“Please write about your personal brand story.” That was the final question on my summer internship application. Luckily, I had done my research and studied self-marketing. But before this semester, I assumed branding only applied to companies.
Every brand is created with a personality in mind, and companies often use branding as a means to define their audience. For example, Glossier—a popular beauty and skincare brand—represents modern women, whereas Nike stands for passionate and bold athletes. But some brands don’t even need a personality and choose to focus on an association or concept instead. Disney ties itself to magic, and Apple represents innovation. If a brand is powerful enough, their message goes beyond the products they offer.
But what is a brand in relation to a single person? At its core, a brand represents everything someone has to offer, who they are, and what they love to do. A brand is what people say about someone when they are not in the room. Everyone possesses a brand. Personal branding clearly defines the unique and authentic parts of oneself. A person must realize what qualities future employers would find relevant and compelling.
As college students, we must carry good self-marketing skills because of the increasingly competitive job market. Applicants for any job must highlight the aspects of their personalities and experiences that drive them to accomplish their goals.
While developing a personal brand will not guarantee a job after graduation, it can certainly help with the search. I have found that personal branding enhances self-awareness, helps clarify goals, creates visibility in a person’s presence, and offers more control over one’s narrative.
However, very few students think about themselves as a brand because personal branding is a relatively new strategy. By distinguishing who we are, we can make people believe we are remarkable and achieve the opportunities we desire. If we are unsure of what we can offer, how can we convince anyone else to believe in what we do?
I asked Anders Croft, a marketing specialist in Emerson’s Career Services Center, where to begin.
“Start with Instagram,” Croft said. “It is the easiest social media platform to project your values visually. Recruiters now want to have a deeper and authentic look at their applicants. This is usually done by looking through an applicant’s social media posts to make sure they are the right fit for the company.”
Every post highlights an aspect of one’s personality and shapes the personal narrative a person can project to the world. On my Instagram, I love posting photos related to my passion for food and traveling. These interests show recruiters who I am outside of school and work. It may seem easier, or even better to post about who we want to be rather than who we are. However, it is vital that a person’s social media reflects their authentic and truest selves because a false persona online will easily fall apart in an in-person or phone interview.
But this poses another problem—few college students can state exactly who they are as professionals. All of this insight on personal branding made me realize I also had little idea about who I am.
I asked my friends how they would describe my personality, and the underlying theme was that I am loyal, adventurous, honest, passionate, and strong. These became my five core values that act as an outline of who I am. We can see our core values in the brands we want to work for and are attracted to. For example, my dream advertising agency is passionate, honest, and has fun with the work they produce.
My personal branding story was inspired by Professor Thomas Vogel, an Emerson professor and the author of Breakthrough Thinking—A Guide to Creative Thinking and Idea Generation. He told me to look back on the important events in my life and analyze how they affected me. These experiences, he explained, act as touchpoints for one’s passion and the basis for their personality.
I then spoke with Diana Friedman, an art director at Anomaly, a global advertising agency. “Personal branding is a tool to make people remember you,” Friedman said.
And then with Brian Moore, an Emerson alumnus and the creative technology director at Droga5, a creative advertising firm. He told me that “personal brands are created through passion projects.”
Passion projects—creative side projects–allow people to explore a hobby, interest, or topic to gain insight about themselves. This could range from learning Italian to writing a fantasy novel.
If this project seems unique enough, it can gain media attention and be a talking point during a job interview.
The underlying theme in the advice I received from all of my interviews was that the only way to break the mold is by being oneself. Applicants can achieve this by telling a story or fun fact about themselves in their cover letters. Anything that expresses their personality or personal story is helpful because recruiters want to understand their candidate’s brand and how they will represent the company and themselves in a professional setting.
Overall, personal branding is the ongoing process of understanding oneself and establishing an impression in the mind of others. It might seem like a daunting task because personal brands have to come across as authentic to who we are, and align with our core values. However, self-marketing is worth the time and energy because it helps us tell our stories to recruiters. And because many students at Emerson end up pursuing freelance work, this process is even more important. Personal branding and sharing our unique experiences and personalities with people around us can help us stand out in any job market.