We’ve all probably heard the hype about personal brands: We have to get one—and fast.
Yet, most people don’t really know what it is or how to go about making one.
Your personal brand is a reflection of the kind of person you are and want to be—your values, your motivations, your career goals. These then translate into how you act around the office, interview for jobs, and promote yourself on social media. But you can’t use your brand to get ahead unless you know exactly what it is and why it makes you unique.
So, how do you approach your personal brand in a way that’ll make it easy for you to explain, others to understand, and the world to appreciate?
Focus on these four things:
1. Get Clear About Your Career Values
What are your core values?
Most people can’t answer that question easily. But if you don’t know what you stand for and care about, how can you be sure you’re projecting them?
Short answer: You can’t. But that doesn’t mean you can’t figure it out.
Try this simple exercise: First, write down 10 of your most cherished values—such as integrity, growth, or service. Then, narrow that list down to the top five that are most important to you. Ask yourself, “What would hurt if someone didn’t believe this to be true about me?”
Then, you can develop a way to keep them top of mind with an evocative phrase (that you can also use on your social platforms): a short saying, the name of a person who embodies them, an acronym, a lyric. For example, one of my colleague’s brands is “lean into the sharp edges” as she prioritizes growth, learning, and taking risks.
2. Schedule Self-Reflection Time
Fact: We rarely find time to sit, pause, and reflect. To live purposefully and in alignment with our brand, we need to make time for reflection.
It may sound strange, but schedule a meeting once a month with just yourself to quietly reflect on your goals.
During this self-check-in, perform an internal audit:
- What steps are you taking to live your values?
- What are your current goals, and how are you progressing toward them?
- What different choices would allow you to get closer to living your values?
You don’t need to have definitive answers to these every time, but this self-reflection forces you to question your decisions and make sure they’re taking you down the right path.
And don’t try to squeeze this in between meetings or relegate it to the worst part of your day when you’re tired. Commit to a time when you can be fully focused and energized for you—whether it’s at your favorite coffee shop or while snuggled in bed at night.
3. Cultivate Role Models
Role models show us what’s possible, increase our confidence that we’re headed down the right path, and motivate us to achieve our goals. They also help us to continually rethink our brand and update our career goals. Most people don’t have perfect role models in their jobs, so you have to get out there and find them.
Start by thinking broadly: Who exhibits some (note: all will be impossible to find) characteristics that you admire? Write down your ideal “personal board of advisors”—a group of people who share your values and exemplify the life you want for yourself.
Then, try getting to know them: invite them out to lunch or a quick coffee. If it’s impossible to meet with them—say, they’re a public figure or high-level exec—you can observe them through social media. Take note of the kinds of habits they have, the way they present themselves, and the steps they took to get to where they are today.
4. Take Risks That Align With Your Brand
We talk a lot about taking risks, but how do you choose which ones you should go for?
Simple: ones that align with your brand. For example, a software engineer who leaves to become an entrepreneur to have the opportunity to innovate, a new manager who goes to bat for her team because she values leadership, or a consultant who vies to run a large account because it aligns with his desire to stretch himself.
So, when deciding whether or not to take the leap, ask yourself:
- Will this opportunity allow me to do more of what I love and excel at?
- Will it allow me to be more useful?
- Will it push me further ahead in my career?
- Will it allow me to be around people that inspire me?
Again, asking these questions ensures you’re only taking risks that’ll reap the highest rewards, but also that you’re not missing out on opportunities that can launch your career.
Ultimately, our brand should be our personal compass. In following our passions, and finding ways, whether online or in person, to communicate that passion to others, we create a brand that inspires not just us, but others as well.