Personal branding helps you stand out and can help boost your career. Industrial psychologist Phiona Martin explains, and shares 8 practical ways to build your personal brand.
Whether you’re aware of it or not, you have a personal brand at your place of work. It’s out there, it’s at play daily and likely impacting your career! Personal branding, within an organisational context, is how you package yourself professionally. Think of it as the behaviours, characteristics and qualities that people associate with your name. It's the perceptions that people hold, based on how they experience you in daily interactions. Think of a time you have brought up a colleague’s name and heard words like “she is so difficult to work with”, “he is known for throwing people under the bus”, “she is very knowledgeable and always delivers exceptionally”, or “he’s a really amazing leader”. All these statements illustrate personal brands in action!
The world of work is highly competitive and your personal brand is what will make you stand out from your peers to be well positioned for growth opportunities. Just as a business defines its “unique selling points” to differentiate itself from competitors, you also need to find what makes you different from your competitors.
When the “powers that be” make decisions about your career, they are influenced by two things: your performance and your visibility. Visibility and performance are the Siamese twins of personal branding. If you’re only focused on visibility, like impression management and pageantry when you are around senior leaders, but never back it up with action, you will be known as one of those people who are “all icing and no cake”. Similarly, producing good work but “flying under the radar” and not doing PR for your achievements may mean you are overlooked when management has to make decisions about you.
Before building your brand, you first need to define it and before defining it, you need to do a quick brand audit. What is your actual brand in the company right now? To get an idea, ask a few trusted colleagues what words come to mind when they think of you. Ideally, the current perception about you is in line with the brand you want to enforce and there are no impression gaps.
After your audit, the way to craft your brand identity is to pinpoint three or four keywords you want your name to be associated with and deliberately make efforts to exude those qualities in every interaction e.g in meetings, over email, in casual conversations and most importantly, in how you deliver your work. With each interaction or work assignment, you are either adding, stagnating or diminishing your personal brand.
The key to defining a brand that sticks is to ensure that your messaging and behaviour are consistent. If not, the brand you are trying to project is unlikely to have an impact.
There are some practical ways to build your brand and intentionally shape how you are seen by colleagues and management, in service of your career goals.
1. First, do good work. The point of departure in constructing your brand is really simple: do great work and excel at what you do! This can not be stressed enough. Without any impressive work, brand building efforts will really be akin to “putting lipstick on a pig”.
2. Be known for something. Decide what you want to be known for. Think of one or two skills that you feel can become your unique value proposition.
3. Find platforms to showcase your brand. When you know the brand you are trying to push, find various “podiums” to showcase it. Some brand-raising podiums include: asking to present at a team meeting, putting your hand up for high profile assignments, volunteering to speak at events such as industry conferences, or sharing thought leadership pieces with colleagues. Get involved in meetings, events or projects where there may be skip-level leaders (people the level above your manager) as an audience.
4. Take your brand across the organisation. Don’t focus only on building your brand in your department. It’s important to network across the organisation and ensure you have cross-functional “clout” as well. Ensure managers in other departments know you. Make an effort to speak to them casually about the work they are doing. If another department is struggling with something, see if you can assist in the time you have to spare. Just ensure you do not comprise delivery in your current role to impress other managers.
5. Create brand supporters. One way to get your brand out there is helping others at all levels of the company, including peers and juniors. It is a great way to build relationships while showcasing or gaining skills. For example, help an intern struggling with a particular task, or offer to relieve an overwhelmed colleague with some of their duties. This way, you create evangelists across all levels.
6. Promote yourself - and others! Like most people, you may feel awkward “tooting your own horn”. A trick is to do it in a manner that also credits other people’s contributions. This way, the story does not seem to be only about you. Example: “It was really amazing winning the employee of the year award, but this was made possible because of the supportive team in my department and our manager who always pushes us to do our best.”
7. Understand that your tribe is your vibe. The people you hang out with and are associated with at work form part of your brand. If you have close affiliations with people who are very negative or associated with any characteristics that may impact your brand, you may want to reassess some of these associations.
8. Use branding tools. Lastly, make use of online branding tools to enhance your personal branding efforts. This could include having a blog or a great LinkedIn profile. A polished online profile does not constitute a brand - what you present online is merely an extension of who you are.
In the workplace, a great personal brand is the result of excellent work and visibility. The impressions about you, particularly by senior leaders, have an impact on your ability to progress and access growth opportunities within the company. Every interaction you have at work is an opportunity to build your own personal brand and further your career.