What Is Your Personal Brand? Five Strategies to Leverage Your Most Powerful Professional Tool

Just over two decades ago in August 1997, professionals were hit with a revolutionary concept when business guru Tom Peters wrote an article for Fast Company titled “The Brand Called You.” In this seminal piece, Peters introduced the idea that YOU are every bit as much a brand as Starbucks, Levi’s or Champion. (Isn’t it interesting how well these particular brands he mentioned have held up, as both Champion and Levi’s are on a resurgence with a new generation, and Starbucks, well…ubiquitous might be an understatement.)   

Now, I know that “personal brand” is one of those buzzwordy phrases that might be off-putting to some people. If you feel this way, then I would encourage you to reframe the idea simple as your professional reputation and the overall importance of knowing how others see you. As one of my personal brand idols, Carla Harris, has said, “All major decisions about your career will be made when you are not in the room.”

The good news is that there are many ways you can invest in your own reputation at every stage of your career—steps that can help brand you as a leader and propel you forward to reach your goals. Here are five strategies:

1. Find out how others see you.

You might think you have leadership qualities, but do others agree? If you’re not sure how you’re being perceived, try doing some detective work. One way is to check out your LinkedIn endorsements to see which of your qualities rate with your connections. For example, if I weren’t being endorsed for “public speaking” or “leadership,” I’d wonder why, since they are two key components of my reputation that I’ve worked hard to build. You also can check out your most recent management review, or be really brave and ask friends and colleagues for candid feedback directly.

2. Be authentic.

It ought to be obvious that your personal brand should be, well, personal. But often, especially if we are trying to impress others, we adopt mannerisms or a style that’s just not “us.” But it’s easy to see through leaders who aren’t authentic, and it’s challenging for your team to trust you if you are trying to emulate someone you’re not. As you advance in your career, you’ll find that owning your tough times will make you more approachable and more respected.

3. Learn to promote yourself without resorting to the “humblebrag.”

“Another board nomination? Where will I find the time?” We all recognize a humblebrag when we see it. But that doesn’t mean you can’t ever toot your own horn as you elevate your personal brand. The key, as always, is in how you do it. My favorite technique for appropriate self-promotion is to include other people in your success stories. For example, you can talk about your role in leading an award winning team, just be sure to mention how proud you were of the work you all did together and mention the people who contributed. When you share the love, you prove that you’re confident enough to compliment others and authentic enough to realize that no one succeeds alone.

4. Curate your online image.

Digital natives have heard this since they were in elementary school, but it bears repeating. It’s vital to to craft and maintain a professional online brand that represents you in a professionally appropriate way, and ideally adds to your reputation. Whether it’s potential bosses or recruiters, your URL persona goes hand in hand with your IRL identity, so make sure that you’re presenting a consistent image, from what you tweet to where you’re tagged. Once dismissed as “ego surfing,” or “vanity searching” Googling your name should be something you do often to make sure your online image is what you want it to be.

5. Continually build your knowledge.

As I talk to successful professionals I admire, I am often struck by one commonality: They are committed to always studying and improving their craft. If you want to truly enhance your personal brand, maintain a thirst to keep learning by always seeking more inspiration, more knowledge and more mastery. This will mark you as someone who truly cares about your career and someone other people want to know. That to me is the essence of a positive, sustainable and genuine personal brand.

What have you done to burnish your personal brand? Share below in the comment section or on Twitter.

Lindsey Pollak is the leading expert on millennials and the multigenerational workplace, trusted by global companies, universities and the world’s top media outlets. A New York Times bestselling author and keynote speaker, Lindsey began her career as a dorm RA in college and has been mentoring millennials — and explaining them to other generations — ever since. Her presentations have audiences so engaged that, in the words of one attendee, “I didn’t check my phone once!” Contact Lindsey to discuss a speaking engagement for your organization.

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