Your Personal Brand and Your Career

Personal Brand & Your Career

Your Personal Brand and Your Career

Personal Branding. It’s a phrase that may make you uneasy. It evokes thoughts of media personalities or perhaps of one now famous semi-politician whose name is mounted in gold letters over the main entrances of hotels worldwide. If you’re naturally skeptical, you’ll blow off the whole concept of personal brand as hype and puffery, certainly not something that should be associated with your resume.

Think again. There’s more to it than that. If you’re planning your career path you should be consciously building a personal brand. If you’re actively seeking new employment or a transition from the military or the federal government, it’s possible that you should be concerned about it. More about that later in the article.

What is Branding, Anyway?

It’s a marketing term that comes from the bad old days of Madison Avenue’s Mad Men. Until not very long ago, branding was something that only large companies did. Traditional branding was targeted at consumers and was intended to accomplish a couple of purposes. First, it established a link between an image, usually a logo, and a product. As an example, think about McDonald’s golden arches and hamburgers. It’s an association that is relevant over a large part of the world.

Mr. Whipple Branding CharminThe second function of branding was to link product attributes to an identifiable campaign. Karl Malden’s American Express commercials in the 70s and 80s created an impression of the safety and reliability of the credit card. “Don’t leave home without it,” he told us, and lots of American travelers followed his instructions. If you grew up in the same time period, you certainly remember Mr. George Whipple and “please don’t squeeze the Charmin.” Procter and Gamble ran those commercials for 21 years.

Traditional branding was marketing hype, plain and simple. David Ogilvy, the famous CEO of the Ogilvy and Mather agency, was candid in his assessment of branding:

David Ogilvy Personal Branding
David Ogilvy

There isn’t any significant difference between the various brands of whiskey, or cigarettes or beer. They are all about the same. And so are the cake mixes and the detergents, and the margarines… The manufacturer who dedicates his advertising to building the most sharply defined personality for his brand will get the largest share of the market at the highest profit.

In other words, the message was of greater value than the product. Traditional branding was all about selling. The goal was to create a lasting impression. “If you can’t be brilliant,” said Ogilvy, “at least be memorable.”

Social Media and Personal Branding

In the days of the Mad Men, branding was expensive big company stuff. Procter and Gamble was among the largest advertisers, spending hundreds of millions in the 1960s. Today, they literally spend billions. Joe the Jobseeker wouldn’t think to go to Ogilvy and Mather for a branding campaign. He could never afford it.

George Takei Personal Branding

The whole concept of branding changed with the advent of the Internet and social media. Anyone could become a celebrity with a viral post. Twitter, and Facebook enabled Kim Kardashian to become a household name and allowed George Takei to give up the Star Trek conventions. Fritz Globe and Stephen Voltz are still making money with chaotic scientific experiments like combining Mentos and Diet Coke.

This kind of personal branding fell right in line with Ogilvy’s thinking. Selling and splash trumped substance. But there were other trends underway – perhaps equal and opposite reactions to the hype. Bloggers in almost every industry became “thought leaders,” and gained trust and reputation. Of more importance, buyer behavior changed. The availability of factual information online made product purchasers less open to selling techniques and salespeople and suspicious of hype.

The idea of branding expanded and shifted in a good way – from a sales proposition to a value proposal. For companies, the term now encompasses all of the aspects of activity that make an impression on potential customers – products, quality, customer relationships, company culture. For individuals, the idea of personal branding is much the same.

In truth, it’s a mix. Branding is still about communication and presentation, but it’s not all hype. Personal branding is about how you present who you really are.

You have a personal brand, whether you like it or not.

If you’re using social media, you have a personal brand. Your LinkedIn Profile, your Tweets, and your Facebook feed are visible. If you don’t think so, just ask the next HR manager you meet. You’ll find out that they use social media to both qualify and disqualify applicants. Unless you’ve been isolated in a Idaho cabin without electricity for the last decade, you can’t create your personal brand from scratch. But, It’s not really about that, anyway.

Shelly Lazarus, David Ogilvy’s successor at Ogilvy and Mather, makes this comment:

I hate it when people talk about personal brand. Those words imply that people need to adopt identities that are artificial and plastic and packaged, when what actually works is authenticity.1

You can’t create a personal brand. It’s who you are. But you can shape and build your personal brand.  Lazarus continues:

What you do need to pay attention to, however, is style —not just what you say, but how you say it. People tell me I smile a lot —but I’m strong.  I express very clear and forceful opinions, but I try to do it nicely.  You don’t have to be mean to be powerful, and you can do anything with charm.

She underscores the comment with an allusion to Ogilvy. “You can be memorable.”

The Practical Side of Personal Branding

You have a personal brand. What will you do with it? Focusing exclusively on “being memorable” is likely to be counter-productive as you shape your personal brand. Personal branding isn’t about establishing a memorable identity on social media. It is about being conscious of how you communicate, how you interact with others, and how you are perceived.

The key idea is that personal branding shouldn’t be hype and self-promotion. Your personal brand should be authentic and convey the value you demonstrate in your daily activities. Ogilvy said, “a good advertisement is one that sells the product without drawing attention to itself.” Your style and the way you communicate are important. You must demonstrate your value without being pretentious.

Your personal brand shows wherever you are present. Certainly, it’s on social media. It’s also expressed in the way others talk about you. It should be carefully phrased in your LinkedIn profile and your resume is the ultimate statement of your personal brand.

How do you strike a balance between authenticity and audacity? How can you be memorable and demonstrate your value without pretense? The questions are important. What marketers call brand image is important to your career. It’s the perception of value that recruiters and decision makers draw from your online presence, your resume, your references, and your personal interactions. It determines whether or not you get an interview or a job offer.

Single Silhouette Personal BrandHow do you craft your personal brand for career success? First, you have to understand it. Here are a few questions to think about:

1. What are you known for? What makes you stand out?

2.  What do people say about you? How do you interact at work?

3. What are your assets? What talents and attributes do you offer?

4. What are you passionate about? Why do you want to go to work each day?

5. What have you accomplished?

Admittedly, this is touchy feely stuff, but the answers define the actual value you bring and the authentic brand image you want to convey.

Building a Personal Brand

You should be concerned about your personal brand. If you’re making a transition to the private sector from the military or from the federal government, you may be facing some preconceived notions about your experience and capability. The way you explain your history and your accomplishments can set the tone for your interviews. The words matter. Each of the questions above can be turned into statements and stories that create a realistic presentation of value that makes you memorable.

1. Known for unique change to tooling that reduced aircraft maintenance turn times by 7%.

2.  Recognized for most efficient and effective team leader two years running.

3.  Thrives on problem-solving challenges and tight deadlines.

You get the picture. The words you use in your resume and your LinkedIn profile help to shape your brand. So does the tone of your social media posts and the impressions you’ve left on the references who will be called before you receive an offer. It’s all part of personal branding for career success.

Should you hire an Agency?

Should you ask for help with your brand image? Should you bring in the hired guns? We’ve concluded that personal branding is really about being authentic. Is it more authentic to present your brand in your own words? Not always. You know how you see yourself, but how clearly do you understand how others see you?

David Ogilvy created the Karl Malden persona for American Express. George Whipple was actually the name of the name of the President of the Benton and Bowles advertising agency. They’re the ones who developed the campaign that made Charmin the number one brand in the US. It’s obvious that the agency marketers had a clear perspective of the market and how it could be reached. They understood how the buyers would see the brand and they contributed significantly to the success of the products.

CareerPro Personal Brand

You might want to think about that when you consider the services available from CareerPro Global. We’re work with clients like you to understand and express an authentic representation of value as you seek the next step in your career. We do understand the market – the attributes that companies and government agencies seek. We can help with the brand analysis – the words you use and the stories you tell to present your abilities and experience. And we can assist with the practical aspects – career coaching for Veterans transitions, LinkedIn Profiles, and of course, corporate and federal resumes.

If you’d like to consider professional assistance with your career plans or a current job search, we hope you’ll get in touch with the master career advisors and writers at CareerPro Global. The initial consultation is free. Call us at 833-684-1520 to get started.


1 Solotar, Joan, The Former CEO of Ogilvy and Mather on Personal Branding, Harvard Business Review, July 2014.


Photo Attribution:

David Ogilvy Photo – Advertising Hall of fame, Copyrighted free use, Wikimedia Commons license.

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