What makes you unique? If you ask your nana, it’s the fact that you have the cutest little dimples ever. Your friends might say you’re special because you can burp the alphabet. But do those things really mean anything to an employer?
Probably not. The key to success in your career often comes down to how you’re able to bring that special “something” to an employer — some unique ability or skill that will help them beat the competition.
But coming up with that unique value proposition — or your personal brand story — can be daunting. Thousands of people may say they have many of the same skills as you (project management, copywriting, leadership, etc.), so the key is figuring out how you can differentiate yourself in a positive way.
“You’re not an ‘employee’ of General Motors, you’re not a ‘staffer’ at General Mills, you’re not a ‘worker’ at General Electric,” Tom Peters writes. “You don’t ‘belong to’ any company for life, and your chief affiliation isn’t to any particular ‘function.’ You’re not defined by your job title and you’re not confined by your job description.”
Peters explains that there are several ways to enhance your professional profile and develop your brand. For example, you can sign up for an extra project inside your organization, just to introduce yourself to new coworkers and demonstrate your skills, or show off new ones. Another way to develop your personal brand is to freelance on a project that connects you with new people. “If you can get them singing your praises, they’ll help spread the word about what a remarkable contributor you are,” he writes.
The key is word-of-mouth marketing — what others say about you and your contributions “is what the market will ultimately gauge as the value of your brand,” Peters says. Here are some effective ways to develop a personal brand story:
1. Make an emotional connection
Consider your community — your industry, your profession, or your employer. Who populates that niche? What can you say about yourself that’s relevant to them? Think about what interests them, what concerns them, and what inspires them. As Seth Godin points out in his book We Are All Weird: The Myth of Mass and the End of Compliance, your role “. . . is to support the weird, to sell to the weird and, if you wish, to become weird.” Your story needs to show that you “get it” and that you’re not trying to be all things to all people.
2. Tell your story
“A story is how what happens affects someone who is trying to achieve what turns out to be a difficult goal, and how he or she changes as a result,” says Lisa Cron, author of Wired for Story. Did you decide to leave your comfortable life as a lawyer and launch a wilderness adventure company with little experience? Did you have sleepless nights and lots of doubts when you decided to take a job overseas? Your career journey is unique if you examine it closely, and overcoming your doubts and insecurities and mistakes is what makes it compelling.
Your story needs to include examples of how you persevered in the face of uncertainty, adversity, or risk — and ideally, examples that will help your audience identify with you. Such examples make you human and authentic, and enhance your chances of establishing an emotional connection. Further, reinforce that story through your social media channels. Post photos on Instagram of you working overseas, or write a Facebook post on an incident that helped you overcome personal doubts. Make sure you align your personal brand story across all social channels. When you do this, you present a cohesive picture of yourself to all audiences.
3. Fill in the blanks
Who are you at your core? What is your expertise? What is your superstar factor? Try using this cheat sheet to home in on what makes you special: “I use my (blank) and (blank) for (blank). Known for (blank), I (blank). Using (blank key trait), I (blank), by providing (blank). Through my (blank), I (blank), when I serve (blank).”
4. Open the door
A personal brand is not about closing a deal or making a big sale. It’s about opening the door to your audience and engaging them. You are letting them understand in just a few seconds who you are and what you do. Let them see what you care about, and they will feel more compelled to listen and learn more about you.
5. Don’t make it feel like a resume
Information you include in your resume isn’t really that interesting when it comes to developing your brand. Industry jargon, a list of accomplishments and awards, and abstract terms like “quality-driven initiatives” are rarely compelling and make you sound like everyone else — hardly a unique branding statement. Instead, use formative experiences that made you who you are and qualify you to serve your community. Make sure that in documenting your career/life journey, you include the stumbles and transitions that formed you.
Editor’s note: Of course if you need help with a resume, know that LiveCareer has you covered. Put our free resume builder to use and come out on top in no time at all.
Coming up with that unique value proposition — or your personal brand story — can be daunting. Thousands of people may say they have many of the same skills as you (project management, copywriting, leadership, etc.), so the key is figuring out how you can differentiate yourself in a positive way.
6. Dig deep
You’re much more than the tasks you are able to perform or the education you have received. Your personal brand story should reflect the values and beliefs that drive your vision for what is possible. Why do you do what you do? What makes what you do meaningful? Even if you write code all day, that code is used to develop new systems that help developing countries educate their citizens and have better lives. That’s the kind of branding that will deepen a connection between you and others.
7. Look outward
Personal branding isn’t just navel gazing. You need to not only understand who you are and what you care about, but you also need to understand your audience and what they care about. Cognitive research shows the reason people pay attention to stories is to learn vicariously through the experiences of the people in them. If your audience learns from you — a real person — then you become more memorable. That grabs the interest of your audience and makes them intrigued enough to want to meet you, get to know you, and work with you. “You’re trying to create value versus add to the noise,” says Jessica Zweig, founder and CEO of SimplyBe. Agency, a personal branding and full-service brand management agency.
When you’re busy with your life and your career, it’s easy to get distracted by your to-do list while you scramble to deal with the next crisis. But one of the best things about developing a personal brand story is that it helps you refocus on the things that really matter to you — and others. Don’t let the job-related fires that you put out on a daily basis prevent you from establishing (and then maintaining) your personal brand.