5 personal branding tips for students

Sara Jane Fair from Rochester Institute of Technology’s Social Media class asked if I had any personal branding tips for college students:

Let’s start with some Hippocrates: first, do no harm. While he was speaking of medicine, this equally applies to branding. First, don’t do stupid things. Don’t post photos of yourself that you wouldn’t want on the front page of a newspaper, because when someone Googles you, that is the new front page. Don’t behave irresponsibly, because cameras are everywhere. Don’t load photos to the cloud that you’d prefer people not see, because clouds get hacked. If you should happen to do something stupid, don’t do it repeatedly – just ask the NFL how well that works for them.

Financial Aid Podcast 2007 Year in Review

Second, figure out your personal core values. My company, SHIFT Communications (we’re hiring), has 7: creative, connected, dedicated, honorable, smart, positive, and ballsy. My personal core values are smart, selective, curious, and driven. These are words that help you decide what to say no to in life. When I’m interviewing someone for a job, if they aren’t in alignment with both my company’s core values and my personal core values, they don’t get the job, even if they are technically “qualified” on paper. Conversely, I’ll give someone a shot if they evince those values, even if they’re slightly less qualified than another candidate.

Third, once you know your own personal core values, seek out people who are in alignment with them, because those are people you’ll genuinely enjoy interacting with. Like attracts like, which means that as you expand your reach, you’ll meet more people in organizations who are aligned with you. Hang out with people that you want to become as much as you can.

Fourth, make a place to call home. It’s no accident I’m putting this on my personal blog and not a social network. You own nothing in social media. Your Facebook account, your Twitter account, all of that isn’t yours and could be taken away. Build your own website. Make a digital place to call home, and put your best stuff there.

Fifth, learn to express your achievements in an impactful way. “Worked at X company doing Y” is unimpactful. It doesn’t in any way tell someone what you’re capable of. “Worked at X company writing sales copy that outperformed other sales copy by 23% (as measured by closing rate) in 4 months” tells a much different story. In the words of one of my former sales colleagues, the radio is always tuned to WIIFM: what’s in it for me. From the perspective of a potential hiring manager, what can you do for me? Making your words more impactful on resumes, LinkedIn profiles, blog posts, and social media updates is an important ongoing tactical task.

These are the basics, the building blocks of personal brand. Remember that a brand, as Ze Frank so artfully put it, is the emotional aftertaste of a series of experiences. When someone interacts with you, how do you want them to feel? As human beings, we make decisions with emotion and then later rationalize them with logic. By doing the above work, you’ll know better what emotions you want convey, and how to convey them a little better.

For some additional reading on personal brand, I wrote these a while back:

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How to read the room as a speaker

“If you want to become a more effective public speaker, you have to learn how to read the room.”

That’s advice you’re going to find in nearly every public speaking manual, course, etc. Read the room. Read the crowd. Gauge the audience. Watch the body language.

Except… no one actually tells you in usable detail HOW to do this. Read the room becomes a useless platitude, a cliche that’s not actionable. So here’s my template, my recipe for reading the room. Yours probably will vary once you develop it, and I’d love any fellow speakers to contribute their tips as well.

First, look at the room environment itself. What time of day is your talk? Right after lunch is food coma slot. 2-3 PM is siesta slot. Last session of the day means you’re all that stands between the crowd and the bar. Adapt your talk accordingly. If you’ve got a naturally low energy period of the day, you’re going to need to turn up the energy knob.

Lighting should ideally be bright. If it’s dim, people will natually fade out on you. Make the lighting as bright as possible without compromising your visuals.

Temperature should ideally be cool to cold. 68-70F is great. 70-72 is okay. Above 72 and people can get warm, and that means natural drowsiness. Above 75 and you’re hosed.

Next, look at the crowd. Divide the room up into front, middle, and back, left side and right side. Pick one row or table in each of the 6 areas, and look at those people.


Are they energized? Eager? Bored? The back row is typically the first to be disengaged, so that’s not necessarily a warning sign. If the middle row appears disengaged, start to worry. If the front row has checked out, again, you’re hosed.

Before your talk, walk around. Talk to a few people here and there, but at a business conference especially, look at what’s up on people’s screens. If it’s email, they’re not paying attention, and chances are they will only be paying partial attention during your entire talk. If it’s online shoppping, they’re really not there. You might have to resort to the dreaded “Please close your laptops” tidbit. If it’s Facebook, Twitter, or another social network, or a Word document blank, then they are paying attention, at least partially.

Pay attention to typing cadence and device cadence – how fast people are typing on their devices, and when. if it’s in sync with your key points, then you’ve got an engaged crowd. If it’s out of sync, if your sample rows are furiously typing when you haven’t said anything critical in a little while, then they’ve checked out.

Finally, turn on Twitter notifications of mentions on your phone, then set your phone to vibrate. Twitter is the new applause. With your phone in your pocket, you should feel more vibration if people are tweeting about you and your session. Don’t use the conference hashtag – specifically use your username, and make sure to highlight your Twitter handle early and often in the talk, even to the point of putting it (in a small way) on every slide.

These tips should help you read rooms better as a speaker for any engagement where the room is larger than just a handful of folks.

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How to find your dream job

Job Search

I was reading with interest a series of (print) articles recently in Fortune about people looking for their dream job. Much of the debate talked about perks, about job roles and responsibilities, and a lot of the side benefits of a job. What was glaringly missing from many of the discussions, however, is figuring out what your dream job is. Certainly, we’d all like the nearly imaginary job where we get paid obscene sums of money for doing virtually no work at all, a privilege reserved only for criminal banking CEOs and politicians, but that’s not a viable career path for most of us.

So what defines your dream job? How do you figure out what your dream job is? I’d submit that in order to answer this question, you need to dig further back in your past than any part of your professional life. For example, I’m working in as close to my dream job as I can get right now as VP of Marketing Technology at SHIFT Communications. What I do on a daily basis varies wildly, but the common thread is that, as long as I behave in a fiscally responsible, ethical manner, I get to experiment with new technologies, test things, learn, and receive positive social reinforcement for what I do.

How did I figure out what my dream job would be? I looked back in time. When I was a kid, my dad built me a “laboratory workbench” out of plywood and 2x4s. That little wooden bench was covered in chemical stains from my chemistry set, burn marks from a variety of wood burning devices, and more seemingly junk items than that desk should have been able to hold. I was forever taking things apart. I once cut a screwdriver in half, accidentally, because I was tinkering with an alarm clock that was still plugged in. The electrical arc cut the screwdriver in half and tripped every breaker in the house. It’s amazing that I survived my childhood largely unharmed.

The defining trait of my childhood was curiosity and exploration. That’s what I did best, and that’s what I enjoyed most. It’s no surprise, then, that my dream job focuses on that behavior. At heart, my dream job is still being a kid and playing with toys – it’s just that the toys have changed form. Instead of a kid’s chemistry set, I play with Tableau and R. Instead of taking alarm clocks apart, I now take companies’ analytics and marketing programs apart. Instead of testing and experimenting with random chemicals, I test and experiment with web pages and email marketing.

I didn’t take childhood interests and try to pursue them in a career. (well, actually I did and it turned out badly) What I did to find a happy job, a dream job, is to take childhood behaviors and find careers that made use of those core behaviors. Find work you love based on habits and behaviors that define you.

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