Personal Branding May Not Be What You Think It Is

People are making a career out of that personal branding bandwagon that may have seen better days. There are multiple examples of selling the idea and products associated with personal branding. We have massaged and smithed this buzzword of years ago when somebody first put those words together until we now have a confusing array of ideas about its definition. We will probably debate the myths and mysteries that surround this topic until people get tired of it, or 50,000 miles, whichever comes first. The question is not whether or not it exists, but what do we expect it to do for us.

Your “person” has a brand whether you want it or not. In high school, we judged people by their reputation, and we never grew out of that mindset. Rumors circulating about “that girl” or “that guy” could build them up in the eyes of popularity-seeking classmates or tear them down with harsh judgemental morality. Almost every day we see articles in all forms of media about someone who is judged to be guilty of some offense without considering any of the facts. If the social media rumor mill gets wind of some real or imagined atrocity, people will be shunned, boycotted, and fired from their jobs without a second thought. Most of those commenting or expanding this web of information are parroting information they have heard from someone else, maybe reliable, maybe not, and not from first-hand knowledge. We make these judgments without looking at both sides of the case to support preconceived notions. Political expediency is a bitch!

A negative personal brand can hurt us more than a positive one can help us. The truth is that unconsciously sending out messages based on emotion rather than logic can cause irreparable damage to our image. A favorable brand image will never get us that dream job, but a negative brand can get us barred from consideration. There are proponents of branding as the primary means of making an entry into the job market, but it won’t offset a lack of necessary qualifications. It also falls short of explaining what happens after getting that job and failing because the person they hired is not what they thought they were getting. Daily personal branding on the job is like continually seeking that next level promotion, a better seat at the table, or collaboration with coworkers. In higher mathematics, we would define a person’s brand as not a constant value but more like a variable in your life’s equation.

It is true that what others say about us is crucial. It is also important to realize that your mother’s bumper sticker or your grandfather’s personalized t-shirt is not a valuable reference for a professional setting. It is nice to have the confidence that someone gives us their unconditional support, but most references that count are conditional. There is a reason that employers sometimes ask for personal recommendations for a job application. It is not possible to evaluate someone’s ultimate potential through a simple conversation or an interview situation. The same logic applies daily when our work will be judged as much by what other professionals say about us when we aren’t there as by our actual job performance. Anyone touched by our actions on or off the job can add wanted or unwanted pieces to the puzzle of our brand.

Every individual is in charge of the way others see them. Believing in some priceless value of our brand is probably not as important as understanding that it exists and each person alone is the one that ultimately makes it happen. Yes, others with an agenda can attack with malicious intent, but it will be more challenging to succeed in the long run with that tactic if our actions don’t match the accusations. Vigilance in maintaining that image shouldn’t be an overbearing task as long as we are aware that our efforts do have consequences, both positive and negative. Living by that creed will help us to say “I’m sorry” honestly when we are wrong and “thank you” sincerely when we receive help from someone. The bottom line is merely the interpersonal relationships in our lives and how we manage them.

Technology and the social media frenzy that has grown with it give us a consistent methodology for screwing things up instantly. It is easier than ever to make unerasable mistakes, and there is no eraser powerful enough to do a rapid repair. That “Enter” key on your keyboard can be your worst enemy.