As soon as Katherine Meyer found out she’d been laid off from her job at a Kansas City advertising agency, she started searching for a new job online.
She tweeted more. She beefed up her profile on LinkedIn, a professional networking site. She wrote about the bright side of being laid off at the blogging site posterous.com, where her profile reads “I’m a twenty-something who loves music, reading, technology, learning and great food.”
Meyer’s goal: To express who she is — plugged in, passionate, optimistic, unique — as well as what she’s accomplished. She figured that would help potential employers see “I’m not just a resume they can print off and look at once.”
Personal branding — that’s essentially what Meyer did — is becoming easier and more important as we continue to share more about ourselves online, says Chuck Franks, a Kansas City business coach.
“We’re becoming more 3-D people,” Franks says.
He explains that employers today aren’t just looking at your black-and-white resume. Now they want color — and they’re using Google and Facebook to figure out who you are before meeting you.
We’ve all been told what not to post online. Untagging questionable photos of yourself on Facebook is important, Franks says, but you’ve got to do more than that to sell yourself now. You need to figure out who you are and what you’re good at, then communicate that to the world using modern tools like social networking or your own website.
Everything you put out there helps form your personal brand, explains Ramsey Mohsen, a Kansas Citian who’s known as one of the Midwest’s social media pioneers.
Mohsen’s also known as somewhat of an expert on personal branding — he even gives talks on the subjects to local professional groups. Mohsen says a lot of people don’t really know what personal branding is. He defines it as “associations, feelings, thoughts, perceptions and attitudes toward a specific individual.”
Even if you don’t specifically brand yourself like Mohsen, people who know you form ideas about who you are. That means you already have a personal brand. You might as well make sure it reflects who you are and what you’re passionate about.
That’s what Meyer did, and she recently scored her dream job as a senior account manager at a public relations firm in Chicago, a city she’s been hoping to move to since 2006.
When she walked into the interview that landed her the job, the recruiter was looking at her LinkedIn profile. Later that day, the same recruiter began following Meyer on Twitter.
“I immediately followed her back and tweeted a ‘thank you’ of sorts for bringing me in for the interview,” Meyer says.
To stand out in this competitive job market, it’s mandatory that you work on your personal brand, Franks and Mohsen say.
Use these 10 tips to develop yours:
1. Find yourself
The first step in building a personal brand is figuring out who you are, Mohsen says.
Are you the copy writer with a passion for cooking? The sales executive who rocks at fantasy football? The plumber with an eye for interior design? Be honest with yourself, Mohsen says. Embrace who you are.
“It’s easy to want to be something else,” he says. “The truth of the matter is, I’m never going to be an NBA basketball player. I’m a geek through and through.”
By embracing his inner geek, Mohsen has been able to turn his passion — technology — into a career.
2. Pursue your passion
If your 9-to-5 job is just, well, a job, consider funneling your passions into a side project.
A couple years ago, Lindsay Laricks was working in design when she decided to open her own snow cone stand, Fresher than Fresh. She bought a 1957 Shasta trailer, fixed it up and began selling all-natural icy treats to First Friday pedestrians.
“It felt like all my favorite things collided into this idea,” Laricks says. “I love sweets. I love color. I love food trucks, and all-natural food.”
Laricks and her snow cones, which come in flavors such as watermelon basil and blackberry lavender, became famous last summer when they were featured in the Wall Street Journal and InStyle magazine. Selling snow cones is now Laricks’ full-time gig, which means she’s gone from being one of hundreds of designers in Kansas City to being the only person in Kansas City who sells all-natural snow cones from a cute 1957 Shasta trailer.
3. Get your own website
OK, so you’ve figured out who you are. Now you need to communicate who you are to other people.
Mohsen recommends purchasing your domain name (ex: johndoe.com) and building your own website, even if all you put there is a photo and a few links to your work. That way, you’ll have a home base that people can easily find when they search for you online.
But what if your domain has already been taken? Chuck Franks, the business coach, recommends adding your middle initial or full middle name to make your moniker more unique.
4. Be consistent
If you look at Jenny Kincaid’s Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles, you’ll see the exact same photo of Kincaid wearing a friendly smile.
Kincaid, who owns a public relations company, SocialWRX, says she always tells clients to maintain consistency with their business name, logos and overall look. That consistency (think Coke’s cursive font and cherry-red color) helps people recognize your brand, whether you’re a person or a multimillion-dollar corporation.
So once you decide on your professional name (Kincaid goes by Jenny instead of Jennifer, for example), stick with it. If it’s not the same on your business cards as it is on LinkedIn or on Twitter, you’ll only confuse people.
If you want to take this a step further, you could also choose a color that meshes with your personality and use that color on your website, your business card, your e-mail signature and so on. Jessie Artigue, a Kansas City fashion blogger who works as a personal style consultant, wanted consistency among her websites theconcretecatwalk.com and styleandpepper.com. She chose a not-too-girly coral color with a vintage vibe and splashed it all over her business cards and online enterprises.
5. Google yourself
You’ve probably done it before. But this time, really analyze the information that’s out there about you.
If you can’t find information about yourself by Googling your name, Mohsen recommends starting your own website (see tip 3) or using an online service such as about.me to create a splash page with links to, say, your demo reel on YouTube, your company website, and your Facebook page.
If you Google yourself and find a bunch of info about someone else, you might consider changing your name or adding a middle initial (again, see tip 3).
If a quick search yields a bumper crop of embarrassing or unprofessional information about you, consider cleaning the skeletons out of your digital closet.
Franks, the business coach, also recommends signing up for a service such as Google Alerts that sends you an e-mail whenever your name or business is mentioned online.
6. Adopt new technology
Now that you’ve gotten rid of some virtual junk, consider adopting some new tech habits.
Adam Coomes, president of the Kansas City tech company Infegy, recommends downloading the Bump app for iPhone and Android phones. The app allows users to swap contact info just by bumping their phones together. Coomes says one bump also allows him to follow a new acquaintance on Twitter or start a Facebook friendship.
Franks is a fan of LinkedIn’s new features, particularly the one that allows users to post video of their work or themselves. Franks says posting a video of yourself talking about what you do and what you’re passionate about can make you stand out to potential employers wading through a sea of black-and-white resumes.
7. Always be nice
If you want people to like you and your brand, you’ve got to be likable.
Clifton Alexander, the design studio owner, consciously maintains a friendly tone on Twitter, whether he’s tweeting from his personal or professional account.
“You won’t find any controversy in what I post online,” he says. “I’ve heard so many stories about people who got fired because they badmouthed their boss on Facebook. I will never do that.”
8. Get carded
Some people, like Adam Coomes, think business cards are obsolete.
Clifton Alexander would politely disagree.
Alexander’s past business cards are pretty funny: One looks like a baseball card and has a picture of Alexander from his Little League days. Another labels Alexander a “creative Chuck Norris.”
The new ones he designed for Reactor, for example, employ eight different printing techniques, three layers of paper and laser die-cutting. On the back of the card there’s a picture of Alexander’s head with a white strip of paper peeking out. It’s a fortune, like in a Chinese cookie.
“So you’re literally pulling a fortune out of my head,” Alexander explains.
The fortunes say things like, “If you don’t design for seven days, that’s weak,” or “Luke, I am your designer.”
Alexander says the cards are hard to produce but worth it because they show off what he and his company are known for.
9. Practice real-world social networking
Yes, social networking is vastly important when it comes to developing a strong personal brand.
But the key to strengthening your personal brand is connecting with people, Franks says, and the best way to connect with someone is in person.
So if you have a friend online that you’ve never met, ask him or her to meet up for coffee. Building your network of friends is good for your social life and your career.
Another way to meet new people is to join a sports team or to volunteer. Jenny Kincaid says volunteering expands your network of friends and helps you feel invested in your community. The boost to your personal brand is icing on the cake.
10. Don’t fear change
Remember: Personal brands aren’t permanent.
“If we’re growing, we change,” Brent Anderson says. “There are core elements of your personality that will always be there. But hopefully, you’re experiencing things that will make you more interesting.”
So today you might be the sales executive who rocks at fantasy football. But next year you might find out you missed your true calling as a pastry chef and you might decide to open your own bakery.
Letting your personal brand evolve along the way is just one way to get you where you want to be.