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Much has been said about personal branding, about establishing an unmistakeable identity in the online and offline worlds. Some judge it to be essential, while others call it the height of narcissism. That said, there’s an overwhelming tide racing to the shore now that only things like personal branding can endure: a tide of enforced mediocrity.

Take a read of this article about West Potomac High School all but removing failing grades as part of the educational process. By effectively removing the ability to fail, the school blurs the line between those students who are capable of doing good work in a timely fashion and those students who do mediocre work whenever they feel like it.

Fire in the fireplace

Here’s the problem: under this system, there’s no way to tell a B or C level student who works hard from a B or C level student who has no discipline. Changes such as this effectively make things like GPA (which were already fairly skewed and not terribly useful measures) and academic records useless measures of quality. As trends like this spread (and they invariably do), we remove more and more ways to judge a person’s capabilities.

Who would you rather hire? A hard worker or a lazy, undisciplined worker? Under models like West Potomac’s, you can’t tell the difference from academic track record. The diploma looks the same.

This is where personal branding comes in. This is where personal branding transcends being an exercise in self-congratulation and becomes a useful tool. As we continue to enforce mediocrity throughout our society in the name of self-esteem, those people who invest the time and effort to build credible personal brands will have the advantage when it comes to being hired, being promoted, and being valued. This is especially true for new college graduates, since they typically don’t have a track record of achievement and experience to point to, making one bachelor’s degree as good as the next.

So what should you do to build a personal brand? What should you advise your kids, your coworkers, your friends to do? Start obviously by stacking up achievements and doing great work. If you have no latitude to do interesting things in your current workplace, volunteer somewhere to put your talents to use in unconventional ways. Reinforce your great work by building out a strong content presence, blogging about what you’re doing, connecting and building a strong network as quickly as possible, and finding more opportunities to add to your track record of achievement.

Who would you rather hire? A B or C level student with a diploma and nothing else, or a B or C level student with a diploma, blog about your industry or vertical, well connected network, maybe even a magazine article or two, and a pile of LinkedIn recommendations praising them for their hard work as a volunteer? It’s a no-brainer if you’re looking to hire talented people.

No matter how much we neuter academic achievement or homogenize education for a consistently mediocre result, there is no way to disguise hard work, dedication, focus, and achievement in real world results. Your personal brand is your single best method for communicating that to the world, and as more and more signals of quality get diluted for the sake of poor achievers’ self-esteem, building a credible personal brand should become higher and higher priority for you.

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