Personal Branding Has a Branding Problem

After years of job seekers being bombarded with career advice about personal branding, a lot of people are expressing disgust. A new industry is capitalizing on hatred of personal branding and reassuring job seekers that they don’t have to do anything as tawdry as personal branding.

Personal Branding - Who Are You?

If you Google, “I hate personal branding,” there are dozens of articles bemoaning the shallow, inauthentic, image-obsessed phenomenon that the personal branding movement has become.

When I surveyed my community about their feelings about personal branding, one friend said:

“I’m not a cow. I have no wish to be branded. That term reminds me of everything I hate about business communications.”

Janet Longmore, an editor and retired higher education administrator, says:

“Depending on someone’s age, the idea of branding one’s self could be offensive. To them, it feels like they are being asked to set up a fake persona to get attention (which it is, really) and not as a respectful presentation of their career accomplishments. Branding might seem like cheap candy coating on a career they’ve worked on for years, and they think that if their career history has value in the marketplace, they shouldn’t have to focus so much on shiny wrapping.”

The defenders of personal branding, such as the website BrandYourself, define branding simply as:

“Establishing and promoting what you stand for. Your personal brand is the unique combination of skills and experiences that make you you. Effective personal branding will differentiate you from other professionals in your field.”

Kristen Fife, a tech recruiter in Seattle, often gives personal branding advice to candidates. She explains,

“From a recruiter perspective, I want to know who you are and what you can do. Sometimes the best ways to show these things are to create a portfolio, to start a blog, or to answer questions on LinkedIn or Quora. Those are activities commonly mentioned as part of personal branding and they really do help.”

I have a hunch that the phrase “personal branding” is a big part of the problem with how these activities are perceived. If we called these actions something else, people might be more receptive to this essential part of career management. Other ways to describe the same process are:

– Reputation

– Story

– Image

– Personality

– Marketing

– Identity

– Positioning

Essentially, you can call it what you like but the key aims are to:

  1. Describe what you offer an employer or client.
  2. Provide proof of your skills.
  3. Show some personality to help people know who you are, but not without reflection about the impact of what you reveal.

It is fine to reveal some controversial things if you are using them as a litmus test to screen out employers or clients who wouldn’t want what you offer or enjoy your style. Some decision points on blogs or social media include whether to use profanity, express political or religious opinions, and/or reveal legal drug use in states that allow it.

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