If the definition of personal branding is “the art of consistently presenting, online and offline, the essence of how you stand out from the crowd,” then your first step toward crafting your personal brand is to figure out what the essence of how you stand out is. Understanding that essence will guide your decisions on everything, from what to emphasize in your online presence, to where to focus your energy in your day-to-day work.
In the personal audit, you will be looking at yourself and figuring out what your personal brand is and how to characterize it. What follows is a few places to start that thought process. But wherever you are in your life, before you start in on building up your personal brand, take some time to assess what you’ve done, what you’re working on now, and where you want to put your energy in the future.
This section focuses on you taking stock in what you’ve done up to this point. In section three, called “Where Are You Going?,” there will be more of a focus on what you want to build in the future.
“Work history” does not mean dusting off your resume, nor updating your LinkedIn page; it means looking back at the jobs you’ve had, the projects you’ve worked on, and the people you’ve worked with.
Throughout your work life, you’ve been exposed to many work opportunities, situations, and challenges. What you’ve enjoyed, what you’ve been successful at, and what you have continued to choose to do all play a role in where your personal brand stands right now.
Taking stock of your entire work history will give you a sense of the beginning of the arc of your personal brand. What you’ve done up to this point is the launching pad for what you will do in the future.
- List all the jobs you have ever had.
- List all big projects you have worked on in the last five years.
- List all leadership positions you have held in the last five years.
- List all public speaking opportunities you have had.
- How would you describe yourself?
- How would you describe what you do?
- What are the areas you have worked in?
- Which areas have you enjoyed the most?
- What areas would you consider yourself an expert in?
The work history you’ve just assembled is a good starting point for your personal branding, but it is only that—a starting point. Whether you are in a job or a position that you enjoy, between positions, or looking to build your personal brand so that you can move to a new position you will enjoy more, the next step is to figure out your current interest set.
When you ask people what they are interested in, it is a lucky person who is able to say that what they are interested in is what they do at their job. Is this the case for you? If so, congratulations, and prepare to figure out how you can grow in that area. More likely, you’re not doing exactly what you would list out as what you’re interested in. Personal branding is not about completely changing what it is that you do. Nor is it a way of shifting within your field or using your current work as a springboard into the future.
When you think about your current interests, don’t just limit them to what you are interested in as part of your work life. Take this opportunity to expand into what you are interested in outside of work. In the process of building your personal brand, you can often set the stage for working some of your interests from outside of your work life into your personal brand, and eventually into the work that you do.
- What are the most interesting projects you’ve worked on recently?
- What about them was interesting to you?
- What interests do you have outside of work?
- Which of these interests would you like to incorporate into your future work?
- If you could be working on anything right now, what would it be?
Standing Out on the Job
As we’ve talked about, personal branding focuses on finding your essence and presenting that in a way that stands out from the crowd. In different fields and for different people, standing out can mean different things. For someone in engineering, it could mean leading or working on a cutting-edge project. For someone in public relations, it could mean working on a campaign for a client that exceeded expectations. For an author, it could mean getting a great speaking opportunity.
When you think about what makes you stand out now and how you want to stand out in the future, don’t judge your accomplishments based on what others in your field are doing or have done. It’s not about whether you stand out more or less than the other person—it’s about how YOU stand out.
Those experiences will help you zero in on what comes easily to you, what you are comfortable doing, and whether you want to pursue the same or different kinds of opportunities to build your brand. It’s important to identify the instances and ways that you have stood out, but it’s even more important to identify the skills you were using. Keep that in mind when you make your lists.
- What projects, tasks or skills do your co-workers turn to you for help with?
- What parts of your daily work do you find easiest?
- What parts of your daily work do you find most appealing?
- What have you been recognized by your co-workers for doing recently?
- What recent professional accomplishment(s) are you most proud of?
- In what way do you most wish you could professionally stand out?
While personal branding is about advancing your professional essence in a consistent way, it helps to look at the success that you have outside of work. Ways you stand out in your personal life may be skills that you don’t have the chance to use in your day job. Perhaps you coach a team for your children and have leadership skills, but aren’t at the point in your career where you are the lead on a project in your professional life. Maybe you work in finance, but spend your weekends volunteering for environmental causes.
There are many examples and possibilities of skills that you have and use outside of your work that represent personal success. So what do these have to do with personal branding? Plenty. The talents, skills and successes you have in your personal life may not show up in your professional brand at this point, but that doesn’t mean they can’t in the future. Identifying those successes now will help you see the overlap and the areas where you can integrate them in shaping your personal brand.
- What recent personal accomplishments are you most proud of?
- How would your friends and family describe you?
- What do you feel are your greatest strengths?
- Ask your friends and family what stand out skills they see in you.
- What do your friends and family turn to you for help with?
Personal Audit Results:
After you’ve conducted your personal audit, you will have a substantial list of attributes and interests that covers your work history, personal interests, how you stand out and your recent successes. The entire list can and will be useful to look back at and reflect on throughout the first few weeks of this process, but your next step is to examine this list for consistent themes and similarities. Look for between five and 10 consistent themes to use for guiding how you curate your personal brand.
Then do the same with your “standing out” and personal success lists. Similarly, look for between five and 10 consistent themes to use.
Finally, compare the themes from your work history and current interests to the themes from the ways that you stand out or experience personal successes. What are the themes that run through all of them? Things that are in your history, your interests, and are things that you stand out doing are all ideal pillars of your personal brand. While personal branding does require work, it’s also something that at its core should come naturally to you, as it should be about basic and key pieces of you.
At this point you should have five to 10 solid themes from your personal audit. We will revisit these toward the end of the chapter.
Current Digital Audit
In the realm of personal branding, consistently presenting the essence of what makes you stand out happens in a big way online. With the increasing importance of the Internet in all aspects of modern life and its well-established influence in all areas of professional life, you need to know where you stand now so that you can start to build to where you want to be in the future.
Search Engine Presence
Do you know what your current digital brand is? Anyone who deals with online content has gone through the process of a content audit at some point. And anyone who has tried any kind of self-help is familiar with the idea of taking stock of yourself. Discovering your personal brand is a combination of these two approaches, essentially taking stock of the online content about you.
Have you ever searched for yourself on Google? The first time you do this, you may be amazed. On one hand, there is a wealth of information readily available about you that you may not have realized was out there. On the other hand, you may find yourself wondering where all the good stuff is! It’s a great opportunity to see yourself the way the Internet presents you as if you were another person searching for you.
What comes up when you search for yourself on Google? Or any other search engine for that matter? While your resume is still a powerful way to represent your accomplishments to potential employers, the Internet is fast becoming a new sort of resume, and you need to pay attention to how you are presented there. Many potential employers, clients, and job recruiters will look to a Google search to get a quick picture of who you are and what you are doing. That can speak volumes about you and is a big part of what your personal branding efforts look like online.
- Search your name (in all of its forms) in Google and other search engines.
- Click through to everything that comes up on Page 1.
- Read everything.
- Make note of what you like and think is accurate, as well as what you’d rather not have out there or would like to change.
- Save this list with your notes.
What You Do Now
Social media and blogging are powerful new ways to connect over the Internet, and their uses are evolving and changing fast. Even if you’re not an avid user of either, you’ve heard of them and you know they’re out there. Your job now is to get a firm handle on what you do and how that is part of your personal branding.
Different generations have different comfort and usage levels with social media and blogging, so depending on your age, and how proactive you are with new media, your presence will vary. To make digital personal branding work for you, you’ll need to be proactive about not just using it but managing how you use it in a way that presents your best self to the Internet community. There will be more on how to craft and manage your presence later in the book, but your first step is to see what you’re doing now.
A big part of your digital audit is getting a sense of how much you use social media and blogging. You need to be aware of not just what you’re doing currently on social media networks or with a blog, but what you’ve done in the past that is available for anyone searching about you. What you’re doing now is your starting point for building the personal brand that will serve you in advancing your professional career.
- How many social media profiles do you have? Are they current, or left over from a year or more ago? Do you have the same name or screen name in all of them? Are your pictures and bios consistent? What kinds of things do you talk about and what do those things have to do with your personal brand?
- Make a list of all of your social media profiles. Note your photo and bio information. Also note how frequently you’ve been using each of them over the past year, and what you topics you talk about.
- Do you have a blog? Do you have more than one? What about guest posts on other blogs under your name?
- Make a list of your blog(s) and guest posts. Note the topics that you cover and the frequency of your posts.
Because the Internet is inherently a social medium, what other people say about you is going to come up on search engines and conversations that people have on social media. While there is no way to track down every single mention of your name on the Internet, it is instructive to take a general survey of what kind of chatter there is out there about you.
What people say about you on your personal social media accounts has a different kind of impact on your personal brand than what you say about yourself. Opinions speak volumes. They can make or break a recommendation, a job opportunity, or a new client relationship. You need to have a solid understanding of how people talk about you, what they are saying, and how it relates to your personal brand.
In most cases, the simple fact that other people are talking about you in the first place means something good—it means that they know who you are and believe that you have something to offer your field. In the worst cases, however, you may have someone who doesn’t especially think highly of you, and that has an impact as well. Either way, before you can do anything about supporting the good and dealing with the not so good, you need to know what you’re dealing with.
- Read the websites of your company and/or your clients. How are you described? Are there links to your other online profiles? Do you like the way they present you?
- Read your recent social media conversations. Has anyone recommended you recently? Have there been any introductions? How did those people refer to you?
- Look at your Linked n page. Have you made use of the recommendation option? If so, what have the people who recommended you talked about? Are they the things that you want to emphasize for your personal branding efforts?
- If you have a blog, read your recent comments. What do people respond to about you and what you write about? Does this support your vision for your own personal brand?
At this point you know what you look like on the search engines, on your social media profiles and blogging, and through the lens of what other people say about you. The final piece to survey in understanding the current state of your personal brand is finding out where you need to be and where you want to be.
In any field there are the leading platforms, relevant issues and most popular conferences. All of these areas have an online presence, and to get the most of your personal branding efforts, you want to make your voice heard there. When you look at this part of the survey, ask around to people you know and trust, like co-workers or good clients, to make sure that you find relevant online outlets you may not be aware of.
- What are the dominant social media networks in your field? List them out and note whether or not you are active there. Where are your friends, co-workers and competitors? Are you there yet?
- What are the major blogs in your field? Make a list of what you read, along with what others you respect in your field read. If you are a blogger already, find out how you can connect to those bloggers and potentially work with them. If you are not a blogger (yet), where would you like to start reading and commenting regularly?
- What are the hot topics in your field right now? List them out, and see which of them align with what you want to be known for through your personal branding efforts.
Digital Audit Results:
At this point you should have a good idea of your search engine presence, your current online presence (both what you do through social media and what other people say about you), and a good idea of where the leading conversations are happening in your field.
The first thing you want to look at is how much of your web presence overlaps with where these conversations are taking place. Where do you want to be that you already have a presence or a foothold? List those starting points. Next, list one to three blogs, social media conversations or networks where you want to be, but are not yet active. Choose a small number to start with—building a new presence or reading habit will take time and it’s better to start small and grow from there.
Trying to commit to doing 10 new tasks, like reading a new blog or participating in a new online conversation, is too much, and your chances of not following through are too great. Start small and focused, and follow through. Building a consistent presence in one ongoing online conversation or commenting presence on one or two key online blogs is more effective and important than spreading your time thin and scattering your influence.
By the end of your digital audit, you should isolate two or three key places where you want your online presence to be that you are already present, and add to that another two or three new places you want to work on. These five or so online destinations are where you will focus your time and attention for building your personal brand.