If you want to be successful in today's hypercompetitive job market, you must differentiate yourself from other candidates. One way to accomplish this is to create an your own online brand.
The concept of personal branding is hardly new. Tom Peters popularized it in a seminal article in 1997, and self-help books since the 1930s have equated career success with how well you package yourself. Personal branding has evolved, however, and now requires more than (as Peters so quaintly put it) "selling the sizzle, not the steak."
Today, your personal brand is colored and even defined by the information about you that's available on the Web. Here's a step-by-step method for making sure that, when a hiring manager checks you out, your personal brand makes you the standout candidate.
Step 1. Capture Your Brand Name
In the past, your personal "brand name" was generally whatever first and last name your parents gave you. Unfortunately, on the Web, things aren't that simple. "When a hiring manager searches on your name, you want them to find you, not somebody who's got the same name as you," explains Dan Schawbel, author of Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future.
That's not a problem if your name is unusual (Schawbel cites his own name as an example), but if your name is common, like "John Smith," you can end up being virtually invisible on the Web. That problem is compounded if somebody with the same name is already famous, or worse, infamous. "The best way to find out if you've got a problem is to do a search and see what pops up," says Schwabel.
If there's already a significant Web presence using your name, Schawbel recommends modifying your name so that it's memorable and unique. "You can use a middle name, a middle initial or even a nickname," says Schawbel, who suggests that the celebrity trend in giving children odd names is partly because such celebrities are media-savvy enough to know their kids' public identities will be defined on the Web.
Once you've determined your personal brand name, you must "capture" it by securing that name on the major social networking platforms: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+. "Do this defensively, before you do anything else," Schawbel warns. He also suggests that you remove any content (like a Myspace page showing drunken college high jinks) that might conflict with how you're planning to present yourself.
You should also purchase any and all domain names that match your brand. For example, if you decide to call yourself "John (Spike) Smith" you would want to reserve: JohnSpikeSmith.com, SpikeSmith.com, and perhaps even the .org and .net equivalents of those names.
Step 2. Research Your Target Firms
You should already have an idea of the industry or industries in which you'd like to work. (If not, you should step back and give the matter thought.) Use the Internet to discover companies in that industry that either sell in your local region (if you're looking for an "outside" sales job) or have "inside" sales people who work out of a local office or from home.
Examine those companies' websites. Read the sales job listings on those sites, not just because you might go after the jobs, but also because you want to better understand the type of person companies in that industry hire for sales positions. You should also scan over the corporate overview and product summaries.
"As you're doing this research, jot down the words or phrases that keep popping up when the company refers to its sales employees or its own brand image," advises Meg Guiseppi, author of the book "23 Ways You Sabotage Your Executive Job Search." For example, a company might consistently use the term "entrepreneur" in job descriptions and in the corporate overview. You'll use these keywords in a subsequent steps.
Step 3. Craft Your Brand Message
Your personal "brand message" is a crystallization of what you want people (especially hiring managers) to feel when they hear your name. Your brand message is like the tag line that big companies use to give their brands more defined identities, like GE's "We bring good things to light."
Your personal brand message needn't be that pithy, but it should be a single sentence. Here are two essential rules:
1. Keep It Focused. Your goal is get a job, not explain yourself to the world. Therefore, limit your brand message to those elements of your life and career that are relevant to the task at hand, says Tom Hayes, CEO of the advertising firm Riley Hayes.
2. Keep It Simple. As much as possible, your personal brand message should speak from the heart rather than the head. Avoid the bloodless clichés of resume writing and instead express real emotion about what you love, or would love, to do.
Please note that your brand message should NOT be the "looking for a job" header that you'd put on a resume (unless you're planning to be a professional job seeker). Instead, your brand message should express the kind of passion and excitement that you plan to bring to the job.
For example, "I am a highly-motivated individual interested in the athletic equipment industry" is weak compared to "I am a huge sports fan and determined to become the best athletic equipment sales rep on the planet."
You apply your brand message to your job search in much the same way corporations apply brand tag lines to increase sales. Whenever there is a question (spoken or unspoken) about who you are, use your brand message to frame the conversation, because it communicates your value (and potential value) to an employer.
Step 4. Create Your Brand Presence
First, go through the social networking pages that you secured in Step 1 and, using your brand message as a touchstone, add meat to your profiles. As you do so, express your job experiences, interests, and aspirations in a way that reinforces your brand message.
Keep your profile sentences short and to the mark. When you describe your job experiences, don't focus on the activities, but on the results of your actions. Where practical in your profile, use terminology from the list you compiled in Step 2, because hiring managers will judge your profile based upon their preconceptions of the type of person they're seeking.
Schawbel suggests that you pay special attention to LinkedIn, since that's where potential employers will look first. However, the less "business oriented sites" are becoming increasingly important in defining both individuals and companies, so your Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ profiles, which should be slightly more personal versions of your LinkedIn profile, need to be just as well crafted. "Your personal brand is a combination of everything about you that's visible on the Web," Schawbel advises.
Spelling and grammatical errors in your profiles make you look careless or ignorant, so unless you're very good at proofing your own work, hire a professional copy editor to review them. Also, make sure your profile photos reinforce your message. Your photo does more than just identify you; it generates a feeling in the prospective employer about who you really are. Since you're a professional, consider hiring a professional photographer and, needless to say, dress professionally for the photo shoot.
Once you've created the basic content, you should continue to keep your brand "alive" by adding content. Most social networking sites include some form of blogging capability, but you create more visibility if you blog using the domain names you purchased in Step 1. It's not worth the effort to build a "corporate style" website. Instead, build your blog with an easy-to-use tool like Wordpress. Such blogs can be powerful online marketing tools, according to John Kremer, author of "1001 Ways to Market Your Books." "If you post daily, even just industry tidbits, your blog can become a destination that constantly raises your visibility," he explains.
Anything that you blog or tweet should strengthen the impression that you have a firm grasp of your target industry and a solid interest in the craft of selling. While hiring managers may not be reading your tweets (although you never know), each tweet influences how your colleagues view your online brand. In today's hyper-connected world, you want the "buzz" about your content to be positive.
None of the above guarantees that you'll get the sales job of your dreams. However, creating an online personal brand will reinforce your job-hunting efforts, as well as create opportunities that you don't yet foresee. Just as important, when you do find that dream job, your online personal brand will help define who you are, and the value you provide, to both your employers and your customers.
BIO: Geoffrey James is a business journalist who, in addition to writing for FINS, writes "Sales Source" on Inc.com, the world's most-visited sales-oriented blog. His newly published book is "Business to Business Selling: Power Words and Strategies from the World's Top Sales Experts." (Prentice Hall, 2011).