Protect your personal brand

Who you are is just as important as what you know when it comes to getting and keeping a job.  Who you are is your personal brand, says consultant Terry Heaton, and journalists should take it seriously, especially when they’re just starting out in the profession.

A young person applying for a good job may be dressed to the nines, appear intelligent and mature, and leave a great impression, but if that person’s MySpace or Facebook page (or YouTube video) reveals a different person, it can (and does) cause problems. The issue is which represents the person’s brand, the interview or the identity projected on that person’s web page?

If you’re just beginning to build a personal brand, Heaton suggests that you pay close attention to “people of influence” in your social or professional networks, because they’re the ones who will spread your reputation.  “Get to know them. Remember them. Help them. Stay in contact with them. This strengthens your brand.”

Among Heaton’s other top 10 tips:

  • Talk about what you do. Share your experiences and maybe even provide tips as part of your social networking. Everything you do, especially if it’s negative, reflects on your brand.
  • Be a good person, not an ass. People are watching, and the last thing you ever want to do is prove yourself a jerk through your behavior while your intentions tell you you’re really a good guy.
  • Devote some time each day to the study of your craft, and this is especially true for young people. You don’t have to pretend to be an expert when you really are one.

I’ve never been a big fan of the concept of branding, which has always felt a little phony and manipulative to me.  In the advertising world, the goal of branding often seems to be to get consumers to want something based only on a recognizable name–and who cares if it’s overpriced junk as long as they buy it?

But what if you think about a brand as a personality type?  You know these folks, right? The party animal. The starched shirt. The loudmouth.  But their professional reputations may be entirely different.  Haven’t you ever seen someone behaving in an unexpected way outside of work and thought, “Who knew?”

Those moments may be rarer in today’s networked world, as the personal and professional inexorably blend.  So the advice to build and protect your individual brand makes a lot of sense.  But it’s really not that different from what parents have told children for generations about how to behave in any public setting.  As a friend’s father used to tell his teenage sons, “Remember whose you are.”