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Building Your Personal Brand

by Sarah Wilkinson, Class of ’17

Millennials are the first generation of people who have had a personal brand and online reputation to manage  since practically day one. Many of us are natural self-marketers, but there’s always more to learn. Creating and maintaining an intentional personal brand is the focus of this post, the fourth in a blog series based on Lindsey Pollak’s book, Becoming the Boss.

To quickly recap: In part three of this blog series, I wrote about the 5 key ways to prep for your career. These included overcoming fear, filling the tanks, channeling your confidence, making new friends, and developing global competence. You can learn more about these 5 keys by checking out the post.

Four Elements of a Leader’s Personal Brand

Before we get into what you might want your personal brand to be, let’s look at what makes the personal brands of many leaders. Here are the four most important elements that any leader should keep in mind when building their personal brand, according to Pollak.

  1. Visibility. To be a leader, one has to be visible. People in a leader’s community and organization have to know who they are, and know where to find them. Leaders need to make themselves available.
  2. Differentiation. Leaders need to stand out from the rest. Leaders can get noticed by having certain skills they excel at, or by being immediately identifiable as the boss in any room.
  3. Consistency. Treating one’s employees the same way every time, keeping consistent moods and methods of dealing with situations is a key component to being recognized as a leader. No one wants to work for someone who keeps them on edge.
  4. Authenticity. Lastly, it’s very important for a leader to be authentic in their personal brand. People won’t be comfortable with their boss if they can tell they’re not being genuine.

What Makes a Leader, According to Millennials?

The Hartford’s 2013 Millennial Leadership Survey asked 871 millennials what the most important leadership traits were to them. Their answers:

  1. 69% said intelligence
  2. 61% said ethics/morality
  3. 49% said passionate
  4. 28% said charisma
  5. 24% said empathy
  6. 23% said financial responsibility
  7. 19% said healthy mind and body
  8. 16% said persuasive
  9. 10% said competitive

Your Current Personal Brand

Now that we know what elements need to be part of a leader’s personal brand, let’s consider what elements you might want to channel in yours. In order to do that, we must first look at what your personal brand already is. Whether you realize it or not, you already have a personal brand, and it may not be the one you want to have.

Here are ways you can figure out what your professional brand reputation is:

  • Ask people you trust – like friends, colleagues, mentors, or family members – to describe your professional skills and reputation in a few words. What do they say? Are they are saying the same things? Compare their answers.
  • Look at past reference letters, performance reviews, emails, or LinkedIn reviews where people have described you professionally. What words do they use, and is there any repetition? What words are they not using that you wish they were?
  • What skills are your connections endorsing on LinkedIn? According to Pollak, it’s common for a few of your skills to be endorsed much more often than the rest of the skills we have listed. The skills that are most endorsed are the ones you should pay the most attention to, because these are skills that other people associate with your professional reputation. If you don’t like the skills that are being endorsed most often, it’s a sign that you have some brand re-building to do.

The Personal Brand You Want

Now that you have an idea what your professional reputation is in the eyes of other people, ask yourself: what do you want to be known for? You may not be able to answer this question right away; maybe you’re not sure yet who you want to be professionally. Of course, you can always develop your personal brand as you continue figure out who you want to be. In fact, you should always keep developing it!

Here are some traits you might want to incorporate into your personal brand. Remember that authenticity is key to any personal brand, so be realistic about who you want – and can expect yourself – to be:

Assertive, bold, courageous, calm, careful, charismatic, committed, compassionate, confident, consistent, creative, dependable, flexible, enthusiastic, ethical, fair, funny, generous, hardworking, honest, humble, intelligent, kind, logical, loyal, motivational, open-minded, optimistic, organized, patient, persuasive, rational, realistic, respected, responsible, risk-taking, serious, skillful, strict, strong, successful, talented, thoughtful, tough, trusting, trustworthy, valuable.

Of course, these are only some traits you might want as part of your personal brand.

Incorporating Traits Into Your New Personal Brand

When talking to people, start being conscious about the words you use. Pollak gives the example of someone wanting others to think they’re realistic. So when a new challenge comes up a work, that person might say, “Let’s come up with a few realistic solutions to this issue.”

As long as you are being authentic, the way you talk about yourself will ultimately become the way other people begin to talk about you.

Utilize your resume, LinkedIn profile, professional emails, cover letters, and other written representations of yourself to incorporate words you want to become associated with. It might come off wrong if you say, “I’m a consistent person, and I’m witty to boot!” Instead, use those key words to talk about the work you’ve done. An example on a resume might be, “Raised $5,000 for STEM program by consistently creating witty content for Twitter campaigns.”

Another way to ensure you’re embracing your chosen personal brand is to stop yourself before any small or large decision, and ask: what would someone who is courageous and bold, but rational (or whatever your chosen traits are) do in this situation? Make sure your decisions line up with these traits, and before long, they will become part of your brand.

Bonus: Here’s an example of an email requesting a reference that endorses your personal brand.

Hi Anne,

It’s been such a pleasure to have you as a client and I really appreciate your ongoing support of me. As you know, I am in the process of applying for a promotion, and I was wondering if you would be willing to provide a brief reference letter for me? In particular, I’d love to talk about the results we accomplished on the Jeep campaign and the Big Brothers Big Sisters toy drive. I’m hoping to point out that I’m hardworking, trustworthy, and organized, if you agree I possess those qualities.Thank you for considering my request. And of course, please let me know anything I can do to support you at any point.

Best Regards, your name

Look out for part five of this blog series, which will focus on managing your online reputation.

Sources: Becoming the Boss by Lindsey Pollak; find more information about Pollak here.