5 Ways to Sculpt Your Personal Brand

It’s not easy to build a professional reputation. But a tough economy may make the skill more valuable. 

The job market likely is downshifting. US employers added 528,000 new jobs in July, but only 315,000 in August. As the economy slows down, workers will benefit from standing out in any way they can.

Personal branding, or developing a distinct professional reputation, can be powerful in advancing your career, whether you plan to stay at your company for the foreseeable future or seek employment elsewhere.

Traditional marketing wisdom says that people have to hear a message seven times before it will stick. Since personal branding involves more subtle communication than corporate branding, becoming known for something could take even longer. If you start building a personal brand now, it could be in place when you need it most.

Here are the steps to follow.

Figure out what your personal brand is.

Your brand is what others say about you when you’re not in the room. Sarah E. Williams, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance, recommends you ask yourself questions that help unveil what makes you unique, including: What are you the go-to person for? What falls apart if you’re out of the office? What do peers often ask for your help with? What are three words people would use to describe you?

Then, think through the feedback you receive—directly and indirectly—from your boss, colleagues, and other important people in your life. All of these answers can help you begin to understand what your brand is.

Focus your message.

You may be not only a great problem solver, but also have excellent people skills. Nevertheless, your personal brand will be clearer to others—and more valuable to the organization—if you’re known for doing one thing really well. “You want to figure out ways to get your name floating among peers and leaders at your organization. One way to do that is to be known for one specific skill set that sets you apart,” Williams says.

You can choose one of the things you’re strong in, or try to combine them, if that makes sense. Eventually, whenever someone needs help with that one area, you’ll be the first person they think to call.

Go above and beyond.

Because you can’t exactly run an ad campaign for the thing you want to be known for, you must find opportunities to add value using this skill set, whether in your direct role or through extra projects. To build your reputation on a larger scale, you need to seek visibility outside your role, Williams says. “Taking on a stretch project, leading an initiative, and working cross-functionally are all ways to become known,” she says.

Play the long game.

Keep building awareness consistently over time—and be prepared to be patient. In addition, make sure that what people see, such as your résumé, social-media presence, or LinkedIn profile, matches the image you present face-to-face. It's important that you have a seamless story line so your personal brand really shines through. Try to make sure the three words people would describe you with show up in everything you say, write, and do.

Align your personal brand with the organizational brand.

The relationship between individuals and their employers is critically important in the context of branding. According to research by workplace futurist Marti Konstant, employees’ personal brands are most valuable when they’re an extension of the organizational brand, or when the employer is a direct supporter. “Individuals should be able to stand on the brand ‘shoulders’ of their employers,” she says. “Just as collaborative teams yield a more noticeable and timely result than one person working solo, a personal brand increases in value when combined with the corporate brand.”