Here’s an uncomfortable truth: your degree isn’t enough.
Even cool internships, extracurriculars, and skills aren’t surefire ways to help you land the career you want. Getting your foot into the door is harder than ever these days, mainly because the internet has leveled the playing field in terms of accessing information (and people). If you want to cut through the clutter, you need to learn the art of promoting yourself. And that all starts with building a personal brand.
What is personal branding? In short, it’s the process of positioning yourself as an all-star candidate in the eyes of a potential employer or client.
But before you build a sleek website or spice up your social media accounts, you need to build a solid foundation.
Find Your Niche
In the startup industry, entrepreneurs are obsessed with achieving product-market fit, which means making sure a new product or service fulfills the needs or demands of a target audience. The same principle applies to building your personal brand: you must be a solution for an existing problem, not a solution looking for a problem to solve.
For example: I knew someone in college who wanted to apply his public speaking skills to the advertising industry, but all of the companies he applied to wanted excellent written communication skills, which he refused to develop.
A great exercise to carve out a valuable niche is to make a list of your talents and a list of your industry’s needs and find where they intersect. For example, if you’re a finance major with a knack for writing but your peers struggle with words, you could carve out a niche as a financial writer.
Craft Your Story
A brand without a story is just a commodity. The same applies for personal brands: without a story that communicates your value in a clear, concise, and compelling way, you’re nothing more than a number in the eyes of an employer or potential client.
An effective personal brand story expresses the value you offer in a humanized form. Here’s a terrible example:
I’m a business analyst that maximizes all existing and possible revenue streams by leveraging strategic partnerships in various applicable sectors.
And here’s an awesome example from my friend Denny Blackwell, a graphic designer:
Denny, don’t expect to get a job in the real world designing for rock bands and bikers. Those jobs do not exist, and if they do, you can’t make a living doing so.”
That was a quote from one of my college instructors during my last semester of school. Shortly after I graduated, I realized my instructor was wrong. I worked my a** off and landed a job in the music industry, working for rock bands. My second job was for Harley-Davidson, designing for bikers, both of which I still design for on a freelance basis.
Here’s the moral of this short story: I got a real job and made a real living designing for rock bands and bikers. I’ve met some of the coolest people over the years and have made some of the best friends I still have today. My work gives me reasons to travel to Chicago, L.A. and NYC.
Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do with your life. Stay focused. Stay true.
You should be able to tell your story in three ways: one sentence, one paragraph, and one page. This way, if you’re caught in an elevator you’ll be able to deliver your pitch without running out of time (which is embarrassing—trust me, I’ve been there.)
Build a Website
The internet has made personal branding so much easier than it used to be, but in order to make a big splash you need a personal website. A website is more than just a digital resume with your headshot — it’s a dynamic networking and information-sharing tool that builds your credibility.
Here are the essential pages your website should have to maximize your personal brand:
- About page
- Your resume and/or portfolio
- Contact page (with links to your social media profiles)
- A blog
If you want to dig deeper into website best practices, I highly suggest reading this Ultimate Guide To Building A Personal Website. It’s an all-inclusive, step-by-step guide to building a rockstar website.
Grow Your Network (in Real Life)
We’ll discuss social media in the next section, but first we need to cover a more important strategy for building your personal brand: face-to-face networking.
Strong interpersonal relationships are enriching, whether it’s in business or your personal life. Building a network of people can open up doors to opportunities that would have never existed otherwise.
Let’s set the record straight: effective networking doesn’t mean mindlessly going to career fairs and conferences, handing out resumes, and having boring, business-only discussions. That won’t get you anywhere.
Instead, the solution is to create authentic relationships with no transaction in mind: go talk to people, invite them out for coffee, talk about your successes and failures. Let the business stuff come naturally.
If the word “networking” makes you cringe (either because you’re introverted or you just don’t enjoy it), this article is loaded with tips and tricks to help you navigate your networking journey in a way that aligns with your specific needs.
Also, mentors can be like rocket fuel for launching a personal brand. If you want to learn how to find an ideal mentor, how to approach them, and and how to make the most of your relationship with them, check out this article.
Make the Most of Social Media
If you think about your personal website as a company’s office, then social networks are like conferences where millions of companies meet up. Needless to say, you don’t want to miss out.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking your Facebook profile has to be 100% professional. Treating it like a resume will make you seem like a robot. That being said, here are some best practices for leveraging your personal brand on Facebook:
- Make sure you don’t have any inappropriate pictures or content on your profile that you wouldn’t want employers to see.
- Add a link to your website and Twitter account in your About section.
- Add a brief description of your work experience, including any big projects where you achieved specific results that you want to show off.
- Claim your vanity URL (e.g. facebook.com/dominicvaiana instead of facebook.com/userid=1324521) — do this here.
- Share your articles, videos, or industry news that your network could find interesting.
At its core, Twitter is a micro blog. Accordingly, you’ll want to tweet out interesting facts, articles, or quotes that add value for your followers. Here are some other important tips to keep in mind:
- Set your username to your name (or something close). Avoid using numbers or underscores. Also, a shorter username is usually better.
- Set a clear, high-resolution profile picture and cover photo.
- Set your bio (use your one-sentence story as a reference.)
- Add your personal website to your bio.
- Follow people you admire in your industry (or the industry you want to be in) and your peers.
- Reach out to the people you follow — introduce yourself, share their work, and tag them when relevant.
- Delete any old tweets that you wouldn’t want important people to see.
This is the most buttoned-up of all the social media networks. It offers a chance to highlight your academic and professional accomplishments. Think of it like a dynamic, digital resume. Here are your LinkedIn-specific tasks:
- Get your profile as close to 100% as possible (LinkedIn guides you through this process.)
- Use the Contacts section to connect with people you already know.
- Ask employers and co-workers to write positive reviews of or your past (or current) jobs.
- Ask people who know you well to endorse you for the skills you’ve listed on your profile.
- Reach out to 2nd-degree connections and build your network.
For even more information on how to craft a winning LinkedIn profile, check out our guide to LinkedIn.
Industry-Specific Social Networks
Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn constitute the bare minimum for social networking. However, depending on your skillset, you’ll probably want to establish a presence on niche networks. For example, if you’re a designer, get on Behance or Dribbble. If you’re a programmer, join GitHub.
Establish Yourself as a Thought Leader
The old, conventional saying that “if you’re good enough, people will find you” doesn’t hold up today. There are thousands (maybe even millions) of other people with qualifications and skills comparable to your own who are all competing for the same prize.
You need to cut through the clutter. The best way to do that is through thought leadership: sharing valuable, educational content on a consistent basis.
The good news is that most people (especially students) are way behind the curve when it comes to thought leadership — they’re rather quiet online.
The not-so-good news, however, is that thought leadership is time-consuming and challenging (at first). Whether you’re still in high school or you’ve graduated from college, the best time to stake your claim as a thought leader in your niche is right now.
Here are three strategies to promote your personal brand through thought leadership:
Long-form articles are easy and effective tools to share useful information online. The best articles solve problems. Think of your audience’s biggest obstacles or aspirations, do some research, and be a resource for help or inspiration.
LinkedIn is a great place to start publishing articles since you can add tags and get more eyeballs. Once you feel more comfortable, you can publish articles on your own blog or even pitch guest posts to media outlets in your industry (think small and specific, not Forbes or Fast Company).
Build an Email List
An email list is the single most effective tool for building and maintaining an audience online. But this tool isn’t just reserved for celebrities or influencers. In fact, you should start an email list before you build an audience to find out what works and what doesn’t. I use Mailchimp for my email list because it’s free and incredibly easy to use, but feel free to explore others.
Here are four important things to remember when building your list:
- Think of something specific you can share that nobody else is sharing. Be specific. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes. What would they want to see in the inbox every week or month?
- You absolutely must have some sort of opt-in bonus material to incentivize people to sign up. For example, mine is 7 strategies to get free publicity that I stole from marketing geniuses + 5 books to base your life on.
- Keep it consistent. If you have a monthly newsletter, only send 12 emails a year. As a rule of thumb, don’t send more than one email per week — people’s inboxes are already crammed enough.
- Put a link to your newsletter signup form at the end of all your articles and emails. For example: “Thanks for reading! Here are 5 ways to improve your _______. You can get the list here.”
YouTube is by far the biggest driver of College Info Geek’s growth. Altogether, the videos on College Info Geek’s YouTube channel are viewed more than 3x more per month than the articles on this website.
Knowing how (or teaching yourself how) to make awesome videos is a precious skill to have for building a brand, personal or otherwise. Not only are they a great tool to demonstrate expertise, but they also demonstrate your speaking skills and, obviously, your ability to film and edit footage.
If you want some expert advice on starting a YouTube channel, look no further than this episode of the College Info Geek Podcast, where Thomas shares his advice on filming, editing, and building an audience.
The Most Important Lesson of All
If you only take one lesson away from this article, remember this: you can’t wait for people to discover you. You might be a diamond in the rough, but if you don’t put in the work to promote yourself, nobody can find you.
Personal branding isn’t about puffing up your ego and tooting your own horn, it’s about earning the success you deserve. After all, nobody else is going to earn it for you.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and put the info in this post to work.
Image Credits: featured