This post is part of the Professional Independence Project series.
While Jordan Belfort made the sentence “Sell me this pen” quite famous, for young professionals today the real question is “Sell me yourself.” All those job interviews you had, all those cover letters you’ve written, the time you spent polishing your CV, and the number of networking events you attended have one single common aspect: They help you sell yourself better.
It’s that simple, yet very powerful. Selling yourself is becoming the prime focus of young professional in an employment ecosystem that values not only applicant’s credentials, but also social clout. The people you know, the posts you share, the videos you watch, and the pages you like are as defining as where you studied in terms of professional persona.
The issue is that social and professional life are separated by a tiny blurry line that is quickly dissipated thanks to the phenomenal penetration of social media and mobile connectivity. The very reason you’re reading this article is because you realize how important your personal brand is, and how crucial it is in determining where you will intern, work, or who you will meet.
Now some people will see personal branding as a luxury, something you can only afford after making it to the prime league. The truth is, personal branding is what usually will make you or break you right after college, if not before. Trendy employers everyone wants to work for are making it clearer by the day that your personal brand is as important as your CV.
Look at Google, Twitter, Facebook, or Starbucks. They already publicly state that their considerations in various employment stages are not only affected by your credentials, but by your potential. Remember, credentials vs potential. This is a distinction you have to thoroughly understand. Your credentials, for a lack of better words, have an expiry date on them. Your skills and knowledge will be obsolete in few decades, or few years.
The world is changing, and while you might be great at managing a sales team from the 90s, today is a totally different world where your skills are nothing but outdated memories. Potential, on the other hand, is timeless. A visionary, someone with a sense of business, or someone with an affinity for problem solving will be on his A game whether it is working for a 1978 advertising company or for Apple.
Your personal brand comes into play here: how do you tell everyone, your employers included, that you have what it takes to excel and innovate in your job? How do you advertise the soft skills that cannot be expressed in a set of lines in CV hardcopy?
Easy, you talk the talk, and walk the walk. If you want to be seen as a promising prospect, you have to act like one. You have to breathe, smell, dream and live your brand. If you want to come across as an authority in your industry, as a business visionary, a genius artist or a powerful decision maker, you have to simulate those traits in your life no matter what. Start with fine tuning your social media presence. Share relevant posts, like pages that relate to your field of expertise, produce content, write blogs, design posters and art pieces. Your Facebook profile is much like your CV and your Linkedin page, don’t be fooled into thinking that it is off-limit for people. Your personal life is your professional life, and vice versa.
The people you hang out with and the events you attend will be as valuable in building your personal brand. They say you are the average of the people you hang out with, and that’s for a reason. If you’re into consulting, connect with consultants or consultancy enthusiasts, go grab coffee or lunch with them, go to their seminars, start reading their books and magazines, and try yourself at writing about the topic. That way, you align yourself and your brand to be what you want it to be.
Famous, successful and wealthy people can afford to hire a PR team to manage their personal brand for them, to update their Facebook pages and answer their fans, but if you’re a young professional, chances are you can’t afford such a privilege yet. Be your own PR, know what is worth saying, doing and sharing, and what’s not. First impressions last, and in the age of Internet, impressions last forever.
Don’t waste your time trying to figure out how to become the next Bill Gates, try first to become the best you can, and that will ultimately lead to long term success. Personal branding allows you to be know for you who you can be, and that can be whoever you decide. You want to be seen as an industry expert, an academic, a business visionary, a stocks guru or the next steve jobs, then start acting like it.
The great thing about personal branding for young professionals is that, unlike other things in life, you get to decide to be whatever you like. You may be born a certain way, your family may have treated you in a certain manner and your environment might have been shaped in a specific frame, but YOU, yes YOU, you get to be the judge of your destiny and your image. The choice is yours.
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