Are you one of those people who immediately cringe when they hear “personal branding?”
Oh yeah, that meaningless, well-worn catchphrase used by influencers and self-help coaches. What’s in it for real people though?
In fact, personal branding is something you should develop and control. Especially when it comes to your professional life.
We’re living in a world where recruiters check your online presence even before they read your resume.
Even if you’re not actively looking for a job, without a solid online persona, you’re missing out on dozens of career opportunities every month.
So, whether you like it or not, you have to brace yourself.
One of the most powerful tools to build, manage, and reinforce your personal brand online is LinkedIn.
And applying some basic techniques of personal branding will help you make a dazzling LinkedIn profile: the kind recruiters bookmark and industry insiders follow—and that gets flooded with great job offers.
How to achieve that?
You will find out reading my interview with Kate Paine, a personal branding consultant, an undisputed LinkedIn guru, and a founder of Standing Out Online. I’m sure you’ll be amazed by some of the insights and tips she shared!
“If you can identify a nugget of your personal story that is also relevant to your professional self, it’s the first step to make your personal brand more interesting.”
Michael Tomaszewski: Let’s start with the most basic question. What is personal branding?
Kate Paine: When people hear about branding in general, they usually associate it with marketing and corporate identity. In these cases, branding is contained in logos and what they represent: the products these companies sell. Personal branding is a bit more of an internal concept. In essence, your personal brand is your reputation, incorporated into your integrity and values.
I often describe personal brand as a way you want someone to feel after they’ve walked out of a conversation with you. When you apply that to your professional life, it’s a sense of who you are, what you do and how you want to be known for it.
What are the ways to communicate or share that personal brand on LinkedIn?
The thing I am the most known for is incorporating a piece of your personal story into your personal, professional brand online. I always say: reflect upon what’s meaningful to you and how it relates to your professional expertise. If you can identify a nugget of your personal story that is also relevant to your professional self, it’s the first step to make your personal brand more interesting.
Here’s an example of how it works. Have a look at the profile of one of my clients, David Blittersdorf and read the first couple of sentences from his summary.
“I’ve been an energy guy my entire life. I built my first wind turbine at the age of 14 with bicycle parts and a light bulb, to generate electricity for my maple sugarhouse. When it worked, I was hooked.”
See? That’s a really good example of how you can use a nugget of your personal story and incorporate it into your professional brand. In his case it’s “How did you get into renewable energy? What made you interested?” And he has a great little story of when he was a teenager.
That’s a lot of what I teach: take that personal story, tie it in with who you are and then you have a really great way to position yourself, to make you, in a way, unforgettable.
Don’t you think it might sound a bit overwhelming to some? A lot of people might say “Right, storytelling is amazing, it’s just that I’m not a storyteller at all. Plus, I have no story to tell.”
What I usually do is similar to what I did with David. I ask people what’s their memorable experience from earlier in life that got them interested in what they’re doing.
Just identifying what that story is and then writing about it in a very short and sweet way is all you need to do at first. And it doesn’t need to be a long, drawn-out story with all the details. Plus, it’s not an onerous thing to identify it. Experiences that happened personally to us are usually the easiest things to write or talk about.
You usually work with executives and entrepreneurs but the last point on this list is for military transitioners. How can they and other career changers use storytelling and build their personal brand? With little to no managerial or corporate experience, it must be hard.
For the sake of this example, let me first talk about the military. During my workshops I always tell them: “The skill sets that you brought to the field can easily be transferable to the civilian world. Think about those skills that you have with a civilian mindset. Think about a mission you were on or an exercise that you were doing. There was a problem to solve. How did you use your expertise to solve that problem?”
This is where it starts to extend to anybody. Remember about this: we’re so good at talking about our “features,” like the skills we have. But we rarely talk about the “benefits” for potential employers that we bring with those skills. Every recruiter or headhunter who’s looking for someone on LinkedIn finds the features of candidates but rarely the outcomes of these features.
You can put yourself a step ahead in the job search if, for instance in your LinkedIn summary, you talk a little bit about who you are, give a snapshot of your story, then segway into pain points typical for your industry and then, the skill sets that you have that can solve those problems. That way, the person reading through your summary will see it as an outcome-based summary versus an all-about-you summary.
When you’re applying for a specific job via LinkedIn, read the job description through a different lens. Read it as if they were saying “we have a problem to solve and we want you to solve it.” Ask yourself how you can use your skills to solve their problems, how you can address their needs.
A lot of people get stuck telling what they can do. That’s what everybody else is doing. If, in turn, you can say “I can do this and here’s how I do it,” you’re giving recruiters even more information than they were hoping to see.
And that’s what can set you apart—everyone else is doing that is a very formulaic way. If you can add a personal story to that, you become memorable.
Apart from optimizing our LinkedIn profiles, what other steps can we take to build our personal brand online?
As I said in the beginning, the personal brand is really an internal, foundational piece. When you’re internally clear on how you want others to perceive you, personal branding comes naturally to you, whether in real life or online.
Now, the only other online platform I can think of in terms of personal branding is Twitter. First of all, if you’re an active Twitter user you can build your “thought leadership” there and position yourself as an expert in your field. But from the standpoint of career advancement, Twitter has another asset: it’s a great listening tool. Even if you don’t want to actively tweet and engage, you can follow other companies and organizations from your field and see what kind of content they’re putting out. That can give you a good background on how you want to talk about yourself as a professional.
Let’s go back to LinkedIn for a while. You have to have an optimized profile, but it will still get you nowhere if you don’t use LinkedIn as a networking tool. And this is problematic: many people don’t have a professional network at all—and don’t even know how to build one. What are your best tips to solve this problem??
As you know, on LinkedIn you can write an article which is essentially a blog post. Even if you work full-time for a company, you can still write articles and attach them to your profile. You can get more traction for these articles if you repurpose them on a platform like Medium or BeBee. The latter is a really nice complimentary tool to LinkedIn. It brands itself as a “personal affinity network,” and it’s very content-rich.
So if you haven’t networked much in person and you don’t really know where to start, certainly you can start showcasing your industry insights through writing articles. 800 words is about the sweet spot. If you can write something on a super-specific, niche topic in your field—do it! It’s going to quickly give you more exposure on all these platforms.
LinkedIn is great for “passive” job search, staying in touch with your network, or keeping up with the industry trends. But what about those of us who are looking for a job now?
A lot of people don’t realize that most headhunters, recruiters, and hiring managers, use a tool called LinkedIn Recruiter: it’s basically LinkedIn on steroids for hiring purposes. Recruiters are using that tool every day, pumping out keywords in LinkedIn search to try and find people like you, in industries that you’re looking to find a job in.
The other thing you can use LinkedIn for is to just reach out. Do some research online to find people in your industry, in your community. Literally, the community where you live. Identify influencers in your field. Then, reach out to them.
Ask for 15 minutes of their time. Let them know that you’re trying to position yourself for certain jobs right now. That you’re looking for an opportunity in a given field. Be clear. And don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. It’s a matter of taking a risk to ask. And if you do it in a professional and respectful manner, most people will be willing to help you.
Another thing is, if there’s someone you admire and you read their blog or follow them online, even if they’re famous experts in your field, you can send them a personal note. Write something along the lines of: “I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of months and I really like the high points you hit on that specific topic. I’d love to connect. And if someday you have some time, I’d love if we could just chat on the phone.”
If you do that, the majority of people will agree and you’ll have a gold opportunity to gain invaluable knowledge about your industry.
Finally—what are the most common and worst LinkedIn mistakes that you’ve seen on people’s profiles?
First of all, not a lot of people realize that they can get a custom URL for their LinkedIn profile. To show that you’re a savvy LinkedIn user, make sure you create a custom URL.
Secondly, if you want to ask people to connect, make sure you send a personal invitation. Don’t just do the automatic “join my LinkedIn network.” The thing is—you wouldn’t walk up to somebody in a room at a conference and go right to “hey, let’s be friends.” You need to be human. I’m still amazed at how many people send unpersonalized LinkedIn network requests.
Finally, a lot of people skip the summary or put in a couple of generic lines, because they just don’t know what to write. You have 2000 characters to use there. And the summary is the most viewed section of a LinkedIn profile. Make it count. Fill it in with your story, talk about the problems you solved and how you solved them: it’s a three-part recipe. If you do that, you’ll already be light years ahead of most LinkedIn users.
I’ve spoken to many recruiters and most of them say that when they receive a job application, they usually go to the applicant’s LinkedIn profile before they even review the resume. They’re actually hoping to find something new, fresh, and interesting there. And it’s way easier (and more fun!) to create an outstanding LinkedIn profile than to write an outstanding resume. And yet, so few professionals do it. So take advantage of that.
For the final word: for a long time people thought that having an optimized LinkedIn profile and a professional online persona were nice-to-haves. Now they’ve become need-to-haves. In this day and age, with everything happening online, your professional digital footprint lives on LinkedIn and pretty much nowhere else. And you need to remember that people expect and want to read longer content there. This is where you can go into detail more than anywhere else.
So, what do you think?
- Have you ever used LinkedIn to apply for jobs? How did it go?
- Do you think you can make storytelling work for you?
- Finally—has your personal story inspired what you now do professionally?
Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear your thoughts.