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Brand yourself in 5 steps

Be the true you—in all ways—to win at work.

What do people remember about you when you leave a room? The answer to that question—the intangible impression that lingers long after you’re gone—is what amounts to your personal brand.

“We all have a personal brand, whether we know it or not,” explains Susan Chritton, executive career coach, personal branding strategist and author of Personal Branding for Dummies, 2nd Edition. By actively managing your brand rather than leaving it to chance, you take control of who you are and what you stand for—and you open yourself up to opportunities that are aligned with your talents and values.

“The benefit for people is that they start to become recognized for what they want to be recognized for,” notes Chritton. “What I find is that people are actually happier—because they can be true to themselves.”

Here’s how to take charge of your own personal brand.

1. Pause and reflect

As you begin the process of managing your personal brand, it’s important to take the time to reflect on your skills, passions, interests and values. You need to get to know yourself on these terms before you can expect anyone else to.

“Personal branding is all about understanding who you are and what makes you special, and educating the world about your value and potential,” says Karen Kang, branding expert and author of BrandingPays: The Five-Step System to Reinvent Your Personal Brand. “Find your niche, something that you can do that you can lay claim to and defend.

Chritton adds, “Once you have clarity of vision, values, passions, purpose and goals, you will be more likely to demonstrate your authenticity, knowing you are coming from a place of strength rather than adapting your behavior to be like others.”

2. Craft your message

The next step is to learn to articulate your brand in an efficient and effective way that resonates with people. “Be clear about your narrative, and back up your claims,” says Kang.

This means crafting a distinct, concise and competent pitch that will serve you as well during job interviews as it does while you’re chatting with a stranger in line at the supermarket. Having a clear message also helps other people tell your unique story when your name comes up in conversation, making it easier for your contacts to share your strengths with others when the opportunity arises.

The University of Phoenix Career Guidance System™—available to all alumni—offers tools to help you define your brand and to project a professional image to match so you can communicate the right message to those around you.

3. Connect the dots

You know what makes you tick, and you’re able to express that to other people. Now it’s time to put together the package in a holistic way.

“I talk about 360-degree branding,” says Kang. “In thought, word, deed and image, are you consistent? If you’re not consistent in any one of those areas, your brand is not as authentic.”

With social media removing degrees of separation between our personal and professional lives, everything you do speaks to your brand. “We no longer can live compartmentalized lives,” Chritton asserts. “The lines are too blurred, so you had better be paying attention.”

Details count, so everything from your wardrobe and LinkedIn headshot to your office décor and where you take clients to lunch should ring true to your personal brand, whatever it is. “How are you a congruent being in all parts of your life?” asks Chritton.

4. Cultivate your ecosystem

Your ecosystem is what Kang calls “spheres of influence that have great sway over your career.” She says, “So much of your brand is what others say about you. You’ve got to manage your brand ecosystem.”

This means connecting with the right influencers, those who are respected members of your department, company, industry or field, and educating them about your skill set, expertise, talents and point of view. For example, if you’re looking for a job, Kang suggests identifying the top 5 percent of people in that realm and reaching out to them. This may mean asking for a recommendation on LinkedIn or an introduction to a colleague while being mindful to communicate your personal brand during your interaction with anyone in your network.

Cultivating your ecosystem also means supporting others. For instance, you might Retweet™ someone’s post, comment on an article they wrote or send a quick congratulatory email if they receive a promotion. “The social media phenomenon is all about giving back,” Kang says.

When your connections know that your relationship is give and take, they’re more likely to help you when you reach out to them— and to think well of you in the process.

5. Create an action plan

With the stage set for your personal brand, it’s time to write your action plan. Actually, Kang suggests creating two: the first for communicating your personal brand and the second for improving it. “Once you have a strategy, message and idea of what you want to convey, you have to communicate it—verbally, nonverbally and visually,” she stresses.

Take the time to plan how you will implement your personal brand in your written communications such as your resume, emails and blog posts, your online presence on sites like LinkedIn and in person.

“Ask yourself, ‘How am I going to tell my story in all these different media?’” recommends Chritton.

Along the way, make sure you’re remaining true to your brand or adjusting it if you’re finding it isn’t quite hitting the mark. “The most authentic brands really do radiate from the inside out,” insists Kang, so make sure yours is the real deal.

In the end, putting your time and energy into personal branding empowers you to stay true to yourself while paving the way for success. Says Chritton, “It’s about taking control of your career so you feel like you own it.”