Smart Steps to Create Your Personal Brand

personal brand
By Yvonne Milosevic

Have you figured out your personal brand yet? Given the legions of Instagram influencers and YouTube stars, it’s clear that having an identifiable personal brand can open doors and create new opportunities. No matter what industry you work in, a personal brand is essential to achieving your career goals. But self-promotion does not come easy for some.

“People worry that selling themselves means giving a false impression,” notes Professor Suzanne Muchin from the Kellogg School of Management. “But nothing could be further from the truth. Great selling requires the purest form of authenticity.”

In reality, Brand “You” is the unique blend of experiences and skills that make you who you are. As Muchin explains in Kellogg Insight, this authenticity comes through in the stories we tell others about ourselves—stories that communicate our values, convictions, strengths, and goals.

“Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a job candidate, or an advocate for a new idea, good storytelling is one of the skills you need to stand out,” Muchin says.

Find Stories that Support Your Personal Brand

The first step in creating your brand identity is to separate fact from fiction and authenticity from aspiration. Without evidence and examples, your brand messages are nothing more than empty claims. Why should a hiring manager believe that you “can lead creative teams”? Or that you “have made a difference in the causes you are passionate about?”

It’s one thing to say you are adaptable. It’s another thing to describe the various life experiences that shaped your adaptability, notes Muchin.

That’s why you need to back up those assertions with what companies like Procter & Gamble call “reasons to believe.” The most effective way to convince others that these claims are valid is through a compelling story.

So, check out these sample brand messages and their supporting evidence to see what we mean.

Brand Message: I have excellent communication skills.
Reasons to Believe:

  • President of a public speaking club
  • Led analyst training classes at work
  • Selected as lead negotiator for three transactions this year

Brand Message: I have extensive international experience.
Reasons to Believe:

  • Six-month assignment in Kuwait
  • Systems implementation in New Delhi
  • Process improvement project in Hong Kong

Brand Message: I make the communities I’m a part of stronger.
Reasons to Believe:

  • Created Engineering Rotation Program to reduce turn-over
  • Started a youth group at church
  • Launched career and resume workshop for non-traditional majors in college

Obviously, the more examples and stories you can offer to support a particular attribute, the more likely your audience will believe that you have that strength or skill set.

Your Brand Should Make an Impression

In the long run, a compelling personal brand goes beyond showing off your professional strengths. According to Muchin, the most incisive question you can ask yourself is, “What do I want to be memorable for?” She believes this question—ultimately a version of “what makes me special?”—will prompt your stories to surface.

To develop your story, you have to be willing to dig deep, notes Muchin. “The amount of self-awareness it requires to discover one’s unique story can make people uncomfortable,” she says. “But that’s a necessary part of the process: you need to be willing to get uncomfortable. It’s not just about being social.”

After you have fine-tuned the stories that support your personal brand,  Muchin says the next challenge is learning how to weave them into conversations at job interviews, networking events, or any other situation where the goal is to sell yourself. Every answer you give is an opportunity to tell one of your stories, she explains.

“Whenever you enter a room, ask yourself ‘What conversation do I want to have?’” Muchin suggests. “You need to have a roadmap for how to arrive at your story, and for how that story then leads you to a conversation that will engage others.”