The Importance of Personal Branding

June 28, 2022


Why Branding is Relevant

If you were to buy a new car, what factors would you take into account as you chose the brand in which you’d invest?

You may focus on fuel economy, the availability of electric or hybrid cars, or costs in general. Those factors aside, as you contemplated any given car, you’d probably think about the reputation of the manufacturer and what you know about the brand. How effectively does this car perform? Safety ratings are another indicator of a brand’s reputation, and we want to feel secure. The same is true when we decide on the restaurants in which we dine, and other businesses and service providers we choose to support; we consider what we know about them, either firsthand or through word of mouth.

In deciding where to live, we consider the reputations of different neighborhoods. One may be known for community spirit, while another may be recognized for its exclusivity or for an abundance of recreational activities.

We pay attention to the reputations – or brands, as it were – of products, services and communities. In each of these instances, we want to feel good about how we’re investing our time, energy, and finances.

We Invest Time, Energy, and Goodwill in the People with Whom we Surround Ourselves

The same is true when we think about the time, energy, and goodwill we invest in the people around us. With the emergence of hybrid careers and the return of in-person events, we’re once again meeting new people. We may facilitate a few introductions, ourselves. When we make these introductions, we often highlight some of the characteristics of the people we’re introducing. In other words, we’re letting both parties know a bit about the kind of person they’re meeting. We’re sharing a bit of their respective reputations.

If you’ve ever tried to pair up a couple of acquaintances for a blind date, you’ve likely told each of them a bit about the other. The perceptions each person has of the other can then impact whether or not a particular date unfolds.

Dating experiences aside, if someone was to pick just three words to describe you in an introduction, what words do you think that person would use? Would those words encourage others to want to spend their time and energy with you? What reputation or brand have you established?

Employers Invest Time, Energy, and Financial Resources in the People They Employ

When it comes to our careers, employers invest not only time and energy in us; they’re also investing financial resources. Prospective employers, whether they use AI or traditional approaches to establishing interview shortlists, may base their decisions on what they can glean about your professional reputation or brand.

Whether you’re in your dream role, contemplating, or actively looking for the next step in your career, it makes sense to take an active role in assessing, conveying, and living your brand. When supervisors or executives want to tap someone for a project, committee role, stretch initiative, or promotion that has the potential to demonstrate expertise and skills you possess, you want people to be aware of what you have to offer.

An Authentic Image … and Exposure

While it’s good to have attributes that make you a valuable asset, it helps to make people beyond your immediate circle aware of those attributes. This may mean committing to promoting yourself and highlighting your qualities – perhaps more than may initially be comfortable. It also means being gracious in how we go about it.

When we look at personal branding, we need to be authentic about who we are and the strengths we bring to the table. We also need to be comfortable – or build comfort – with self-promotion that raises awareness while also influencing others’ perceptions of us.

Personal branding is not a one-off undertaking. It’s ongoing and can evolve with our careers. If you’re uncomfortable with the notion of personal branding, you may want to imagine you’re seeing the words “professional reputation” each time you see the phrase “personal branding”.

Think about your strengths and three characteristics for which you should legitimately be known. Here, we need to be specific. A clear-eyed self-assessment is a good starting point. You may also choose to ask people you respect and trust professionally to think of three words that describe you professionally and see which terms keep recurring.

Think of past performance reviews and informal feedback you’ve received in your role and through your networks. How do you positively impact stakeholders and your place of employment? Are you especially good at dealing with and influencing people? Are you analytical, a problem solver, an innovator, the creative person in your team, or a leader? Are you a natural networker, which can be valuable to employers? You may be an ambitious go-getter. Perhaps you’re highly professional and poised under pressure. Do you have a particular technical skill or other expertise? In other words, how do you shine?

Once you’ve identified terms that recur in performance evaluations or reviews, commendations, and conversations, think about which of them most resonate with you. Equally important, which of these qualities are relevant to employers, other stakeholders, and your long-term career? 

Differentiate Yourself

In a career where you have more than three and a half million counterparts in the US alone, it may be daunting to think about how to differentiate yourself. Logically, it’s clear that many will share certain qualities. Again, focus on authentic attributes that are meaningful to you, your stakeholders … and potential stakeholders. Ask yourself which terms best reflect how you positively impact people and your place of employment, and how you add value.

For example, I’m a speaker and trainer who was an assistant for almost three decades before I stopped using my vacations to present at conferences. In identifying my personal brand, I came up with a list of 20 words different assistants have repeatedly used in evaluating my in-person and webinar training presentations. I also reviewed emails and LinkedIn messages people sent after hearing me speak. In selecting the three attributes I chose to highlight, I put myself back in an assistant’s shoes. I considered which of those terms was especially meaningful to me when I was an assistant listening to a speaker.

Now, in communicating my brand, I highlight those three characteristics. I’m authentic. I’m inspiring. I’m an expert – and I’m unafraid of saying so. It may take time to become accustomed to showcasing your strengths. You may want to practice saying them to yourself in front of a mirror and discuss them with your principal (boss) as you prepare to share your brand more publicly.

Next Steps

Once you’ve identified a number of your qualities, you may wish to focus on three of them – and how you’ll communicate them. Would it be appropriate within your work environment to embed these three words in your email signature line, on a business card, or in your intranet profile? Do you have a LinkedIn profile, and do you routinely review it for currency? If you use LinkedIn or other social media in a career context, these are logical places for communicating your brand. The next step, which is ongoing, is to check whether your actions and attitudes reflect the brand you’ve identified. It also helps to periodically check your career evolution and that of your brand.

When we think about personal branding, we’re thinking about positioning ourselves to help others recognize you as someone who makes positive impacts and adds value. There are more than a few variations on a phrase about perception being more important than reality. As you think about your personal brand, and prepare to influence others’ perceptions of you, I encourage you to do all you can to ensure those perceptions and the reality of what you bring to the table do, in fact, align! 

About the Author: Shelagh Donnelly educates and inspires assistants on topics ranging from meetings and minutes to communications, resilience, cybersecurity, and working with boards. She helps assistants nurture their adaptability, productivity, and resilience in order to enjoy their career and continue to add value even as roles evolve. An international speaker, Shelagh worked with C-level executives for more than 25 years and is recognized for her governance expertise. Shelagh founded her globally read Exceptional EA website in 2013.

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