They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but we all do it. And, so do employers. It used to be that you’d walk into a room with your resume and wow an employer with your professionalism and charm. Now they get a first impression without ever meeting you. All it takes is typing your name into an online search engine and people can find a wealth of information about you.
Projecting a compelling and impressive online presence, or “professional brand,” could be the difference between getting offered that coveted interview or being passed over. But before you can shape your own professional brand, you need to uncover who you are and how you’re currently seen online. Start by understanding yourself better, and then build a professional brand that will serve your career goals.
What’s Your Professional Brand?
Your professional brand is your story, who you are and what you stand for. It’s how you distinguish yourself as a credible, trustworthy, and skilled candidate. So, it goes without saying that you should be the one in control of how your story is communicated. Do you want to be known as an innovative problem-solver or a tech-savvy team-player? It’s up to you to create that narrative. But, clearly and succinctly articulating your brand can be challenging. Here are some practical exercises that can help.
Step 1: Conduct A Personal Audit
Even if you’ve never considered your professional brand, you almost certainly have one if you’ve spent any time online. Do you know what it is? What do people know about you? Google yourself and you may be surprised. More than half of employers report that they’ve passed on offering a job to a candidate due to their inappropriate content online. Don’t be one of them. Comb through at least the first five pages. Employers are fastidious about checking you out—you should be too. It doesn’t even have to be something offensive. You may be tagged in a video on Facebook where you’re singing Happy Birthday offkey. Funny and harmless—except if that’s the first thing an employer sees when searching for a serious, competent business leader.
Step 2: Get Objective Feedback
Another way to discover what you’re currently known for is to simply ask around. Ask your friends and current or former colleagues to explain how they see you. Create an anonymous survey on LinkedIn or SurveyMonkey and see what feedback you get.
Ask the kinds of questions that will help you understand how you’re perceived. For example:
- How do people feel around me?
- What am I like to work with?
- What was your first impression of me?
- How would you describe me to someone new?
- Would you say I’m easy to get to know?
Tweak Your Message & Tell Your Professional Story
Now that you know what story you’re currently telling, it’s time to get proactive. If you notice trends in the way people see you that you want to change, figure out how you can start to do that, whether it’s through your online presence or interpersonal actions. And if you find online content that’s inappropriate or inconsistent with how you want to be perceived, delete it or make it private. That part is easier said than done! I offer more in-depth advice about this on our free online branding course How to Woo and Wow Employers Online.
The key to creating a strong professional brand is knowing your own skills, and your goals. Compile a list of words that encapsulates what you’re good at, what you uniquely bring to the table. Now turn it into a clear and memorable statement. For example, “New Seasons Market is a happy place.” Yes, it’s a grocery store, but it’s a happy one! That’s what makes it unique. Perhaps you’re a creative innovator or a strategic thinker driving social change. You decide, and then start building your brand around this core statement.
Like it or not, social media is the most important place to build your brand. For some of us, it’s a minefield we’d rather avoid. That’s not an option any more. Showing you understand its importance is part of branding yourself as current and resourceful. Leverage LinkedIn’s networking capacity by connecting with people, joining groups and contributing to conversations that reflect the brand you want to project. Twitter ranks highly on Google—if you don’t already have one, create a professional account and follow people within the same field as you, underlining your engagement with the topics and areas that you stand for. Establishing a consistent presence on social media will reinforce your brand and get you noticed.
Elevate Your Professional Brand
Once you’re confident in your professional brand, go all out. Don’t rely on resumes to wow employers with your talent—they can be bland and impersonal and rarely show off your individuality. Get creative and communicate in a more personalized manner using your own website. Here you can decide and control what content you include, keeping it dynamic and relevant to the jobs you’re looking for. There are several free or reasonable platforms to choose from that will showcase your uniqueness.
Above all, exude confidence. You’ve done the work to know who you are and what you bring to the workplace. When you are clear and convinced that you’re a valuable and effective contributor, that message shines through. Your professional brand should convince others that you think you’re the best candidate for the job, and they should too!