For many people, every share on social media (a tweet, status update, Snap, Boomerang) feels like an extension of one's personal brand. Even the act of setting a profile to private is an expression of that brand.
If you're concerned about how to best develop whatever you want your brand to be (or reshape what you already have) for professional reasons, rest assured that you have likely done a lot of legwork already.
You likely have some digital presence and have started to represent yourself in some way IRL. What you might really need to hone is your framing of those efforts, so that they become specific to your career.
"The term 'personal brand' is a buzzword, however, I believe the concept is incredibly important," says WayUp CEO Liz Wessel. "Being able to convey what it is that makes you unique, and tie it back to what you do professionally, is something that everyone — whether you are looking for a job or not — should be able to do."
One step is learning how to convey who you are through conversation, she explains. You can start by thinking through the following questions:
1. What am I passionate about?
2. What are some of my favorite hobbies or activities?
3. What are my interests?
4. In what activities, projects, or groups have I demonstrated leadership?
"These questions will give you a good start to developing the story you can start to tell about yourself," Wessel continues. "Once you've fleshed out your answers, practice speaking about these attributes so that you'll be able to weave them into the conversation in interviews, coffee chats, or when you are meeting new people in general."
Some guidelines to follow in those networking situations: Introduce yourself with your full name, be mindful of your body language, and make it a genuine conversation (which means not dominating the interaction). Other actions, like sending thank-you emails or cards after a meeting, or how quickly you respond to people could become part of your trademark.
For better or worse, another aspect of your personal brand is how you look. If you don't have to wear a uniform, do you tend to wear all black? If you do wear a uniform, do you put a spin on the non-regulation aspects, or present yourself more neutrally? Be aware that things like makeup, hair, piercings, tattoos, even whether you wear heels versus flats, or trousers over dresses can all contribute to your personal brand — or what others perceive that brand to be.
Next, after you have a good handle on what works in presenting yourself in person, determine how to do the same thing online, Wessel says.
If you are intentionally aligning your online presence with your professional field, you may want to follow some conventions, even as you put your own spin on it. That can vary by industry in terms of the kinds of photos people share (candid or professional?), the regularity with which people post, or even the times they post (considering when likeminded, like-interested people are alert).
"Eighty percent of employers Google jobseekers before inviting them into an interview, so it's vital that you create the image online that you want employers to see, and don't let others create it for you," she says. "You can tell your story through a personal website or portfolio, or by crafting a consistent image on your social media accounts. For example, users on WayUp create profiles where they talk about more than just their work experience — partially because they have only a little in the first place."
When you talk about your job or your career, she continues, you should absolutely talk about why you love what you do — "don't just list out your jobs and your achievements."
"What is it that makes you love your work? How did you get into it in the first place? There's likely a story somewhere in there that will give a glimpse into who you are as a person," Wessel adds. Delving deeper into these areas on a website, in a portfolio, or in person, gives you the opportunity to showcase who you are as a full person — something that is harder to achieve on a résumé page.
"I think most people don't realize that incorporating your brand and non-work experiences into the way you talk about your career is one of the best ways to differentiate yourself from other applicants," Wessel says. "For example, the number-one attribute employers look for is leadership. The best candidates I've interviewed demonstrate their leadership abilities by referencing their hobbies, interests, and other non-work experiences in addition to talking about their professional experiences."
In essence, even though the idea of personal branding can feel contrived or awkward, it's really about dictating the terms of how you engage with other people on and offline. Not everything is in your control when it comes to work, but putting your best self forward is.