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Building Your Personal Brand Without Selling Your Soul

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Sad Don Draper has a personal branding problem

A few years ago, “personal branding” was one of those phrases that made me hate that I was in Business School. I always saw it as a gimmick to avoid, a game I wouldn’t play along with, and an idea I could never believe in. I don’t want to be a person with a catchphrase, and I’m not the type of person to rely on some false trait in order to advance my career. However, I’ve learned that personal branding isn’t so bad as long as you remember that you can be yourself and still succeed.

You’re the product

Whether you’re going for a job, or trying to get in a relationship, or applying for school, you’re essentially selling yourself. That’s what personal branding is about. Whether you like it or not, you are a product, and your attributes and abilities have to be attractive to the company you are trying to work for (the “buyer”). You do this by finding out how to differentiate yourself from all of the other brands out there vying for the buyer’s attention, and by promoting the best aspects of your “brand.”  Hopefully, you do this well enough that someone wants to hire you, or go on a date, or accept you into their school program. If this sounds impersonal, good. It’s supposed to. This is where you can inject some of your personality.

Blend personal and professional

One of the questions I come across fairly frequently as I’m reading things online is “should I have separate Twitter accounts for my friends and professional life?” I don’t believe that you have to separate your personal and professional identity to get a job. The way I see it, my personality is one of the most identifiable differentiators my personal brand has; I WANT people to see more than my “professional side.” There are hundreds of college grads from UW-Madison that have my credentials, but there’s only one person like me (and this is coming from someone who has an identical twin). If an employer has an issue with me tweeting about anything “off-topic” or showing off my personal side, then I probably wouldn’t be a good fit in their company anyways, and I sure as hell don’t want to work in a place where I don’t fit. Simple as that.

Of course, there are limits. You have to be mindful of the things you post online and the pictures you show up in. This doesn’t mean you have to untag every picture of you with a red Solo cup, or take every damn, hell, and ass out of your online lexicon.  Have fun online. Just understand that the internet is a public forum, and be careful.  As long as you’re comfortable with whatever you’re posting, you’ll probably be alright.

Oh, Lord. Networking

Networking is a word that evokes fire and brimstone to me. A place of slick hair and slicker pitches. A world of opportunistic people exchanging firm handshakes and elevator speeches. People donning their best suits and going to events solely to lie and pass out business cards. The opposite of authentic, the perpetual job fair.  My own personal hell. But networking doesn’t have to be so bad.

It helps to remember that people aren’t usually that cold, and many actually feel the same way about networking. If you like having conversations with people, just think of networking as talking with a bunch of people interested in having a conversation. Pretend you’re at a bar; even though you’re at a business event, you can still talk about other things like popular culture, sports, and music. Try to make some new friends, and who knows, maybe they’ll be good people to know in the business world too. Maybe your personal brand is attractive to a recruiter simply because you’re not all business, all the time. Maybe, just maybe, being yourself will land you a job.

In the end, just be yourself

“Personal branding” was such a strange concept to me because I didn’t understand how easy it is. You don’t have to buy in to all of the gimmicks, or be fake, or pretend to be something you’re not. All you have to do is be yourself, and your personality will become your “personal brand.” Some people may not like your brand and they may not want to buy your product, but that’s alright. That’s why you don’t see a 40 year-old businessman browsing through the Slayer tees at Hot Topic and why you don’t see Donald Trump at Walmart.  Square pegs don’t fit into round holes, so don’t waste your time chasing an employer who doesn’t like you for who you are.

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What do you think about personal branding? How about networking?

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  1. September 9, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    Nice piece, Tim. Networking, like sales, is something we ALL do. It’s probably how you got your job, met your your best friends and maybe even met your spouse. It’s just being social.

    -Alan Berkson

    • September 9, 2010 at 11:18 pm

      I appreciate your comment, Alan. I understand your point; whether we do it consciously or unconsciously, we are always networking in one form or another because we are social animals. I guess I just don’t think of a party or social function as an opportunity to make new friends or meet a girl, it just sort of happens that way. Networking events for business, on the other hand, are things I see specifically as opportunities to get hired, find clients, etc. I guess that’s where I see the difference.

      Nevertheless, you make a good point. Thanks for commenting!

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