Two million people will graduate from college with bachelor degrees this year. That’s two million people with essentially the same qualifications all entering the workforce and competing for a fraction of the number of jobs. They all come in with varying levels of academic prestige, relevant internship and industry experience, and buffed up LinkedIn profiles, but what really separates a good one from the rest is a personal brand.
Think of when you’re shopping for pain relief medication. The drug store has two options: Advil and generic ibuprofen. Despite the obvious difference in price, you instinctively reach for the Advil. At some point in your consumer lifespan you’ve probably looked at the ingredients on the bottle, so you know they’re practically identical. So why choose the more expensive option if they’re the same? The answer is simple and it’s what’s been driving the growth of advertising over the years to unprecedented levels – consumers crave brands.
In the myriad of options at grocery, drug, and retail stores, we find comfort in the logo of the laundry detergent our moms used when we were kids, peace of mind in purchasing tires from a brand that has a proven track record of reliability for over 45 years, and security in buying the same bottle of cold medicine for our children that we know has worked for every cold in our family for decades. As consumers we crave authenticity, recognizability, and reliability.
All of that comes from a clear, poignant brand that demands attention away from unbranded products. In the same way, we can use personal brands to distinguish ourselves as individuals with unique abilities within a company, from other candidates for a job we’re interviewing for, or even from leading experts in our industry. By establishing a personal brand grounded in authenticity, recognizability, and reliability, we create the most steadfast connection possible between two people – trust.
So how do you go about creating a personal brand? Here’s my story of how personal brand played a role in a former athlete’s collegiate career and the journey to landing at one of Southern California’s leading advertising agencies.
I ended my high school swimming career with bilateral shoulder surgery, essentially stripping me of the only identity I had ever known. At UCSB, I was no longer the athlete; instead, I was the freshman, the undergrad, and one of many who were fearful of graduating.
After landing a job working in PR for UCSB’s Division I sports teams, I thought I had figured it all out. I was destined for a career at ESPN. As I began adding experience and researching my dream job, a professor and mentor stopped me in my tracks with the challenge of looking at not only the career that came with working in the sports industry, but also the lifestyle. I realized my dream was only that – a dream. And without a core identity and a set of values to arm myself in the post-grad working world, I would fall flat on my face, joining the millions of unemployed graduates across the country. What I needed more than anything at this point was a personal brand.
I began by harnessing the power of my body. I could no longer compete in sports, so what was I doing to empower my body and feel strong again? I started by trying new forms of exercise that challenged my mind almost as much as my body. I found new ways to be strong and compete without engaging in the same practices that sent me to the OR.
Next, I harnessed the strength of my mind. I dug deep to identify what interested me, what inspired me, and what motivated me. I approached new curriculum at school and engaged in two additional minors. I identified military veterans and elite athletes as people and issues that were close to my heart. I tried internships, odd jobs, unorthodox classes to see what ignited my drive most.
Lastly, I harnessed the areas of passion I had in work. I made two lists – one listed the things I loved doing, the other listed the things that made money. I knew I loved creating, strategy, research, sports, mass media, writing, and connecting. The intersection of these passions that would eventually call out to me was advertising.
But underlying all of these personal explorations was one major theme that would come to be the core of my personal brand.
I felt empowered to join those who had embraced the power of their personal brand in their post-grad job hunt. I felt empowered by my resume and what I could bring to the table for an employer. But even more importantly, I felt empowered to empower those around me.
I wanted to empower military veterans to successfully reintegrate into marriages, families, and society. I wanted to empower elite athletes to seek resources not only for physical health but psychological wellbeing. I wanted to empower members of my generation to not be afraid of “adulting” and use the incredible tools at their disposal to find jobs and contribute to the changing face of the workforce.
And what I started to notice with this brand was that it was making me a Coca Cola in a room full of Safeway Colas. It took the haze of “detail-oriented, results-driven, team players” and cleared it for employers to see an employee who was strong, resilient, hard-working, resourceful, curious, self-motivated, inspirational, and empowering to herself and others. It got me to Amusement Park.
At the micro level, the personal brand can get you a job interview, better relationships with coworkers and supervisors, and a clear sense of identity and values. But at the macro level, you can use a personal brand to distinguish yourself from other craftsmen in your trade, from other companies reaching for your consumer, and, in the advertising world, from other brands vying for your target audience’s attention.
There’s a reason 30-second spots in the Super Bowl cost more than $4 million now. Brands have never been more important in impacting a consumer’s decision, and companies see the value of communicating their brand to as many people as possible.
So study your Coca Cola bottles and your Advil boxes. A personal brand might just be what takes you to the next step of your professional career.