Whether it’s in a cover letter, in a job interview, or even on Instagram, you’re always marketing yourself. This week, we dove deep into what it means to have a “personal brand” (and how to find yours) with Allie Jones from creative firm Electric Coffin, who was also a founding member of AMA’s own ad agency Husky Creative back when she was in Foster. With Allie’s help, those daunting questions “Who are you?” and “tell me about yourself!” became just a little less intimidating. We’ve saved some of her advice, insights, and expertise below to help walk you through the steps of discovering your own personal brand.
This workshop recap has been lightly edited for length & clarity.
“As a caveat: building your personal brand means you’ll have to put the hard work in and do goal-setting by yourself. A personal brand is not an overnight thing.
But so you want a job–otherwise you’re very blessed to not need one. The question is, how are you going to project yourself to land that perfect job? You need a personal brand.
People will tell you ‘just be yourself,’ but that’s easier said than done, and it’s not the best advice—on its own. You have to know who you are, be authentic, and be compelling. You have to be able to distill those wonderful qualities about yourself depending on the audience and what they’ll understand.
First things first: you’ll want to start with a ‘Self-Audit.’ If you’re in a tax class, you know about audits, but for those of you who aren’t, it’s basically a 3rd party coming in to take a fresh look at a brand or a company—and you should do it too. Spend some time with yourself and ask yourself who you are, who you’ve been told you are.
What words describe you?
What are you good at?
These two are the base of the pyramid, at the core of who you are. So go to your coffee shop, get your latte, put your headphones in, and lay it all out there.
When you were a little kid, was there something people said about you and stuck with you your whole life? Write it down. Are there things your friends or teachers have noticed about you again and again? Are there trends, things you always gravitate towards?
For me, I was told I was creative, responsible, and smart. While those are all true about me, we can’t stop there because there are a lot of people who are also creative, responsible, smart, or all of the above. Dig deeper.
Take a look and say, what makes these things special, or what is the meat behind it?
What is unique?
What sets you apart?
For example, if I want to say I’m responsible, what are some proof points that show I am responsible? Maybe it’s namedropping some client I’ve worked with or thinking of a certain anecdote, which will give that adjective a little extra oomph behind it. It’ll help differentiate your personal brand from everyone else’s.
What excites you?
What can you talk for hours about?
Your future employer wants someone that’s all the resume qualities they’re looking for, but is also a real person. We’ve all had a group project where someone should have been a perfect member on paper, but it didn’t work out. People are hiring people, not robots. They have to sit next to you 8 hours a day.
Try these steps to get more in touch with your personal brand:
1. Make a “love list”
Think about things you really enjoy, not because it’s a social trend or your friends told you it was cool. I love denim jackets and trashy tv, not because someone told me to, but because it’s part of who I am.
2. Check your social media
I’d encourage you to realize that you already have a bit—or a lot—of a personal brand already out there. What you may see as your Instagram, or how you speak on Twitter, what you reblog on Tumblr, those are all things that resonate with you that you can translate into a brand.
Your Instagram probably doesn’t describe you perfectly, but maybe it has a ton of people, which indicates you’re super outgoing. Maybe it’s full of nature shots and you can realize that’s something you’re really drawn to. Definitely do a little social media sweep as part of your self-audit.
3. Ask Other People
Next, turn to other people, the ones that you can trust to give you honest feedback. You see yourself from the inside out and that can be tough—like, ‘I’m spontaneous but I like nights in too!’ Other people can show you your blind spots.
Sometimes it’s the little things that can make a big difference. It’s funny, but a microwave burrito actually helped me figure out part of my personal brand.
A while ago, I had been at an art gallery event for work, all dressed up with my hair and makeup done, heels on, talking to clients, feeling very fancy. By the end of the night, I was ravenous, so the first thing I did when I got home was go to freezer, pull out a microwave burrito and gracefully slip it onto a plate and into the microwave. As I turned around, I heard laughing and it was my friend at our kitchen table.
“That was the most Allie thing I’ve ever seen,” she said. She explained, “The fact that you’re so dressed up from the fancy dress and eating something a step below Taco Bell is just a perfect snapshot of who you are.”
My feelings were a little hurt, but what it illuminated for me was that I’m a mixture of lowbrow and highbrow, and she really helped me figure that out. It’s important to bring other people into your life who can call things out like this you might not recognize; I don’t know if I would have shaped my personal brand to focus on being that blend of high- and lowbrow if she hadn’t been there in that moment and pointed it out.
That said, you can take or leave the feedback other people give you—just think of it as gathering information.
Finally, you have to think not just about yourself, but also about ‘them.’ ‘Them’ is who sees your personal brand. Who ‘them’ is can depend: it can be someone at a job, an internship, people you want to impress, a recruiter, or even just someone who you want to be your friend.
Your personal brand doesn’t stop with you—the magic comes when you tailor it to whatever “them” you’re seeking, like a target audience.
Do your research. Every internship or job I’ve gotten I really credit to doing a deep dive on the company and tailoring my brand to them. I was able to show them that I was something they needed and they saw that connection.
What does the industry value?
What does the company value?
What culture do they foster?
What kind of person do they want to hire?
Your personal brand will be an intersection—a Venn diagram of you & ‘them.’
Find the overlap of what you are and what they want. Do informational interviews, as many as you can, and you can just ask them, “hey, what kind of person do you hire at your company?” They’ll throw out adjectives and you’ll be able to realize, ‘oh hey, that’s me!’ or ‘this doesn’t sound like a great fit.’
In the end, just play around! Just see what works and what doesn’t—there are no wrong answers."
Thank you so much, Allie!