People are not tubes of toothpaste. Or designer shoes.
The inescapable buzzword term “personal branding” makes this easy to forget.
Some articles encourage job seekers to package themselves online like companies put together toothpaste: glitzy boxes promising better, brighter, stronger, cleaner, more flavorful!
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 12.8 million Americans are currently unemployed. Online personal branding allows for some control within that competitive market — which includes an estimated 40 million Millennials — but on the way to building a stand-out brand, it is easy to forget…
You are not toothpaste.
But you are likely one among many insert-major-here students who has interned, studied abroad and built an online portfolio of coursework. Failing to sincerely personalize your content and appearance online will quickly make you appear as just another product on the aisle.
Barbara Safani, owner of Career Solvers, a job search consultancy and coaching company, said that while everyone may use the same tools for brand building, each person has something different to offer.
Take every opportunity to prove it.
Instead of settling for the first free blog theme, scour the Internet for other options or develop a sought-after job skill by learning to code your website from scratch. Also, keep your senses alert to advances in technology.
“Digital footprints will become more streamlined and tools will become more sophisticated. People might start using QR codes… as a way to integrate information and social media platforms,” Safani said.
Use fashion merchandising students as an example for infusing content with personality.
“Maybe a certain type of music influences their fashion,” said Safani. “Maybe they are inspired by a certain era like the 40s or the 60s, and they watch old movies to draw inspiration for their designs. The trick is to blend the personal and professional.”
You can’t fake authenticity.
“You would never boast about your love of fruity candy on a resume, but you can do that on your website because it gives people another way to connect with you and remember who you are,” said Adams.
Seeing someone discuss her love of Gummi Bears might encourage you to do the same on your profile, but avoid the influence – what worked for someone else might be the extraneous information that detracts from your brand.
Doing something outrageous is also tempting but too risky for most. Similarly, everyone does not need a video resume or personal logo. If the former feels stilted or the latter is poorly designed, it will damage your presentation.
Skills + Experience > Branding.
Fifteen years ago, creating a personal online space to “brand you” was much more difficult. Accessibility and ease of use trends toward pumping up perceived value – an image companies might be interested in – rather than actual value.
“If you don’t really have the necessary experience, the truth will come out regardless of which medium you use to market yourself,” Adams warns.
Ashlee Tran, a digital account coordinator at Fenton and a 2009 college graduate, is active on various social media outlets and has a brand that includes blogging about her pets and traveling.
“A big component of my own personal branding isn’t just showing that I’m active on these channels (but that they are) a window into my personality – and that was helpful for my company in knowing if I would match their work culture,” said Tran.
Her personalized social media in addition to her communications and online strategy experience in non-profit advocacy and political diversity organizations proved she was prepared for the reverse: a communications company that creates social change-making campaigns.
Alternatively, failing to deliver on your brand is a major career hazard. Build an image around your current skills and take courses to get those you lack. Schools such as Stanford and organizations like MediaBistro offer online programs – options for those looking to transition into careers outside their majors.
Your online brand is not all about you.
“Don’t get so caught up in showcasing you that you forget to listen to others,” Safani said.
Safani advises tweeting quality information while also retweeting others to exhibit strong listening and collaboration skills, and commenting on blogs, liking statuses and sharing articles that genuinely interest you. But there are even more proactive options such as scheduling Twitter hashtag events or creating old-fashioned forums on newer sites such as Ning.com.
Adams’ blog began as a more personal outlet, but she redeveloped it into a community to explore the various definitions of Gen Y career and lifestyle happiness. The Fab Life Project accepts ideas for posts as well as guest posts in order to spark multi-voiced conversations.
And you are not all about your online brand.
In fact, you may not need one.
“In my line of work, brands work best for our authors, not so much [for] the employees,” said Marlena Brown, a book publicist for HarperCollins and a 2007 college graduate who is not actively branded online with the exception of tweeting for work. Brown noted that she got her job without focusing on branding. “I applied and they called me in based on the experience I had from my book publicity internship,” she said, indicating that the necessity for a personal brand is industry specific.
MTV’s “No Collar Workers” study found that 93% of millennials want a job where they can be themselves, but job searching and branding grates against this desire. If you are not into setting up a virtual storefront to sell yourself and toothpaste promises, it may be best to avoid online branding that may link you to a contrary image.
“The major potential downfall would be getting locked into [a] brand,” Brown said. “It can be difficult getting your audience or clients to accept a different kind of you once [an] identity is in place.”
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