Why and How to Establish Your Personal BrandGoogle reports that people search 80 million names online daily and 77% of recruiters do an online search of candidates.
Who are you? What are you good at? What do you stand for? What do you want to be known for?
The answers to these questions affect every stage of your career. Your every interaction contributes to creating your personal brand, how people will think of you when they hear someone mention your name.
At the Women’s Leadership Institute at Dana Point CA in December 2011, Ellen Heffernan and Teri Bump spoke about creating your brand. Heffernan is a partner in the executive search firm SJG–The Spelman & Johnson Group. Bump is VP of university relations and student development for American Campus Communities.
Unless it’s your sister or a close personal friend, most people who’ve heard of you will remember only one or two things about you. You can leave to chance what those things will be—or you can take responsibility for how you’re known, preferably long before you’re looking for a new job.
Who are you?
It’s not about hiring an ad agency to give you a nifty slogan. It’s not about your job description or the title on your door. Your brand needs to reflect the real you: your talents, strengths, interests and passions.
Higher education is full of smart people. What makes you stand out in the crowd? “Before you enter a room, know what you bring to the table,” Heffernan said.
If you don’t know your strengths, Gallup’s Strengths- Finder Assessment can help you to get a handle on them.
Or ask trusted colleagues what they value about you. Is it your ability to make everyone feel included? Your honesty? Your creative problem-solving? Your transparency and willingness to share information? Your ability to inspire and motivate?
Do some personal reflection. What do you do that’s especially valuable to your university? What specific achievements make you proudest? What stories give you bragging rights? What do those stories have in common?
When you put all these pieces together, a picture will emerge that distinguishes you from others. Like snowflakes, each of us is unique. Branding is a matter of identifying and communicating whatever is unique about you. Pare it down Suppose you get into an elevator at a conference. Someone you recognize as a major figure in your profession reads your nametag and asks you about yourself. What will you say in the 30 seconds or so until the elevator stops? Whether or not you ever use your “elevator speech,” writing one will help you to clarify how to view yourself. Short, concise and to the point, it should include at most three or four themes or strengths.
Test out your elevator speech:
• Does it match the person you see in the mirror? It needs to be and feel authentic to you.
• Does it match your interests and passions as well as your strengths? If you promote something you do well but hate doing, you may be stuck doing what you hate forever.
• Does it distinguish you from others? The goal is to be a brand, not a generic with only the skills shared by everyone in your field.
• Can you tell specific stories to illustrate each theme in your elevator speech? If you land dinner with that woman from the elevator, or an interview for your dream job, you’ll want to be prepared to back up the summary with examples.
• Does it relate to the positions you’d like to hold? “Higher education is all about fit,” Heffernan said. Your elevator speech will help you assess the fit of a potential job, as well as help search committees to judge whether you’re the right person for their job.
Put it across
“You want to be the brand that everyone will talk about,” Bump said. Your core themes and strengths should shine in every interaction, as clear and consistent as a diamond.
• Day to day. Bring your best self to work each day. Those who see you most often, up close and personal, should see the same person as the brand you project to strangers.
• Image online. Google reports that people search 80 million names online daily and 77% of recruiters do an online search of candidates. Run a search on yourself to see what shows up. Use Google Grader for help to get your name among the top ten results, for your distinctive brand.
• Application materials. Target your resume and cover letter to highlight your unique brand and show that you appreciate the uniqueness of the target school.
• Interviews. There are only three basic interview questions: Can you do the job? Will you love the job? Can I stand to work with you?
Have a story ready to support each of the three points and tie it to your brand. Don’t give them something else to talk about, like your tattoo or why you wore pink. “People focus on only one or two things, so let them know what yours are,” Bump said.
• Network. Ultimately your brand spreads by word of mouth. We’re all said to be connected by six degrees of separation on average; in higher education it’s more like two degrees. Every time you say hello you’re making a connection. “Touch someone three times before you ask them for something,” she said.
• Sponsors. A 2011 report in the Harvard Business Review on “Why Men Still Get More Promotions than Women” said that many women have mentors to dispense wisdom but no sponsor to advocate for their career advancement. If you find someone influential who believes in you enough to promote your brand, word will get around.
Be clear, be concise, be consistent and live your brand every day of your life. Communicating who you are will help you get where you want to go.
Cook, Sarah Gibbard. (2012, March). Why and How to Establish Your Personal Brand. Women in Higher Education, 21(3), 16.