A 5 Step Personal Brand Guide for Recent Graduates
First thing's first, congratulations on graduating! 🙌🏾 This isn't an easy feat, and you did it!
Secondly, how do you feel?
Excited? Relieved? Sad? Nervous?
It's normal to feel all of these emotions plus more after graduating. After all, it's a HUGE step in your life towards becoming a full-fledged adult. This is the time where you really start figuring your life out and making new moves, literally and figuratively.
With all of this, it's easy to become overwhelmed. Not only are you adjusting to a new life, but you are also figuring out exactly who you are. This makes the months right after graduating ideal to create a personal brand for yourself.
So, what is a brand?
As shared so nicely by one of my sorority sisters:
"Really? I always thought you were a vegan!"
Out of context, that does not sound like much. Super weird, right? In context, it showed me what others saw me as: as an environmentally conscious person. (And I know that because I asked them!) That one statement provided insight into what my audience thinks about me. It's my personal brand. It's what makes me, me. And you know what? It fits!
While I am not a vegan, I am an environmentally conscious person. Their depiction of me aligns with what I want to be perceived as, aka my brand. They also associate me with cats, art, and hoop earrings and see me as passionate, caring, personable, and outspoken – all things (especially the hoops 🤪) I want people to think of when they think about me.
"I get a kinda chic pop indie vibe. Cats, art but also girly ya know? Always wearing hoops I feel 🤩"
So, in case you're thinking, "huh?": your brand is how you promote yourself and are perceived by others. It includes how you behave, your hobbies, what you know, how you talk, how you dress, your morals, ethics, beliefs, etc.
Why is having a personal brand valuable?
Like branding a new business, developing your personal brand allows you to determine the unique aspects of yourself that differentiate you from others. This will come in handy when applying and interviewing for jobs.
When you know what makes you stand out among all other candidates, you can emphasize that in cover letters and during interviews to make yourself memorable to the hiring committee. The organizations you are applying to will also be able to quickly identify whether you are a good fit for their job and company culture, AND you will be able to see if their organization aligns with your brand. (🚨 Remember: you are also interviewing them!)
How do you develop a personal brand?
There are five steps I follow to develop a personal brand.
ONE | What do you want to be known for, and why?
Before you start trying to figure out what people know you for, you should figure out what you want to be known for. Knowing the answer to this question will give you guidance in life, whether you already know what you want to do or are still figuring it out. (And it's completely normal to still be figuring it out after college.) It will also help you in the third step when creating a unique selling proposition.
PUT IT INTO PRACTICE:
WHAT: I want to be perceived as a passionate, socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable person who loves helping people, creating content, and speaking up for what I believe in.
WHY? This positions me as the person to come to if you are curious about the current social movements, want advice about incorporating sustainability in your life, or seek marketing advice. I believe being perceived as this will help me achieve my long-term goal of heading the marketing and communications department for an social justice nonprofit.
TWO | How do others perceive you?
This next step is one we typically try to skip to first: finding out what people think about you. While I do this step second, it's equally important because it will determine whether you have to rebrand yourself to achieve alignment with your desired perception.
There are two ways you can find out what people think about you. One, listen to what those who know you and your work say when introducing you to others. Two, just ask them! I favor the first way because it's more likely to be on the spot and not contrived. Nonetheless, either choice will provide insight into what others feel they can rely on you for and what they think your best qualities are.
Once you learn what others think about you, compare it with what you said you'd like to be seen as. Does it match? If so, awesome! If not, it's completely okay! You can fix it by finding out why they see you the way they do and creating a strategy based on that.
PUT IT INTO PRACTICE:
ACTUAL PERCEPTION: When asking your internship co-workers and supervisors what they think of you, you find they believe you are a hard worker who produces high-quality content. They also think you are quiet and only like working alone.
DESIRED PERCEPTION: You want to be seen as a friendly, approachable person that others feel at-ease interacting with. But, you also want to be seen as knowledgeable, so you try not to ask for help and keep your head stuck in your work.
WHY THIS DISCONNECT IS BAD: Imagine this internship is with a company that has a fun, casual culture where employees love hanging out together and collaborating on projects. Also, imagine you are hoping to secure a full-time job there. If there's a disconnect between what they think about you and their company culture, they most likely will not invite you back for a full-time position. Because they see you as a quiet person who only likes working alone, they do not think you will fit in with their company long-term.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO SHIFT THEIR PERCEPTION OF YOU: There are many tactics you can use to shift others' perceptions of you. One tactic to use in this situation is taking frequent breaks to interact with your co-workers. Do you hear a conversation that sounds interesting? Join in! You can also ask your co-workers for their thoughts on an assignment you have. It will let them know you are open to working with others and are open to collaborating.
THREE | What is unique about you?
Now that you know what people think about you, it's time for you to figure out why. This will be your unique selling proposition (USP). This is what you will use to differentiate yourself among all the other recent graduates. It will tell companies why they should hire you.
To do this, you first have to refer to the perceptions people have about you. What do they come to you for, and does it align with the job position you are seeking? Next, find out why people come to you for these things. You are not the only person who can do what they're asking, so find out what makes you special! Once you know your unique selling proposition, you will be able to find the companies whose culture best aligns with who you are AND tell them why you're the best fit for the position!
PUT IT INTO PRACTICE:
THE POSITION YOU WANT: You are a recent graduate with a biology degree. You will be starting vet school and want to find a job working with animals while you do that. You apply for a job as a veterinary assistant at a local clinic.
WHAT PEOPLE COME TO YOU FOR: Your friends and family often ask you to pet sit and recommend you to others for the same service.
WHY DO PEOPLE COME TO YOU FOR THIS: Your clients tell you they prefer your services because you have taken a pet first-aid and CPR class. Many people who can watch pets, but you can save them if they choke on food or a toy.
FOUR | What are your goals?
Similar to evaluating whether your desired brand aligns with your dream organization, you also have to know whether it aligns with your short- and long-term goals. If not, you need to think about how you can fix that. I believe your brand should always match your goals. This will help you determine the exact steps you need to take to reach them! Plus, you do not want your current brand to make achieving your long-term goals challenging.
PUT IT INTO PRACTICE:
YOUR PERSONAL BRAND: A great worker that fosters a healthy and productive work environment by creating genuine relationships with co-workers.
YOUR SHORT-TERM GOAL: You want to get hired at your dream company.
YOUR LONG-TERM GOAL: You want to become an executive of your dream company.
WHAT YOUR BRAND IS DOING FOR YOUR GOAL: While your current brand may work very well to open the door for you at your dream company because it fits with their company culture, it does not give them insight into your leadership skills. To achieve your long-term goal, you need to start branding yourself as a leader.
Incorporate leadership into your brand from the get-go, and you will have the opportunity to both get in the door and show them you have what it takes to become an executive. A couple tactics you can use to brand yourself as a leader are volunteering for a leadership position at a nonprofit, providing suggestions for how an organization can meet an objective, and writing a blog to establish yourself as a thought leader.
FIVE | What's your dream organization like?
Similar to businesses, you need to develop a target audience. In this case, your target audience includes the organizations you'd like to work for. By developing this audience, you will know whether the brand you are creating for yourself aligns well with theirs. If you notice any disparities, you need to decide whether they're something you can tolerate or not.
PUT IT INTO PRACTICE:
YOUR BRAND POSITIONING STATEMENT: "I am a freelance digital marketer who works individually with starter nonprofits to create tailored and easy-to-implement marketing strategies to increase their awareness among sponsors and donors. I do this because nonprofits are the cornerstones of communities, and I like putting communities first."
THE ORGANIZATION'S BRAND POSITIONING STATEMENT: "For small-to-mid-sized nonprofits, our national organization provides high-quality, affordable full-service marketing so they can focus on helping others, because we value helping people and working non-stop to effect change."
COMPARE THE TWO:
Both you and the organization value helping nonprofits. However, as a freelancer, you prefer working alone or with smaller teams and the organization has a large marketing and communications department. There's a disconnect here! You have to decide whether you can live with this, as you most likely will have to attend more meetings and not have as much creative control over a project. If you can tolerate this, that's great! If not, you should go one step further and develop an ideal organization version of a "customer persona" featuring the qualities, values and traits of the ideal company you'd work for.
Once you ask yourself all of the questions above and get your answers, you have your personal brand! The only thing you have to do on an ongoing basis is make sure your brand comes across in every area of your life. This includes in-person, social media, emails, cover letters, resumes, business cards, portfolios, your wardrobe and any and all touchpoints that people can associate with you.
Need Help Creating a Personal Brand?
I help young professionals and recent graduates create personal brands for themselves and their business ventures. Get in contact with me if you need help making the best brand for yourself.