Sara Jane Fair from Rochester Institute of Technology’s Social Media class asked if I had any personal branding tips for college students:
@cspenn @AaronMPagan any advice on building our personal brands? #ritsm
— sara jane fair (@sarajanefair) September 19, 2014
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.
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:
- Why your personal brand sucks
- On developing your personal brand
- Do your words reflect your personal brand?
- What your personal brand can learn from the legend of the ninja
- Marketing students: forget about personal brand
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