Academic Self-Branding

A university’s corporate brand is meticulously created with the aim of making an impact. Its brand defines its essence and then tells that story succinctly via an array of media components that use complimentary language, colors, and images. The end result leaves the audience remembering key words, a look, and a feeling.

A job seeker’s social media presence, cover letter, resume, and interview persona function well if they mirror this approach and work as components of a multi-dimensional personal brand. But unlike when a corporation or university brands itself, most job seekers don’t have a professional staff helping them analyze and develop their personal brand. Here’s what you need to know to create the basis for your personal brand and avoid the pitfalls that may interrupt that seamless package.

Tell Your Story Succinctly
Brainstorming is step one. Decide who you are professionally and where you would like to go in your career. This work is like a backstory for your materials. It informs your brand.

Use this opportunity to do some soul searching. Then start drafting your materials using your backstory as a thesis to develop and organize the materials you generate.

Dr. Richard Orbé-Austin, career coach, psychologist, and partner with Dynamic Transitions Psychological Consulting, has ten years of experience in higher education career services. He summarizes the importance and purpose of self-branding:

“Since there is always a glut of candidates, self-branding enables job seekers to truly stand out, and make a compelling case for their fit and competence. Most hiring managers/committees want a succinct narrative that demonstrates a clear, good match with their job description.”

Your goal here is to be focused, concise, and clear. Know who you are and pursue the opportunities that are in line with your goals.

Develop Your Brand Voice
It used to be considered strategic to include an objective at the top of a resume. Instead, it now behooves you to distill that objective into your brand voice. Your brand voice is an underlying statement that highlights your abilities, experience, and values. It becomes part of your backstory; For example, your brand voice may be tech savvy, collegiate, and management savvy. Once you have established that voice, make sure it echoes through each component of the package you prepare.

If you haven’t built a brand before, this all may sound a bit abstract. Universities tend to brand themselves well, so examine some samples as you think through how you want to build your personal brand. When you see the finished product, you come away with key words and images that emit an overall feeling – a hint of history that breeds confidence, an understanding of what the institution currently offers and why that’s special, and a sense that the institution has the fortitude to continue that work into the future by modernizing the model that has yielded success thus far.

Think about this paradigm as it relates to you as a professional entity. What are the key words that you would like someone to come away with about you – your history, your abilities and skills, and your projected trajectory for growth?

Look at your performance appraisals or other feedback you’ve received from managers, colleagues, or mentors. See what words people use to describe you and your work. When the same words come up repeatedly from those who work closely with you, then they are probably representative words to incorporate into your materials.

Be specific
It’s a misconception that your materials will be more applicable to a wider audience if they are open-ended or non-committal. Dr. Orbé-Austin points out:

“You must avoid being too generic. Sometimes job seekers undersell their value, or discuss very basic skills; for example, ‘I managed administrative functions.’ They must focus on key accomplishments; such as ‘I suggested a new process, which improved efficiency and increased revenue. This means I am an innovative problem solver, who consistently addresses business needs and adds value. The potential employer wants to be emotionally engaged with your narrative, while clearly understanding your potential value.”

Furthering Dr. Orbé-Austin’s example, strong terms like “innovator” and “problem solver” are specific, succinct, and engaging. In his example, they can also be backed up with data. So these terms represent strong word choices.

If you are an entry-level professional, you may not have this kind of track record for professional success. It’s fine to state that you are energetic, eager to learn, or excited to further develop your skills. There are plenty of entry-level positions for those ready to expand their knowledge in a field they are passionate about. If that describes you, then go ahead and state it. Enthusiasm and energy are attractive qualities, especially if you have examples from internships or work-study experiences to support those claims.

Don’t mistakenly assume that leaving your materials vague will inspire those reading them to “fill in the blanks” in a way that benefits you.

Refrain From Exaggerating
While you want to emphasize your skills, you don’t want to exaggerate your experience.
Your aim is to use words that are articulate, active, and representative. The end result also needs to be an authentic package. Being misleading is never a strategic way to start a professional relationship.

Be especially mindful of this if you hire someone to help you prepare your materials. A paid professional may use terms that sound more impressive than is representative of your experience. You don’t need extra spin to turn heads – be authentically yourself.

Revise Each Component of Your Package
Branding is a way of making sure your message “pops” by using a pallet of language in a systematic and uniform way. In order to accomplish this, all the materials have to agree with each other and work together. To be a good brand ambassador you need to give all your materials an overhaul so that each component reflects your brand.

It can be overwhelming to think of all the materials that you have to revise to execute your brand plan, but it’s also a great exercise as you prepare yourself for your job search.

Buy Into Your Own Brand
Use this opportunity to overhaul your self-marketing plan, and you will find that you feel more prepared in each step of the process. The confidence and clarity this yields will help refine and fuel your search.

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