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While the sentiment is understandable, I would argue that it is the wrong way to look at branding. While the term “personal brand” was popularized by management thinker Tom Peters in a now-famous 1997
Fast Company cover article, the basic concept behind it has been around for millennia: Fundamentally, your “brand” is just another word for your reputation. It’s not about inventing a fake identity to please others. It’s about understanding how people perceive you and making sure that picture accurately reflects your talents.
In writing my bookReinventing You (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013), I discovered that there are three major elements involved in taking control of your personal brand. By following the steps I outline, HR professionals can advance their careers and ensure that their talents are recognized both within and beyond the walls of their company.
1. Discover how you’re currently perceived.
The most important starting point—and one that is often overlooked—is to understand what your current brand is. None of us is a blank slate; your friends and colleagues think something about you already. The question is, does that reflect who you believe you are or the way you want to be perceived? We often imagine that we know the answer, but the only way to know for sure is to ask.
I suggest trying the “three-word exercise,” in which you reach out, over the course of a week, to perhaps half a dozen people who know you professionally and ask them, “If you could use only three words to describe me, what would they be?” It’s a simple and fun game that won’t take more than a couple of minutes.
But it becomes illuminating when you begin to see patterns in people’s responses. You may view certain traits, such as your strong communication skills or creativity, as being nice to have but nonessential. At the same time, your colleagues may view those things as defining characteristics of you—and believe them to be much more important than you do. (We often undervalue the talents that come most naturally to us.)
That insight may lead you to re-evaluate which aspects of yourself you’d like to build your brand around. Once you’ve done this work, you can begin to emphasize your strengths more at work and figure out which ones to incorporate into your brand.
2. Get clear on how you’d like to be seen.
It’s also useful to clarify your ideal brand. What traits would you like others to associate with you? Your visionary leadership? The way you nurture next-generation talent? Your ability to keep a level head in the midst of a crisis?
Once you’ve identified the brand you want, you need to do two things. First, think about how you can further hone your skills in those areas. If you want to be known for your strategic vision, for instance, perhaps you can volunteer to lead an interdepartmental committee; that way, you can practice articulating your big-picture ideas and mobilizing others around them, and people across the organization can see you in action.
Next, think about how you tell your own story. Many people assume that they don’t have to spell out their narrative, that others will “just get it.” But people are busy and rarely bother to think about your professional brand. So it’s useful to devise a succinct way of describing your professional trajectory.
Branding by Badge
If you have earned a SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP credential, the Society for Human Resource Management’s digital badges provide an easy way to verify and promote your brand online as a certified HR professional.
Each badge is embedded with evidence of where, when, how and why the professional certification was earned. A digital badge can be embedded in any virtual media, including:
Clicking on the badge reveals data that validates your achievement. This data can be viewed by employers, licensing boards and colleagues.
For more information, visit shrmcertification.org/digitalbadging.
This isn’t merely an “elevator pitch” describing what you do in your current role. Instead, think about how your past experiences add value to where you’re going. For instance, you could talk about how your time studying abroad sparked your interest in cross-cultural communication or how your master’s degree in psychology inspires you to help each employee make his or her own unique contribution at work.
3. Live out your brand.
Ultimately, your brand is about far more than what you say about yourself—you have to back it up with real achievement. Once you’ve identified how you’d like to be seen, the next step is to take action to ensure that everything you do is congruent with that picture.
For example, leverage social media to write or comment about leadership and share a concise narrative of your own leadership progression.
Twitter: Where Personal Meets Professional
Social networks such as Twitter provide a place where you can show that your brand extends beyond what you do from 9 to 5. Consider how some of these HR professionals crafted Twitter bios that showcase different sides of who they are.
Laura Kotowicz-Kimball (@LauraKK_HR): Sr. HR Consultant by day. Nosy neighbor by night. Dog mom to Archie always. Eats cheese, drinks red wine, runs to repent!
Steve Browne, SHRM-SCP (@sbrownehr): Strategic HR professional, proud OU Bobcat, lover of all Rock music and confessed HR Radical !!
Tiffany Kuehl, SHRM-CP (@TiffanyKuehl): Recruit | HR | Wife | Mom | Friend | MN Twins Fanatic | Movie Lover | Volunteer | Blogger | @ MNSHRM Director-Elect
Tim Sackett, SHRM-SCP (@TimSackett): Human Resource Pro, HRU-tech.com, Fistful of Talent Blogger; Dad of 3 boys and husband of Hall of Fame wife. World’s foremost expert on Hugging.
By taking control of your own brand rather than passively relying on others to notice you, you’ll communicate the right message about yourself—and others will hear it loud and clear.
Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist and professional speaker who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of
(Harvard Business Review Press, 2013) andStand Out
(Harvard Business Review Press, 2015).
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