How to Brand Yourself for Professional Success

April 18, 2017
Kaplan Test Prep

Everything you need to know about how to brand yourself professionally.

Manage how others perceive you online and in-person.

‘Personal branding’ is a term that gets thrown around a lot without it always being clear what it really means. In broad strokes, your personal brand is your reputation, or how people would sum you up to a stranger in a professional context. As you’re branding yourself, you’ll need to work on two main categories: your digital self and your in-person self.

Staying polished and on top of your branding in both realms requires work and focus (and sometimes money), and it’s easy to neglect some aspects of personal branding. But to set yourself up for success, you can’t let your branding slide.

Understanding your personal brand

Before thinking about how to brand yourself, you need to understand what, exactly, your brand is. How would you describe your professional self to a higher-up you meet by chance? What phrase describes what you DO, and what adjectives describe HOW you do it? An example might be: I’m a marketing professional with an expertise in consumer package goods; my work is consistently on budget, on time, and creative.

As you go through this process, it’s also crucial to write a professional mission statement. For example: “I believe in bringing affordable, quality wellness products to market that help people keep their families healthy and comfortable.” It’s important to nail down these concepts before you start, so that they are top of mind for you throughout your branding process.

How to brand yourself online

Get your LinkedIn profile to all-star status. This means you have a professional-looking picture, more than 500 connections, and a fully-fleshed out current position. Write a thoughtful summary (it should be informed by your mission statement), include multi-media links (presentations, published articles) if you can, and write several sentences of description under each job you cite. Don’t think of LinkedIn as a resume as much as a highlight reel of your professional accomplishments to date. It doesn’t matter how many jobs you’ve had; you can provide examples from school if you need to. For better or worse, LinkedIn is often the first place recruiters and hiring managers check when taking a look at you.

Remember to clean up your other social accounts. Make the personal ones private; scrub the public ones so they show your most professional self. This bears repeating: Your colleagues will check out your social media accounts—and no, pictures of you slamming back shots are not okay. Put them behind a wall.

Generate some professional content to help brand yourself. Even if you’re just starting out, you can share your professional insights. It couldn’t be easier to post on LinkedIn or Medium. What’s your area of expertise? Refer back to your mission statement. What have you learned in your process? Claim your knowledge and own it. Then publish about it to establish yourself as a voice in your field. You can also comment on the posts of thought-leaders in your field; by joining the conversation they’ve started, you’ll raise your own profile.

How to build your in-person brand

Have coffee with a professional contact. If your brand is your reputation, what people think of when they hear your name, then getting to know people in your professional community is one of the best ways to promote your brand. You have to move out from behind your computer. Set a goal—one coffee a month?—and make it happen.

Take a photo of yourself dressed for work. Sometimes, a photo is the best way to force ourselves to grasp how other people see us. Do you look professional? Do your clothes fit, or are they too tight, short, baggy, worn out? Sometimes that sweater we convince ourselves is fine… isn’t. If your look isn’t cutting it, get help. Take advantage of a personal shopper (it’s a free service at many stores); ask your hairstylist for advice rather than just a trim.

Clean up your desk. You may be able to concentrate surrounded by piles of paper and giveaways from the last PR event you attended—but what do you expect your boss to think? Keep your desk tidy, professional and (sparingly) personal. A space with no personal touches makes your boss assume you don’t plan to stay; a space with too many may make her wonder if you have any ambition at all. Aim to have 1 in 5 of the items in your space be personal, no more.

Don’t think of personal branding as a static, one-time event. Instead, think of it as a process. You can tweak your resume, your LinkedIn profile, and your posts as much as you need as your thinking deepens. Your followers can go on your branding journey with you, and learn as you do.

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