How to build your personal brand

  • Swan Song by Rachel Taylor (Visual Communication, 2013)

We talked to personal branding consultant Zena Everett, who recently spoke at FuelRCA's Finding Your Dream Job workshop, about the importance of building a distinctive personality for your professional practice

In the current employment market, a socially visible and recognisable identity, along with the networks this exists in, are now as important as your professional experience. Now more than ever, these two things are hard to distinguish. Whether you are working freelance, hoping to get representation as an artist, or seeking work with an employer, being able to create, sustain and deploy a personal brand is key to differentiating and communicating what you are about to the people you want to talk to.

A personal brand is not just what you look like, but what you do, how you do it and what you want to do next — and importantly, how is this new to an employment and freelance market itself always seeking to evolve. We spoke to Zena Everett, recruitment expert at second-careers.co.uk, about the importance of personal branding, how to do it, and how it is crucial to create job opportunities with this personal brand and not just wait for a job to appear.

FuelRCA: What is personal branding?

Zena Everett: In the current employment market, my definition would be (as a coach, to my client) rather than waiting for an opportunity to present itself, go out an create one – as a result of that they have to define what they've go that's unique and different. So from a job-seeking purpose, personal branding would be what have they got that's new for an employer, that's going to make that employer better when they've finished with them.

FuelRCA: This could also apply to potential clients, if you're a freelancing designer for example?

ZE: Absolutely, it’s for getting any kind of work, however it's paid. That's the whole point: stop looking for a job, go out and create an opportunity, that's how we look at personal branding: what can you do for other people. This also applies if you already have a job.

FuelRCA: Are there any differences between a personal brand for freelancing or for an employer?

ZE: No, absolutely not, except that the freelancers have got to be a bit sharper at it, because they're going to do it all the time. It’s also a big consideration in freelance work - why should a potential client ring you?

FuelRCA: What specific things would you prompt people to start doing?

ZE: We would usually work around what are the three key messages that you want people to care or know about you if you're going into a pitch, presentation or interview. Every communication you have with someone should be reinforcing this. Your personal brand has to be focused and consistent, as well as creative and different. 

It also doesn't have to be specific expertise. You can be a good all rounder. People hiring nowadays, aren’t saying, let's get a dynamic team player in, who can work well individually as well; they're saying we want someone who's really good on say Autodesk, who's also done a bit of work in the automotive industry, and who knows about optimisation for example – it’s more about skill bases, rather than personality traits.

FuelRCA: You’ve spoken about LinkedIn previously at the RCA, are these professional social network sites useful for continuing you brand beyond the business meeting; are there other things too? 

ZE: It’s all holistic, yes, LinkedIn is important, but everything you do and every interaction you're building towards that personal brand.

I think social media is one part of a lot of different things. It's hugely important, but it all depends on what you're trying to do…if you're trying to work in digital marketing, social media is very important… but do it properly. There's 225 million people on LinkedIn – so you got to be on there and you've got to work it properly, and have a good CV with the right keywords in. You can't be half hearted about it.

FuelRCA: What are more active ways in which you can present this personal brand visually?

ZE: I think how you present everything has got to dovetail with what brand and expertise you have — so for example, if you are a graphic designer, and if your field is digital, you've got to be incredibly creative digitally with how you present your brand: walk the talk.

FuelRCA: What advice would you give people, especially graduates about self-defining and creating this personal brand?

ZE: OK, so two things, first of all what other people suggest to you that you're good at and ask you to do. Then figure out what you've enjoyed the most, when you've had the most energy around the work you're doing. It’s not always what you're best at: it can just be what you get the most fulfillment out of. It's a backwards look at what have I enjoyed?

FuelRCA: So you’re creating an opportunity from looking at the good things that you do and for looking for ways of pushing that further?

ZE: Yes and, I would also encourage people to do as much as possible and make mistakes and take some risks, I don't think there's anything wrong with that at all. But the bottom line is to think about your CV from the perspective of an employer or user of your services: what have I got to bring to the table?

Also people like somebody with a career goal. From a work perspective, employers like people to say yes I'd be really interested in doing this because, I have particular interest in X and Y, and it would give me access to…  you've always got to have a reason why you want the job.

FuelRCA: How do you know when a personal brand is working? 

ZE: When you're getting the right sort of work, and it's work that you want to do! If not, then obviously your CV or you profile isn't working. It may be in the wrong place, or not displaying your skills properly. Also, the CV screening processes can be brutal, you might expect somebody to read it to work out the interesting points, well, they won't!

It's got to be why me, and the CV [or portfolio or website] has got to be matching evidence for your personal brand.

FuelRCA: Are there any other things that you want to add?

ZE: Only that I think, that personal branding sounds a bit boring, doesn't it? I think it's more thinking about the impression that people want others to have of them: really what you can do for other people. It's not about you – you're underpinning it and you're in the background – but its more about what you can do for an employer that's different and new, what you're giving to them. That's quite a significant shift in how people approach the workplace — you know we might say, I'm looking for a job, I want life-work balance, but now it's more like; so does everybody, what do you want in return for that? Why should I hire you, as opposed to the four hundred other CVs I've got on my desk?

FuelRCA: That's quite interesting, artists and designers have to be thinking about their audience or their clients (for example) all the time and so you could be always thinking about potential employment in the same way you might be thinking about how you make your art or design work?

ZE: Exactly, it’s all geared towards an audience…

FuelRCA: So you are identifying your audience so that you can work out the way in which you're going to identify yourself in your personal brand?

ZE: Yes, definitely, I like that.