” He wrote a fantastic manifesto titled “The Brand Called You” on Fast Company that you should absolutely go read. Like right now.
  • Another term for personal branding is “impression management,”  which comes from the field of leadership studies. Leadership scholar Gary Yukl defines impression management as “the process of influencing how others perceive you.” Makes sense, right?
  • But here’s something even simpler. Your personal brand is essentially your professional reputation. It’s what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.
  • It’s what your references say about you when you apply for a job. So even when you ask someone to act as a reference for you when you, they do a quick gut check for how they feel about your personal brand. They decide whether they want to be aligned with your name and what you stand for, because their reputation is on the line, too.
  • So you can rail against the idea all you want, but the fact is that when people think of you, they have some kind of impression in their minds about who you are and what you stand for.
  • But as with any terminology, there are a few problems with the phrase ‘personal branding,’ namely that it can have negative connotations for people who view marketing themselves as a sleazy thing to do. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
  • The real question is, is your personal brand a good one or not? What do people in your professional circle think of you? Do people even know who you are?
  • Good personal brands have nothing to do with snake oil. They are completely authentic.
  • Example: Let’s look at one of the most well-known personal brands in America – Oprah. She wants to help you live your best life, all the while being totally open with hers. People put enough trust in her that they buy products and books she recommends. Grown men come on her TV show and cry. She’s a billionaire, a professional businesswoman. But she also makes us feel good about ourselves. Now that’s a damn good brand.
  • So how do you know if you have a bad personal brand? Well, if you’re having trouble getting jobs, promotions, leadership roles, consulting gigs or board opportunities, then you may need to invest some time in crafting or refining your personal brand.
  • True story: A year into my role as a development director at my previous nonprofit job, I still had people mistaking me for an intern. I was tasked with raising $1M a year for the organization, yet my youth prevented my older colleagues from fully respecting me as a peer.
  • Then I started blogging. Then I got on Twitter. And my entire career took off! People started inviting me to speak. Then teach. Then consult. I finally felt like my voice was being heard in a sector that I loved.
  • A lot of young professionals complain that they gets no respect. Why would we? We’re young. People think we don’t know anything. That we haven’t done anything. Now in some cases this is true, don’t get me wrong, but in many cases it couldn’t be further from the truth.
  • Young professionals often have advanced education; a rich portfolio of work, volunteer and internship experiences; and a fiery passion for the cause.
  • The only problem? We’re not visible to senior leaders. No one can “see” us because we’re not at the tables. Especially if we’re the assistants and the interns.
  • But that’s the great thing about having access to social media. You might be a lowly administrative assistant at your organization, but on Twitter, you can be a rockstar.
  • Social media makes it so that thousands of people can “see” you and follow your work and leadership. Social media can make you more visible to all the right people – if you use it right – if you market yourself with professionalism and authenticity.
  • Brian Clark of Copyblogger likes to say, “What people say about you is more important than what you say about yourself.” What I would add to that sentiment is that it’s even more important if they say it online.
  • And what that means, my friends, is that you have to be online. It means you have to be using social media in a way that tells people who you are and invites them to connect with you. And what better way to do that than with your personal brand.
  • Yo, remember that saying: it’s all about who you know? Well it’s true. So if you want to advance your career, one of your jobs as a young professional is to stop complaining about how no one respects you. It’s time to stop whining about how no one ever “picks” you and take proactive steps to make sure people know who you are so you can reap the full benefits of being so fabulous.
  • Benefits of having a good personal brand:
    • You may never have to “look” for a job again. The job will find you. True story: I’ve been offered several jobs (local and national) that I didn’t even apply for by organizations contacting me by email, Facebook, and Twitter because they connected in some way to my personal brand.
    • It’s easier to get a raise. You know how that goes – if other people perceive you as valuable, your organization will too.
    • If the right people know who you are, you won’t have to find them, they will find you. My friend was approached by the CEO of a very reputable youth organization for a communications job because of my friend’s professional presence on Twitter and Facebook.

Have I convinced you yet? Good. Let me know how I can help you in your personal branding journey. Start by reading these 16 personal branding tips for young professionals and tell me what you think!

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