Jennifer Holloway is a straight-talking Brit who has the ability to weigh someone up within about half a second of meeting them – as, in fact, we all do. The clues come from an abundance of places, including your facial expression and posture, clothes and accessories, accent and handshake – and Holloway gives her clients an honest appraisal of how she’s perceiving them and, with that, an idea of how others may be perceiving them too.
She’s not being unkind, it’s her job. Holloway is a personal branding specialist (jennifer-holloway.co.uk), and she firmly believes that those who do well in life have mastered the art of putting forward the “best version” of themselves, in order to make them the kind of person that others want to associate with.
“People buy people,” she says, “and what they are actually buying is your personal brand. It might sound a slightly odd concept, but just like companies and products have different brands to appeal to different audiences – Louis Vuitton’s brand is a far cry from WalMart’s – the aim is to quickly give people clues about who you are and what you’re all about, in a professional way, in one tidy package.”
While this might sound like the ultimate kick in the teeth to anyone who was hoping that a grammatically-correct CV and a Top Shop pantsuit was enough to dazzle even the most demanding of business contacts, Holloway asserts that there’s more to your personal brand than meets the eye. While first impressions obviously do count, there are other things that flesh out your personal brand that are even more… personal.
“Things like your values, which represent your moral compass and will be the foundation on which your personal brand is built,” says Holloway. “They’re an important part of any brand and often where people will connect with you at a deeper level – buying into your brand even further.”
So upgrading your personal brand is definitely not about lying through your teeth and trying to be something you’re not; it’s about making the most of what you do have.
“To me,” says Ebru Goksu Yildirim, a personal branding coach based in Dubai (unlockedpotentials.com), “personal branding is a tool of communication and self-awareness. It enables us to know who we are, and what we are capable of doing – and then communicating that consistently out in the world.”
Or, as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos succinctly put it: “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
Adds Yildirim: “Defining who we are and leveraging these qualities, skills and strengths creates opportunities in the business world. A personal brand is the true reflection of who we are – our unique differentiators based on our values, skills and belief-sets.”
To help you understand more about what you stand for – which is the starting point if you want to rethink your personal brand – Yildirim offers the following questions to ponder:
Who are you when you’re at your best?
What are your ‘underside of the iceberg’ values?
What sets you apart from others?
What are your strengths?
What is your personal vision?
Who is your audience and why would they believe in you?
What would ‘Brand You’ look like and what needs to change in order for that to happen?
Jennifer Holloway agrees that there’s a certain amount of soul-searching to be done before you can get through to the real you. But it’s essential to do this if you want to take the next step in the personal branding masterclass: packaging yourself in an appealing way.
“Start by gathering the ingredients,” says Holloway. “Think about who you are and what makes you tick – these are the basic ingredients of your brand. Keep digging until you really find what’s special about you – what is your unique selling point, your USP?”
Holloway’s own list of questions to ask yourself differs slightly from Yildirim’s, but they are in the same ballpark. The six key areas she recommends looking at are your values, your drivers, your reputation, your behaviours, your skills and your image. It’s easy to get bogged down in that last one, especially when the opening salvo of this very article pointed out that people make first impressions very quickly based on what they see. Just try and remember that first impressions these days are very often gleaned from digital representations of you that people see online, such as your LinkedIn profile.
That said, there’s no harm in having a rethink of your appearance, possibly with a view to creating a “look”. It’s probably better if this has more in common with Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada than in Mammia Mia, however.
Once you have worked out exactly what your personal brand should be, the next step is to bring this “new you” to life. And one of the first places to start shouting about what you stand for is on your CV.
“The way to write a good CV has moved on quantum leaps from where it was 20 years ago,” says CV writing expert James Innes (jamesinnes.com). “Today, it’s more like advertising copywriting because competition for jobs is ever greater. What you’re doing on a CV today is creating a personal sales brochure, in a way. You’re trying to sell yourself as a product or service and it needs to be compelling. It has to sell, sell, sell.”
Innes admits that not every client is comfortable with this. Some, he points out, equate self-aggrandisement with arrogance. “My response to them is that in today’s marketplace, you have to oversell yourself,” he says.
The next place to shine is your LinkedIn profile – another area in which Innes has expertise. Once again, he says, the goal is to make as much of the 120 characters in your professional headline (the description of what you actually do) as you can; to sell yourself.
As for the nitty gritty of your career both on your LinkedIn profile and your CV, Innes says that it is important to detail what you have contributed to each organisation you have worked for rather than just writing a list of the jobs you’ve done. The latter is distinctly “old school”. It’s how Charlie Chaplin would have done his CV.
Jennifer Holloway adds that using a good picture on your LinkedIn profile is critical. She actually recommends getting a professional photo taken, possibly teaming up with like-minded friends to save on costs.
Before booking a snapper, put some serious thought into how your appearance might help to convey your personal brand. “If you want your colourful character to come across, then wear bright colours in your photograph,” suggests Holloway. A candid shot of yourself laughing, meanwhile, can inject a sense of fun.
For inspiration, spend half an hour randomly looking at profile shots on LinkedIn and see which ones you’d like to emulate. But don’t miss-sell yourself. If you’re as gloomy as a wet British Monday in real life, then a LinkedIn photo which paints you as a flamboyant raconteur will likely lead to disappointment when a contact finally gets to meet you in the flesh. “They’ll stop trusting you straight away,” says Holloway. “They’ll think, ‘Why did they need to hide who they really are?’”
In fact, having an authentic digital presence is vital, and Holloway argues that even something as innocuous as your out-of-office autoreply message needs to be well thought out if you want to stay on-brand. “The right message will be different for everyone,” she says, “and it’s worth thinking about. If you want to start a conversation and your brand is all about being open and down-to-earth, you might consider a message such as: ‘I’m moving house today, so as much as I’d rather be in the office replying to your email, I’ll be lugging furniture and unpacking boxes.’” It conveys the brand you want and also gives the recipient something to talk to you about upon your return.
On a related note, no one surely needs reminding of how a personal brand can be undermined in a heartbeat by a misplaced Facebook message or Twitter posting. Holloway herself recently waved goodbye to Twitter, in fact, because it wasn’t the best use of her time when her key audiences were on LinkedIn.
Knowing your personal brand and making the most of it can certainly give you a competitive edge, but there’s another side to it, too. Once you’ve worked out what your brand really is, you may finally be able to unravel one of life’s biggest conundrums: specifically, why other people don’t seem to see you the way you think they should.
Ebru Goksu Yildirim explains: “Sometimes we wonder why people get an impression of us that is different from who we really are. Most likely that means that our personal brand is not yet fully defined, owned or we are not communicating it correctly, if at all.”
When there’s a disparity between how we feel and how we appear to others, she says, it causes lack of credibility, confusion and misconception which may eventually lead to a disconnect with others. “And that holds us back from achieving our goals,” she says.
Adds Holloway: “You already have some semblance of a personal brand, whether you like it or not. And while you can’t dictate what kind of opinion people form about you, you can certainly do things that will help them to see your personal brand as you see it, too.”
Knowing your brand will make you more confident about who you are, how you are viewed by others, and it will let the world see in an instant what it is that you have to offer.
“Be honest,” says Holloway. “Find your USPs. And then make the most of them.”