The job search has evolved dramatically in the digital age—especially in the way recruiters screen candidates. A Google search is now as ubiquitous as a criminal background check. Often, the online search determines whether a candidate even gets an interview. One survey found that 98% of recruiters search for candidates online before hiring them.
That’s why it’s imperative for job seekers to curate their personal brands online. In today’s competitive market, experience alone won’t help candidates stand out. They need to be thought leaders with a mission and a narrative to set them apart. Candidates with a well-developed digital footprint showcasing their expertise, passion and insight about a particular industry or subject are more desirable than those who just offer a resume.
What exactly is a personal brand?
A personal brand is made up of the traits and narratives that define someone in the public eye. In the context of a career, personal branding centers around skills, professional experience, education, personality and even aesthetics. Some of the world’s most famous leaders are known for their brands as much as for their accomplishments. For example, Virgin Group’s portfolio of companies reflects founder Richard Branson’s love of adventure, while Gary Vaynerchuk is as well known for his entrepreneurship as he is for transparently sharing wisdom.
How do we know their brands are so effective? Because while they will never work for us, their brands give us an idea of what they would do if we hired them. A personal brand can help job seekers in the same way: painting a picture of who they are for recruiters long before an interview.
Branding offers a number of benefits to job seekers. First, it helps them establish authority in an industry or subject, automatically increasing their value. It also conveys the authenticity of someone’s genuine passion for a subject. Branding can help align job seekers with a niche, making them more desirable when they’re in alignment with a job opening.
How do you build a personal brand?
Creating an authentic personal brand is an inside-out job. It begins with honestly assessing your values and goals before showcasing them to the world. Here’s how to do it:
Clarify your passions and values.
What did you dream of doing as a child? What are you most interested in and naturally curious about? What did you like most about school or your previous jobs? Asking yourself these questions can reveal what you genuinely care about and even illuminate your larger purpose. Self-reflection can help job seekers clarify a unique way they approach their job or even help them home in on a niche.
Build your portfolio.
Portfolios are a necessity for creative professionals, but they’re not limited to art and design. Create a website that establishes who you are, what you’ve accomplished and what kind of impact you want to make. Beyond a bio and headshot, include details about your experience, why you’re interested in your field, niches you’re focused on and insights about your industry.
Business professionals on an executive track could write case studies highlighting the results of projects they’ve led. Blogs are a great way to showcase thought leadership, and media mentions are impressive for professionals in every industry. There’s no limit to what kind of information or assets you can include. Just make sure it’s relevant to the image you want to convey and acceptably professional according to the standards and practices of your field.
Grow a social media presence.
No one can rely on a website to get noticed without self-promotion. Social media is the best way to connect with others, network and build a following. Create profiles on every platform where it makes sense for your industry, and start branding. Choose platforms particularly popular in your industry or niche for maximum exposure. For example, interior designers might have more success on Pinterest or Houzz than LinkedIn.
Build a following by engaging with others in your industry, boosting your colleagues, amplifying messages that resonate with your brand and creating images, videos or posts that showcase your unique approach or insight. When possible, drive traffic to your website.
Refine your brand with leadership training.
Offline, finding your authentic brand can take a lot of time, trial and error. This is especially true for those just starting out in their careers. Leadership training programs can be a helpful way to get clear about your purpose and find your voice. (Full disclosure: My company provides leadership training programs, as do others.)
Additionally, direct experience is the best way to find how you authentically relate to other professionals, rather than how you think you should. Even more importantly, in a training program, you can learn with others trying to develop their skills as well, which can help you build a valuable network in the process.
When it comes to building a career, your digital presence is just as important as how you dress or behave at work. Job seekers must take control of their online presence to avoid making a bad impression on recruiters. Actively building a personal brand could open you up to incredible new opportunities.
This building doesn’t end online. You can spend hours creating the perfect website and online presence, but if you show up to a job interview not matching it, chances are you won’t get the job. Ensure you constantly strive to hone and fully embody your personal brand.