It’s confession time: Until very recently, I was not a fan of the whole ‘personal brand’ thing. (You know, where you think of yourself as if you were a brand, like Telstra or Qantas, and you see your career as a marketing exercise.) It seemed a bit phony to me, and well, just a bit tacky. Like an endless selfie…

I still believe caution is required, but I have come around to thinking it’s actually an excellent way to get yourself ready for finding a new job, or to freshen up your image – a bit like doing a ‘brand audit’.

One of the main triggers for my change of heart was working with the lovely Scarlett Vespa, of Bright Star Creation in Sydney.

Vespa says everyone has a personal brand, like it or not. ‘You know, you wear it, you express it, you talk it; it’s there all the time. Personal branding is literally your image, how you relate. Ultimately, it’s how you emotionally connect and how people emotionally connect with you.’

Vespa’s ‘Brand You’ process is in four parts:

1. Values and beliefs: This is about acknowledging your values and beliefs.

2. Practical skills: What can you do that people will pay money for? Vespa emphasises that you should think outside the box here, and really dig down to find those transportable skills. You need to work with what’s true, so for example, if you have no tertiary education, stress that you are a hard worker and a fast learner.

3. Physical appearance: Relax, we are not talking about plastic surgery, weight loss or even 6am gym classes. This area involves authenticity and self-acceptance first, then making the most of yourself with a great haircut, stylish clothes, accessories and a big smile. I tend to tell my clients that it’s your skills that matter more than the colour of your tie, but there’s no doubt that first impressions are critical, too. As Vespa says, ‘in an environment where people wear very casual clothes, someone may go “Look, clothing’s not important to me, it’s all about my talent”. But what that can communicate to others is that “I don’t care about myself and how I look, therefore I’m not going to care about my clients and how they look”.

At the end of the day, you will be selected for a job based on deeper qualities than nail polish choice (unless of course you are going for a job as a cosmetics salesperson..). But unless you pay attention to first impressions, you may never get to the final short list.

4. Emotional disposition:  Are you fearful or confident? A risk-taker, or more cautious? Are you a ‘yes’ person or more opinionated? If there are aspects of you that do not fit with your brand, and are hindering your career, think about how you can become more positive. For example, if you think of yourself as a ‘yes’ person, could you start to reframe that towards being positive and flexible; if you are fearful, could that be re-cast as being aware of challenges and ready to meet them? And if you don’t trust easily, it is likely you are also very responsible, which is a much more attractive. This can be a difficult area to work on by yourself, so you may wish to seek help from a coach or counselor, or a trusted friend.

This personal brand stuff isn’t not rocket science, but it can make a huge difference to how consistent and memorable you are when you meet new people. A final warning: Authenticity is vital in creating your personal brand, and most people can smell a fake a mile off. Even if you could fool an interviewer, say, remember that you then have to act out that persona every day on the job. Make sure it’s someone you’re happy to live with!

Joanna Maxwell


Signup to have my occasional newsletters delivered to your inbox