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How to create a personal brand that stands out in the job market

WORK LIFE
By Antoney Luvinzu | Feb 26th 2022 | 6 min read
By Antoney Luvinzu | February 26th 2022
WORK LIFE

A group of applicants wait for a job interview. [Getty Images]

Many moons ago, I read a newspaper article by a HR practitioner about packaging oneself for the labour market, and she said something along the lines of… “think of yourself as a company called Me Limited, then go out and sell it!”

She was talking about branding, personal branding. One of the skill sets hugely lacking in graduates being churned out in droves each year by colleges and universities. The art of packaging oneself.

 You see, we hear about branding more often when it comes to products and services - quite seldom to persons; however, in the recent trends, branding is increasingly more common to persons as well. Personal branding is not very different from corporate branding, it is in the same lines of who a person is, what they stand for, values they embrace, and the unique ways in which they express those values. The same way corporate branding helps communicate its value to prospective clients and shine against the competition, personal branding adds value to individuals by communicating a unique identity and clear value proposition to the target audience (you name them). Personal branding could be implemented and twisted anyhow depending on the person’s stage of life, profession, skills, and much more.

Personal branding is the practice of marketing people and their careers as brands. It is an ongoing process of developing and maintaining a reputation and impression of an individual, group, or organisation. Whereas some self-help practices focus on self-improvement, personal branding defines success as a form of self-packaging. Your personal brand is how you promote yourself. It is the unique combination of skills, experience(s), and personality that you want the world to see you. It is the telling of your story, and how it reflects your conduct, behaviour, spoken and unspoken words, and attitudes.

Coming to what exactly personal branding entails, let’s use an example to understand the concept better. Suppose you are a recent graduate with no work experience, applying to a global consulting firm, competing against fellow graduates with better GPAs, and others with some work experience. Then you ask yourself, “How do I stand out when I am an average student {GPA 3.5 or its equivalent}, and not from top universities?” This is the point where an individual needs to strategise and implement principles of personal branding to outshine the competition. Most of us must have realised that we may have applied personal branding intuitively, and the good thing is that it must have done magic. (No?) Implementing a personal branding strategy gives university students and new graduates a significant edge against stiff competition from peers in the job market and professional marketplace. Through personal branding, graduates stay ahead of thousands of peers and stand out by making a unique impression, and this has nothing to do with their age, or education level, or even experience.

So, the big question is how do you define your own personal brand and how can you use it to market yourself to potential employers? Firstly, you need to be self-aware. Knowing your personality traits, skill sets and values will help you determine your personal brand. Secondly, pay attention to the feedback given to you. During your school years, you surely received a lot of feedback from teachers and professors, even from your peers. Asking for feedback is also vital. Simply asking your friends about your qualities will help to determine your personal brand.

Thirdly, sit down and work on identifying yourself and what you are good at. Just as a company would conduct a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis, so can a person. Identify what you are (and are not) good at, what opportunities you have, and what threats you could face. For example, you have identified that your strengths are in graphic design and that you are a creative person, but your weakness is communication. You have job opportunities in graphic design with vacancies in several companies where you live, but you face threats/competition from other graphic designers. So, what can you do, given these circumstances? You can begin doing group activities, socialising, and networking more, so that you can improve your communication skills.

When writing your CV, you have to make sure that your graphic design skills stand out by having a creative, well-designed CV. In this way, when you decide to “market” yourself to potential employers and the world, they will see that your personal brand includes your skills in graphic design and that you are a creative person. 

It is also important to align your personal brand with your target audience. If you are applying for an internship or a job, where the employer or the company prides itself in its accounting services, then you would want to build a personal brand showing your numerical, business, and accounting skills. Brand marketers in the corporate world listen to their customers’ wants and needs and adjust accordingly. The same can be done with a personal brand. The overall aim of personal branding is attracting new opportunities and retaining the current ones as well as sharpening reputation and establishing credibility.

Think about the aspects students focus on when it comes to their education and future career paths. More often than not, academic records, extracurriculars, internships and ambitions dominate the conversation. But when the time comes for them to find their first job or pursue advanced degrees, how do they convey their value? The culmination of all their experiences, education and frequently left out of the equation?

For students, a well-articulated personal brand can tie together all the disparate aspects of their collective experiences—providing a clear view into their unique value as a potential employee. Considering most hiring managers now report being influenced by a candidate’s personal brand and a good number of admissions officers turn to an applicant’s online presence, it’s a necessity that students have the ability to a represent themselves on personal and professional levels.

How exactly then can schools/universities equip students here? 

According to Heather R. Human, a career expert, experienced hiring manager, president of Come Recommended, the PR solution for job search and HR tech companies, and a writer of issues impacting the modern workplace, the so called soft skills are extremely key in an individual’s personal brand. In job search materials like a resume and cover letter, we tend to focus a lot of our attention on including the hard skills listed in the job description. We want to prove we can do the job, so we focus on the so called hard skills more than anything else. The problem with this logic is these skills can only get you so far. In reality, it’s the soft skills that help you move ahead in your career. In every industry and every job, the non-technical skills are what determines if you will truly fit in a company or role. Hard skills can be learned, so it’s not always necessary for you to have all of these to land a job.

Learning institutions therefore, ought to equip learners with such soft skills requisite in the current job market. Soft skills like leadership, collaboration, communication, work ethic and problem solving are what gives the current graduate an edge. Some other important soft skills to develop include: adaptability, flexibility, optimism, integrity, empathy, self-confidence, likability, and more

It is important to embrace activeness. Successful graduates have a history of strengthening their online and offline presence, engaging and seeking expert support as well as continuously networking with their intended audience. In the end, as highlighted before, the rewards may come in numerous ways, not necessarily/immediately as a job offer – industry recognition, professional network, and many more benefits are equally important and will open doors that would have still been shut if it weren’t for personal branding.

For effective personal branding, have a heightened sense of self-awareness. Know your strengthens and play to them. Sharpen your social skills. Polish up on your etiquette. Improve on your conversation skills. Fix your wardrobe. Be presentable. Know your stuff. Be well informed on a variety of topics. Identify one thing you are really good at, and work to master it, so that your reputation precedes you in this regard. Experts say it would take one roughly five years to successfully build a brand. Be patient. Learn from those who have walked the road before, but don’t try to be like them. Amplify your uniqueness. Grow.

 

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