As the students in my introduction to public relations class at Seton Hall University prepare for graduation, we’ve talked a lot about self branding, and how to identify and promote your own unique talent and skills when searching for a job.
If you want to take control of your careers, I tell them, it’s important to understand how you’re perceived in the marketplace and how you can shape that perception.
It’s also the message I give clients: Just like college students entering the work force, thought leaders must develop, promote and strengthen their personal brand (of course, our clients have been shaping their brand much longer than my students — for thought leaders, building their personal brand is important, but reinforcing it is crucial).
In fact, there is a lot students can learn from the best thought leaders when it comes to promoting themselves while launching their professional lives. Hint: it’s all about getting yourself out there.
Today, of course, much of our personal branding begins online. To those who don’t know us personally, who we are online has come to define who we are—period. So when a recruiter Googles your name, make sure what appears doesn’t make you look foolish or unprofessional. Everything from your Instagram photos to your tweets to what you say in an Amazon book review is a reflection of who you are—or, fairly or not, who recruiters think you are.
So if your personal branding begins online, where does it go from there? That’s up to you. But the advice I give my students aligns closely with what I tell my thought leader clients.
Know yourself and what you have to offer: Define who you are and your unique abilities. To really stand out in the crowd, as a good thought leader must, think of the unique value you have to offer and shape your personal brand around that differentiator.
Determine how others see you: The best thought leaders are viewed as trusted sources and guideposts for entire industries, but also for colleagues, co-workers and friends. Ask your friends and acquaintances how they would describe you. In what areas do you excel? Where do they see you as irreplaceable? This input will help you shape what you can become known for.
Identify your goals: For thought leaders, this means establishing your mission, and how and among what audiences you want your ideas to resonate. College grads should also establish a mission: What’s your career vision? Where would you like to be in six months? One year? Five years? Defining your goals (albeit loosely to ensure you’re not cutting yourself off at the pass from potentially amazing career opportunities) will help you craft a message that resonates with job recruiters and ultimately, your boss.
Home in on your target audience: My colleagues and I stress this to our thought leader clients, asking, “Who do you most want to reach with your message?” Grads entering the workforce should ask themselves this same question. Once you know who your audience is, reach out to them. If you’re interested in the field of public relations, for example, “like” PRSA on Facebook, follow industry leaders on LinkedIn and Twitter, and connect with people working in those companies you’re interested in pursuing. Use these social media platforms to disseminate an intelligent stream of content. When you comment on relevant topics and share interesting insights, you show that you keep up with the marketplace, and know how to best use social media. And, you can take this a step further by creating a blog, podcast or video.
Go offline and network: As powerful as social media can be for promoting your brand, there’s another element to consider: going offline. You may have a great video discussing your talents, or a Twitter account with many followers, but appearing in person at an industry event, actively participating in discussions at conferences or offering to spearhead a project for an industry or alumni association will help you further highlight your talents. It’s why we encourage our clients to pursue targeted speaking engagements, where their voices will be heard and networking opportunities abound.
It may be hard to distinguish yourself from the slew of other candidates vying for the same position as you, but if you work hard to establish and promote your personal brand, you’ll have a greater chance of succeeding. Any thought leader will tell you the same.