The idea of a “personal brand” might seem like the purview of celebrities and influencers. But if you’ve spent any time on LinkedIn, you’ll know it’s something anyone can develop with well-crafted posts and engagement.
In recent years, students and young professionals have turned personal branding into a tool for success in competitive, global job markets. A personal brand is about both how you differentiate yourself from others, and about how others perceive you.
How you represent yourself online can have implications for your career prospects. To learn more about how to successfully develop a personal brand, we interviewed those who are doing it well – Generation Z students in their final year of university. We also spoke with recruiters and a career advisor about creating personal brands on LinkedIn.
This article is part of Quarter Life, a series about issues affecting those of us in our twenties and thirties. From the challenges of beginning a career and taking care of our mental health, to the excitement of starting a family, adopting a pet or just making friends as an adult. The articles in this series explore the questions and bring answers as we navigate this turbulent period of life.
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We found that Gen Z values a dynamic, interactive, work-in-progress style of personal brand, rather than one that feels overly curated and fake. They share their ongoing projects, struggles and challenges in the professional world, and ask followers to contribute ideas and give suggestions.
These may not necessarily show them as “perfect” but willing to share imperfections and weaknesses instead. One of the recruiters we interviewed said that this approach makes candidates “stand out from the crowd and makes me stop and look at them rather than just clicking to the next profile”. Here are some tips for creating your own personal brand:
1. Stay up to date
Employers expect young professionals to use platforms like LinkedIn to build an authentic and unique online profile. They use these profiles to evaluate potential hires’ talents and professional skills, but also their fit with company culture. The more current and detailed your profile is, the easier it will be for the right employer to find you. You likely won’t work for the same organisations throughout your career, so it’s important to maintain and refresh your online persona.
One career adviser told us that he was concerned students were “underselling themselves” on LinkedIn by only including mandatory information such as name and current job title. He recommended including specific details about achievements in a role, as well as asking people they have worked with to post endorsements and testimonials, which is something a CV won’t have.
A recruiter noted that some employers are turning to online profiles instead of CVs, because they allow for a more complete view of the applicant’s personal brand.
2. Don’t leave out your weaknesses
When building your online profile, it may feel natural to just include your strengths and successes. But our interviews reveal that taking the risk to showcase your weaknesses and imperfections can pay off.
Posts about challenges and struggles in learning or workplaces show potential employers what makes you unique, and that you are able to self reflect and grow from mistakes. Participants told us that these posts are popular with followers, help generate conversations, and result in stronger personal brands.
One student wrote a LinkedIn post about her writing skills and how she was seeking to improve them. The post attracted hundreds of likes and comments, including advice, encouragement and similar stories from people in her network.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – obsessing about creating a perfect personal brand can lead to procrastination, concerns about being judged or rejected, and may lead to disengagement with the job search overall.
3. Engage with others
A good personal brand isn’t just about your own profile, it also involves engaging with others to show your dedication and interest in the profession. You should initiate conversations, collect thoughts and gather feedback from others in your field. As one student told us:
We’re all developing, and I don’t want to show employers a perfect, yet not ‘me’ image. Instead, I’ll show I’m a constant learner.
One way to do this is, like the student who wrote about improving her writing, to share stories about how you accomplished something or reached a goal. Posts with a strong narrative about the process of success (or failure) can spark discussion and debate, strengthen your personal brand and get the attention of recruiters or employers.
4. Keep your personal life separate
While authenticity can endear you to employers, you should still maintain professionalism. It is important to set clear boundaries between your work and private life, and make good use of privacy settings to maintain your personal brand.
Regular self-monitoring of social media profiles is important to manage your desired online persona. You should carefully tailor the choice of language and writing style on LinkedIn depending on the industry and company where you would like to work.
Your posts on professional sites can be personal, but from a professional context and not something you don’t want recruiters to see – for example, photos that show you partying. You may also want to, as some of our Gen Z participants did, search your name on Google or other social media platforms to see what images and posts appear, and monitor from there.