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How to build your personal brand

Woman smiles as she works on building an online profile at her desk

At a glance

  • Your personal brand is unique to you and is based on your specific accomplishments and skills.
  • Consider how you want to present yourself to the professional world when building your personal brand. This identity can set you apart from the competition when marketing yourself.
  • Building a brand takes time. Be methodical about identifying your audience and craft a brand statement that resonates with it.
  • If you need help building your personal brand, download our step-by-step Personal Branding Guide, which includes additional tips.

Who are you? Your reply to that question might be your name, your job title or a role like “mom” or “student.” While those are all valid answers, they’re just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to building your brand.

Personal branding is based on your unique skills and experiences and is the professional image you present to the world. In today's day and world, that's not only how you appear in the workplace, but also the brand you present on social media sites like LinkedIn and Instagram. 

According to The Conversation, a network of not-for-profit media outlets, a personal brand relies on seven key attributes that provide a model for an individual to construct an identity that can set them apart in a highly competitive job market. They are:

  • Coherence
  • Meaning
  • Value
  • Authenticity
  • Commitment
  • Vision
  • Flexibility

The prospect of branding yourself to stand out among a sea of applicants might have you wanting to dive right into branding and marketing yourself, but don't rush the process. Building a brand takes time, intention and plenty of patience. Here are five tips on how to build your personal brand.

1. Embrace your uniqueness

Identify your attributes

In the world of personal branding, you’re the product. If the thought of marketing yourself feels foreign, consider that you’re paid for your experience and skills. It makes sense, therefore, that you would want to create a brand and promote yourself to potential employers. This could be through a resumé, social media marketing or another avenue.

To start, here are a few personal branding tips: Think about what makes you great. What about you stands out? What are your best qualities? Are you creative? Reliable? Outspoken? If you’re stumped, imagine what your best friend or other people would say if they were asked to describe you.

Another great way to define yourself is to consider what you would enjoy doing even if you weren’t getting paid. This allows you to visualize the bigger picture without a job or an industry limiting you. Additionally, identifying the qualities of individuals you find most inspiring can help you further pinpoint your core brand attributes.

Consider this section akin to developing an elevator pitch. How would you distill your experience and expertise? What do you want prospective clients or employers to take away from your social media presence or other platforms? Think about how you present yourself on your LinkedIn or Instagram - that's part of your brand personality!

Forcing yourself to answer these questions helps you pinpoint what you have to offer and better create a personal branding strategy. Plus, it’s the first step to developing your brand voice.

2. What do you want?

Define your goals

Of course, a large part of your personal branding strategy should be based on your professional goals. Consider what you want out of your career. There are no wrong answers here. You might want to go into an industry that allows for remote work or gives you a strong sense of purpose. Maybe you just want a higher salary.

If you’re employed, you also want to determine what you currently love and lack in your career. Do you thrive when closely collaborating, or are you more self-driven? Do you want the opportunity to be more creative? Are you ready to move into a leadership position? Identify what works and what you want for a solid foundation for your brand strategy.

From there, you’ll need to build the right relationships. If you’re looking to create a brand identity based on your creative roles and work, you need to connect with likeminded people.

By the same token, if you’re planning to reach a C-suite level in business someday, you'll need to join the right professional organizations, even if you’re still a student, and connect from there. These connections supplement your expertise, enhance your credibility and help develop your brand identity.

Be honest with yourself during this stage, and don’t be afraid to dream big. What seems like a lofty list of wants will serve as the foundation for your personal brand. Personal branding can take time to develop so take your time to find what feels right for you.

Get more details on strategic networking with our dedicated guide, which includes helpful information on establishing a professional network. And if you’re interested in learning how to use LinkedIn to network, this guide can be a valuable tool as well.

3. What do they want?

Curate an audience

Now that you’ve established what you want, you’ll need to consider what your audience wants. Your personal branding strategy should attract the right people, but who are they? To identify your target audience, you’ll need to do some research.

Start by reaching out to people in the industry you’re interested in and asking them questions about it. This is when an established network can be helpful. Learn what’s involved in your dream role — or at least the next step toward that role. What skills do you need? What organizations should you join? What employers are influencers and barrier-breakers in your industry?

You can also attend networking events to get a feel for the people and companies you’re interested in working with. Take note of their needs and challenges, as this will come in handy when determining how you can add value.

In its article “10 Golden Rules Of Personal Branding,” Forbes suggests that once you know where you fit in with your target audience, you want to stay focused and not try to be “everything to everyone.” Having a clear message of who you are and what value you can bring to a potential employee will make it “easier to both create content around your personal brand and have others define you.”

Great marketing can often come from an honest place. So be honest about you are and who you feel you can best offer it to. Build your brand from an honest and real place. Ideally, this genuine strategy will attract the kind of response you’re seeking from the right people.

4. Define your mission

Tell your story

Speaking of defining yourself, mission or brand statements aren’t just for businesses. They’re also an excellent way for individuals to communicate their value as an employee.

Remember the part about creating an elevator pitch? Well, a mission statement is a lot like that but even shorter. It’s essentially a single sentence that explains who your target audience is, what you’re all about as a professional and what your desired outcome is. Your experience, education and skills should support this statement.

If, like most people, you find that a mission statement doesn’t just pop into your head, start by listing out your core values. (Think integrity, hard work, discipline, altruism and so on.)

Then, consider your primary motivation or goal. Do you want to become an expert in your field? A leader? Do you want to gain experience now so you can someday reach a higher goal? 

Next, think about what you’re looking for and what you bring to the table.

Finally, compile these concepts into one sentence, such as, “Disciplined and hard-working professional committed to solving challenges with a blend of creative thinking and industry expertise.”

This is a generic sentence that should be customized to your strengths and industry, but it serves to illustrate the type of statement you should be driving toward.

The more specific you are with your niche, the more you’ll stand out. Just make sure you stay true to yourself and focus on what it is you’re passionate about.

5. Start your promotion strategy

Start your promotion strategy

Just like with any product on the market, you’ll have to promote yourself to gain traction. Start by Googling yourself to evaluate your online exposure.

It’s common not to get any hits. It’s also not unusual to have top search results that don’t align with you or your personal brand. But what if you’re concerned that what’s showing up on social media and other platforms could keep employers from hiring you? In that case, it’s wise to consider hiring a reputation manager who can work with you to clean up your online presence.

After you’ve vetted your online profile, it’s time to start the promotion phase of your personal branding strategy.

There are many ways to start promoting your personal brand online, including completing a LinkedIn profile and creating a personal website. Another option may include making your social media channels, like your Instagram account, more professional. Here are some great examples of personal brand websites that make an impact.

As you develop your online presence, consider your brand voice. Make sure it and other branding elements are consistent across all channels, including social media, networking platforms like LinkedIn and your website. This not only burnishes your credibility, it focuses your own awareness on who you are and what you want.

No matter your career goals, having a personal brand can elevate your online presence to help you stand out. Furthermore, personal branding allows you to sell your story to your audience (letting you control the narrative) and can even give you the chance to make a name for yourself in your chosen industry.

In other words, go ahead and tell the world what you're all about!

Infographic on how to build a personal brand


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