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Negotiating the minefield of personal branding

August 6, 2013 | Posted at 3:59 pm

Once considered to be the exclusive domain of companies and the retail sector, branding is increasingly being used by individuals to highlight their own skills and attributes and, much like consumer perception of a product, it can resemble a minefield of good intentions and bad ideas.

While personal branding can seem to be linked to the social media revolution, the concept was originally introduced in 1937. In his book “Think and Grow Rich,” Napoleon Hill – widely acknowledged as one of the founders of personal success literature – considered the idea of self-positioning, with the intention being that a person could use themselves as a strategy for advancing their chosen career.

Efficient self-promotion
Over the course of the last twenty years or so, this move towards self-promotion has been seen mainly in the entertainment and sporting arenas, although there have been some notorious business leaders who have attached their name to a product.

With that in mind, job seekers have been keen to embrace the concept of personal branding, especially in terms of how they wish to be portrayed in a professional sense, with the ultimate goal being to stand out in a particular industry or employment sector. The most obvious example of this is widely assumed to be on LinkedIn where, according to the website, 45 million profiles are viewed every day by prospective employers or potential colleagues.

In a recent blog post on the professional social network, Brad Mauney disclosed a number of simple ways that personal branding in the work environment could be transformed from good to great. These included such actions as including a picture on the profile, using industry keywords, volunteering for causes and soliciting endorsements from former colleagues or current co-workers.

According to Mauney, a picture makes it seven times more likely that a profile will be viewed on LinkedIn, while there have been over two billion endorsements given to individuals to date. Naturally, this one website is only a small part of the potential employment marketplace, but with so many companies looking for talent in a variety of physical and virtual locations, job seekers should be making sure that they cover all bases.

Avoiding the banana skins
However, there are also an increasing amount of pitfalls that can come with personal branding. Patrick Sitkins – the author of “Brand Damage – It’s Personal” – believes that the practice is actually limiting the ability of recent graduates to stand out from the crowd, many of whom now feel that they need to have some sort of business identity before they even enter the marketplace.

Writing on, Sitkins stated that the digital marketing firm that he worked for had recently received over 350 applications for positions at the company, with 80 percent of these rejected for what he saw as either a lack of personal branding or badly executed attempts to showcase individuality.

Some of these would seem to be relatively easy to fix. Sitkin noted that a number of resumes were dismissed for unprofessional email addresses, many of which contained elements that indicated a lack of attention to business persona. Professional profile pictures, or lack thereof, were another recurring theme, while failing to follow simple directions such as applying without the requested resume or cover letter also had them crossed off the list.

In terms of social media, having a low number of connections was seen as a distinct disadvantage while making inappropriate or profane statements on non-professional – and easily sourced – social networks also gained a black mark in terms of professional branding. By the same chalk, attempts at being a bit quirky were not seen as a means of opening the door to an interview, while having the writing style of an unknown contact who wants to provide an individual with millions of dollars for doing nothing also rang alarm bells.