Create Your Personal Brand

January 18, 2015


Whether you’re an established professional, a new entrant to the workforce, or a student still looking to land your first job, you must establish a personal brand. An effective personal brand accomplishes three goals: 1) it defines who you are; 2) it identifies whom you wish to serve; and 3) it clarifies how you are unique.

I’m a firm believer that you must either define yourself or risk being defined by others. The following five strategies will help you begin to define and establish your personal brand.


1. Identify your strengths

Everyone has strengths, but not everyone can clearly articulate what those strengths are. The first step to building an effective brand involves understanding your unique abilities.

You can start to identify your strengths by focusing on a series of questions. Consider these: Of all the projects I’ve undertaken, which one was most successful and why? When I’ve encountered obstacles, what skills or strategies have I used to overcome them? What strengths do others point out when they speak of me? 

If these questions don’t stimulate sufficient thought, consider taking the StrengthsFinder 2.0 assessment tool. ( Created by the folks at Gallup, this fast, easy to complete, on-line assessment produces a report that identifies your top five strengths. I suspect you will not be surprised by the results. However, the language the report provides will be helpful as you begin to articulate your personal brand.

Throughout this process, assess yourself honestly. Unless you’re the exception to the rule, you’re not perfect. You have weaknesses, too. Knowing those weaknesses allows you steer clear from those activities that won’t speak to your strengths and help you build your brand.


2.  Define your values

When you need to make an important decision—Should I go out after a particular job opportunity? Do I wish to pursue the next step in this particular career path?—your values will help guide you. They’ll help clarify how you should spend your time in activities that have the greatest meaning for you.

Go online and find a listing of personal values. Most lists include 50 to 100 different values, from achievement and affection to wealth and winning. Review your list. Cross off any values that don’t immediately resonate with you. Place a checkmark next to those values that speak to your core beliefs. Now, looking at all of the values that you’ve identified as important, select your top five values. If you’d like, go ahead and further narrow your list to your three most important values. Confirm in your own mind what each of these values means to you.

As you continue building your brand, make sure that any work you do is consistent with your values. Commit to “walking your own walk.”

(Click here for a values checklist based on Peter Senge’s work.)


3. Define your purpose

“Why am I here?” It’s a question that’s as old as mankind and one that each of will struggle to answer throughout our lives. Those who live and work with purpose achieve greater satisfaction, and they often accomplish great things. Consider the examples of Martin Luther King and Steve Jobs.

Entire books have been written on this subject. As far as I’m concerned, one of the best is Start with Why, by Simon Sinek. (Click here to listen to Sinek’s TED Talk on the same subject.) Simon writes that virtually everyone can articulate WHAT they do, but very few can articulate WHY. “By WHY,” he writes, “I mean what is your purpose, cause or belief? . . . . WHY do you get out of bed every morning? And WHY should anyone care?”

I’ve worked through Sinek’s process of discovering my personal WHY and know it’s not an easy one. I write with absolute certainty that you will not discover your purpose during a 30-minute study break or in the course of single evening’s contemplation. But it’s worth the effort. Once you’ve identified your WHY, you will approach every key decision you make with this question in mind: does this get me any closer to my WHY?

If you wish to discover your WHY, here’s a starting point: think back over your life however long or short it has been. Identify a handful of peak experiences—those events that, when they occurred, you knew that what you had just done was what you were meant to do in life. Maybe you crafted a beautiful piece of prose, or you sang your heart out and an audience responded in kind, or you helped someone who was desperately in need. Focus on those experiences, and they will give you insight into your personal WHY.


4. Create your unique story

Once you know what drives you—your inherent skills, values and purpose—set aside some time to create your own story. Fundamentally, you need to identify what makes you special, and then you must convey that information in a way that captures the attention of anyone you might meet.

Don’t downplay the importance of how you tell your story. Called a strategic tool with “irresistible power” by none other than the Harvard Business Review, effective storytelling is now viewed as a critical skill for businesspeople, from job applicants to CEOs. A well-told story has the ability to bolster trust and increase empathy in a way that the recitation of facts and figures never will.

You’ll want to emphasize different parts of your story according to you audiences’ interests and needs. However, all of your stories should include a beginning, a middle, and an end. And they must be populated with concrete details and personal experience.


5. Pay attention to feedback loops & update your brand

Please, do not create your personal brand in a vacuum. Ask others for their feedback regarding your strengths and weaknesses. Listen to how others respond to your stories. Be prepared to make adjustments to how you think and what you say.

Author and speaker Tom Peters may have originated the concept of personal branding way back in the 1990s. As well as anyone, he understood the importance of individual employees knowing whether or not what he or she did on a day-to-day basis was consistent with building his or her brand. Peters urged workers to regularly undertake a "personal brand equity evaluation" comprised of the following elements:

  1. I am known for [2-4 things]. By this time next year, I plan to be known for [1-2 more things].
  2. My current project is challenging me in the following [1-3] ways.
  3. New stuff I’ve learned in the last 90 days includes [1-3] things.
  4. Important new additions to my Rolodex in the last 90 days include [2-4 names].
  5. My public—local/regional/national/global—“visibility program” consists of [1-2 things].
  6. My principal “résumé enhancement activity” for the next 90 days is [1 ietm].
  7. My résumé/CV is discernibly different from last year’s on this date in the following [1-2 ways].

(From T. Peters, The Brand You). And yes, the book was published in 1999, when businesspeople still used Rolodexes rather than CRM tools.




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