The word “brand” often conjures up visions of the Nike Swoosh or McDonalds Golden Arches. But in essence, a brand is what a company is “known for” in terms of it’s quality, products, services, and approach.
As individuals, there are qualities or traits we are “known for” as well. While it’s easy to get caught up in the terminology du jour, our “brand” is really just a fancy term for our reputation.
Many individuals don’t pay too much attention to building a brand, but there are some compelling reasons why it makes sense. Regardless of your profession, your brand or reputation impacts a number of things including:
- What activities or projects you get invited to participate in.
- What information others share with you.
- How much you get paid or if you get promoted or hired.
- Who associates with you and more.
Humans are masters at quickly assessing and categorising data, which is then used to formulate a conclusion. It’s how our brains operate, so whether consciously or not, you’re shaping your brand every day through your behaviors and actions.
As individuals, our brand has two sides – our personal and professional side. Here’s how they differ and how you can begin to manage them to maximise your career opportunities.
We all have certain defining traits that characterise us and these tend to transcend the different environments we move through in our daily lives. For example, you may be known as the person who always shows up early (or late) for every activity or the person who will always see the silver lining (or dark cloud) in every situation.
Our personal brand can be expressed in a variety of ways. If you tend to be a caretaker, you may be the person at work planning the monthly birthday celebrations or making sure everyone has been heard in a meeting. At home, you may ensure everyone is comfortable or has a favorite treat in the cupboard.
How we express our personal brand is connected to our values, or those beliefs that are core to us. These personal traits tend to remain static over time, as well as across our work and home life. So if you tend to value planning and order, it’s likely your office cubicle and home filing system are equally as organised. Our personal brand is most relevant to “fit” when considering a career and job seekers tend to be most satisfied when the role they choose allows them to express characteristics that align with their personal brand.
Your professional brand can include aspects of your personal brand, but usually has more to do with the career function you perform, or your expertise. For this reason, it’s possible that your professional brand can shift or expand if you decide to make a career switch.
If you’re known for being a quick-thinking technology support professional in a corporate environment, but plan to become a computer science high school teacher, certain aspects of your professional brand may need to morph. For example, your technology expertise will continue to be a core part of your brand, but you may also choose to highlight your ability to breakdown complex technical programming languages to communicate them clearly to non-experts in the field. This may have always been something you’ve been skilled at, but in your corporate role, the focus was on fixing the technical glitch quickly, rather than instructing others on how they could learn it.
Just like a vehicle may have both several safety features as well as a killer sound system, as individuals we each have many aspects to our professional brand. That doesn’t make any part less genuine. While a car salesman may highlight the airbags and run-flat tires to a young family, and focus on the Bose speakers and satellite radio to a music fan, job seekers must also understand their audience (e.g., hiring manager) so they can highlight the aspects of their professional brand that will be most aligned to the role they’re seeking.
How Personal and Professional Brand Come Together
Many people don’t think about brand until they are in a job search or perhaps trying to grow their customer base or business, but it’s worth understanding how you show up to others, both personally and professionally. If you’re trying to build your career, both sides of your brand will be important to your audience. If you’re a technical wizard who can figure out any computer problem, but take credit for others’ work and are rude to customers, it’s not likely you’ll be on the fast-track for promotions. Similarly, if you’re friendly and courteous, but continue to miss your sales quota each month and create sloppy reports, it’ll be tough to justify your employment long-term.
While it’s impossible to fully control how others perceive us, our behavior provides important data that others will use to come to conclusions on our brand, and we each have control over our actions.
One simple way to test your brand is to send a brief email to 10 people you know across different environments asking what top three traits you are known for (you can ask specifically related to work, or leave it open-ended). If you’re feeling really brave, ask for two positives and one area of development. This exercise will enable you to learn how others perceive you, which may offer insight into what behaviors you may want to modify.
While there isn’t a right or wrong, it’s important to understand the impact your brand can have, especially on your career or business. Just like with commercial brands like Nike or McDonalds, others make choices about your career based on their perceptions, and your overall brand is a key factor in their decisions.