Big Picture

In a Tight Job Market, Here’s How to Crash-Proof Your Personal Brand

Five years ago, asking the average CEO whether they wanted — or needed — personal branding services would have earned you a raised eyebrow and a polite but emphatic no.

When I first started my career as a branding consultant, the vast majority of my clients were ambitious entrepreneurs or mid-career professionals who were willing to invest the time and money in boosting their personal brands to greater heights. Top-level executives, however, often demurred the opportunity, reasoning that they were busy and already as prominent in their industry as they needed to be, anyway.

But in an ever-intensifying job market, even top executives — and I’m talking triple-A talent, here — have come calling.

Here’s the hard truth of the matter: no one’s job is wholly secure against risk. It doesn’t matter if you’re the freshest intern or most entrenched CEO — there is a nonzero chance that you could be laid off, replaced, or let go.

According to the Labor Department, nearly 8.7 million Americans will have lost their jobs by the end of the year, and many of those roles will be permanently gone. This job market constriction means that more laid-off workers will need to either pivot their careers or compete for a much smaller number of available roles.

Competition for jobs is fierce. Research tells us that the average job search takes five months, and only five percent of applicants are called in for an interview. Candidates need to set themselves above the pack — otherwise, they may find themselves in hiring purgatory, staring at a stack of polite rejection emails.

But how can they do so? The answer lies in developing a standout personal brand.

Personal branding is the narrative that we tell others about ourselves. A good personal brand increases the perceived value that a person has. If you’re looking for a job, your brand will bolster your chances of being selected; if you already have a position, it will increase your chance of keeping it. Studies suggest that personal branding leads to significantly greater career satisfaction and perceived employability, and further boosts professionals towards positive career outcomes such as social capital, financial rewards, and professional opportunities.

Now, every person’s personal brand is, by definition, unique. There isn’t a generic formula you can apply to craft a perfect one. However, there are certain guideposts that will help you take the first steps towards a market-proof personal brand.

Make Your Brand About You, Not Your Last Gig or Employer

Not all that long ago, one of my clients — an experienced corporate professional who, before her layoff, had a pristine and decades-long track record at a multinational brand — came to me, frustrated by the lack of response she had received from potential employers.

Once she explained her situation to me, I saw the problem: she had spent so much time with her last employer — and was so focused on what she accomplished for that company — that she had built her personal brand completely around that company. The company loomed so large that it overshadowed her.

While name-dropping an impressive former employer might earn you a second glance, making that company the foundation of your professional identity will make hiring managers worry that you won’t be able to adapt to a new organization. Plus, doing so fundamentally misunderstands the point of personal branding.

To borrow an explanation from Social Media Examiner’s Michael Stelzener: “A personal brand is a relationship with you, an individual who exists separately from your company. The process of personal branding involves finding your uniqueness, building a reputation on the things you want to be known for, and then allowing yourself to be known for them. Ultimately, the goal is to create something that conveys a message and that can be monetized.”

Don’t build your personal brand solely around your former employer. Highlight your capabilities, interests, and skills — otherwise, hiring managers will never see enough of you to make a fair determination of your potential.

Think About What You’re Selling

What do you offer, and why is it valuable? If your personal brand doesn’t answer these questions, it doesn’t matter how extensive your resume is — you’ll be out of luck.

Not all that long ago, a former sales executive with over 15 years of professional experience asked me to help her pivot into consultancy. She wanted to focus on developing tools for what she called “prospective communications.”

Here’s the problem — the clients who could have benefited from her services weren’t calling because they didn’t know what that term meant. Ambiguity kills personal brands. Past psychological research tells us that ambiguous brand names can negatively influence a consumer’s response to and perception of the brand’s products.

If you want to sell anything — even your skillset — people need to know what they’re paying for and why their businesses will be better for the investment. When people in your specialty don’t feel like they can make more money or become more relevant from your service, they aren’t going to buy. Your brand should make the commercial case for the investment clear from the get-go.

Include Accomplishments in Your Personal Brand

In my experience, many talented people simply don’t want to deal with personal branding. They might spend an hour updating their Linkedin or getting good headshots, but they aren’t thinking critically about how they can boost themselves above the competition.

Often, I’ll be mid-conversation with a client, and they’ll mention their involvement in an amazing project or massive business initiative. When I ask them why it isn’t on their CV, they almost invariably say — oh, I didn’t think anyone would find it interesting.

Take the time to think through your accomplishments. Go beyond the basics to figure out what you offer that others don’t, and then make that distinction clear.

A good personal brand offers you credibility and visibility. Those factors, in turn, generate more and better opportunities and speed up the decision processes that others make about us, our products, and services.

What could be more critical in our current job market?


Written by Humberto Herrera. Have you read?
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Humberto Herrera
Humberto Herrera is a consultant and Forbes Colombia contributor who has advised more than 170 of Latin America’s most important entrepreneurs, public figures, and foundations on the nuances of personal branding, public relations, and personal development. Humberto Herrera is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow him on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.