3 Steps to a Top-Notch Personal Brand

Most of us know the basics of proper job interview behavior: dress professionally, ask smart questions and bring a positive attitude. Yet, your personal brand could be telling a potential employer more than you’d think — before you even walk in the door.
As a career counselor, I work with many adults returning to the job market for the first time in years, and I’ve seen what works … and what doesn’t. Here are a few tips that can help you build or refine your brand:

1. Take control of your personal brand

You might think that you don’t have a brand, but actually, you do. You just might not be aware of it. Madison-based personal branding coach Dana Zurbuchen finds herself demystifying the concept with people all the time.
“We as individuals are no different than organizations,” says Zurbuchen, who owns the personal branding, marketing and coaching firm DZ + Associates. “We stand for certain things, provide certain skills, and have certain experiences and values. Just like any organization has a brand, having a clear personal brand helps us understand ourselves so that others can understand us as well.”
Work to define your brand so others don’t have to guess what it is — or worse — define it for you. If you’re not sure what your personal brand is, try searching online for personal branding tips. Try QuintCareers.com and Careerealism.com for more in-depth tutorials.

2. Update your online presence

Once you’ve identified your personal brand, make sure your online presence reflects it. Take time to update your LinkedIn profile with your personal brand by including a professional photo, editing your headline, branding your summary, clearly identifying your skills, and showcasing your experience and projects.
Double check that your Facebook profile is private and that your public profile picture is one you wouldn’t mind your boss or other professionals seeing. Consider getting a Twitter account if you want to publicize your brand and be more involved in social media. You can share and connect with others who have similar interests.

3. Spread the word about your personal brand

Make connections on LinkedIn, and post articles that are relevant to your network. Find a topic that you can contribute to as an expert and write about it. Tweet about your industry and professional interests.
Portraying a consistent brand across all social media channels is also important, says American Family Insurance Talent Acquisition Manager Jeff Close.
“We leverage LinkedIn as one of our primary recruiting tools,” Close says. “An individual’s LinkedIn profile should communicate the same personal brand message as their resume, for example. A mixed bag of messages across various platforms will leave employers confused as to the true nature of that person.”
But, make sure you think beyond the digital realm. You can also cultivate your personal brand while networking and engaging in other face-to-face conversations. Spread the word about what you have to offer!
April McHugh is a career and educational counselor for the Division of Continuing Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. McHugh helps adults with career transitions and continuing education through individual sessions and workshops. Contact her at amchugh@dcs.wisc.edu.

Update (Dec. 16, 2014): Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, shared the LinkedIn makeover article with his followers: 

Jeff Weiner LinkedIn


Bonus: LinkedIn Makeovers

A crucial part of personal branding is portraying an authentic persona on social media, particularly for LinkedIn. For jobseekers, a well-developed profile may impress prospective employers. For other professionals, a polished online presence can be a valuable networking tool and a way to showcase the role you play with your current employer. Dana and I found three brave volunteers who let us work with their LinkedIn profiles.
Click on the thumbnails to see the before-and-after screenshots, or click on the names below to see their public LinkedIn profiles.

Makeover #1: Sue

Dana: A professional LinkedIn photo is an important way to communicate who you are to the reader. Although an authentic personal brand is about more than physical style, a photo does help create a connection. Most LinkedIn users overlook a critical part of their profile: the summary. You want your profile to be powerful from the very beginning, and a well-developed summary provides that opportunity. Include words that describe who you are, not just what you do. What makes you unique? What qualities do you bring to a project/your work that nobody else does? Pull together your experience and your innate gifts in this area to really express who you are.
April: Sue’s new personal statement caught my attention with the first line! I liked that she focused on both her research and teaching interests, as well as a sampling of her books and published articles.  As she networks with academic professionals, those assets – including the PDFs she shares online – will create a positive impression.

Makeover #2: Cristina

Dana: When listing experience, include details of key accomplishments and responsibilities. It is important to list organizations and roles, but you are more than that! Again, we see what a difference a strong personal summary makes. Without ever looking at Cristina’s employment history, you know what she’s about and what sets her apart from others.
April: It’s important to keep your profile current, so I was happy to see Cristina updated her employment history to reflect a new role. She also added some multi-media samples that put a face on her work. For someone who works with broadcasters, it’s important to take advantage of LinkedIn’s ability to embed videos, photos, and links that showcase your talents.
Adding her certifications was also a great idea because it shows a commitment to lifelong learning. Showcasing volunteering and causes important to you demonstrate a passion for community. Both send a strong, positive message about who you are.

Makeover #3: Judy

Dana: Judy’s profile benefits from more information about her duties and accomplishments at each of her current and past positions. She also removed past jobs that weren’t as relevant to her career today. Her commitment to this city comes through loud and clear. If I didn’t already live here, Judy’s profile would make me want to visit Madison.
April: Judy’s profile already contained key elements to begin with, and she made it top-notch by adding more details to her current and previous roles. The new photo shows a good deal of energy and enthusiasm, which is matched by the way she articulates her passion for the City of Madison as a tourism destination. She goes beyond the day job, and notes her involvement in a professional society and other groups, which paints a more complete picture of the person.

Overall Tips

Dana: Interests matter! What are your interests? What drives you? These interests and passions can help a potential employer or client find you for an opportunity you never dreamed of!
April: Our makeover volunteers will attest to the fact that it can be challenging to write compelling content about yourself. Enlist the help of a friend or associate — even get a few opinions and pull together the pieces into something that is right for you. And of course, consider working with a personal branding coach or another professional who can help you embrace your authentic personal brand in all areas of your life.

wsj logo
A version of this column was published by the Wisconsin State Journal on Dec. 14, 2014