Zooey Deschanel is the quirky musician with the velvety voice. Mindy Kaling is the witty and self-deprecating funny girl. And Miley? As you're reading this, you can probably visualize her signature open mouth and extended tongue.
Each of these young women is a brand. And you should be, too.
If you’re an undergraduate or a young professional, take some time to think about your personal brand. In a few simple steps, you’ll be up and running.
1. Find your niche.
Think about this automotive analogy: Volvo staked out “safety,” BMW claimed “fun to drive,” and Mercedes chose “engineered.” This left Lexus (the last one to the party) with “luxury.”
Seek out your niche by drafting a positioning statement. What distinguishes you from the millions of other young job seekers out there? Write it down, even if it's for your eyes only.
And be careful to avoid clichés. There's nothing unique about saying, “I'm a passionate [insert industry-relevant noun], and I would like to use my strong [insert industry-relevant adjective] skills to change the world.”
Note: Your positioning statement should help guide the development of your brand. It should not appear on your resume. That’s a waste of real estate.
2. Create a mood board.
A mood board is like a visual brainstorm. Think about your niche and gather visuals that strike your fancy and evoke your interests and strengths.
This might include photos, collected objects, patterns, ribbons, postcards or paint chips. Pinterest is a great tool for this, or you can go old-school and use an actual bulletin board.
3. Get a good head shot.
It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or be taken by a professional. In fact, it shouldn’t be a cheesy, green-screen affair. Your head shot should be a professional, yet authentic representation of who you are.
Use the same head shot consistently across all your social media platforms.
On platforms like Twitter, where the profile image appears on others’ feeds, go for the close crop.
It might feel awkward to zoom in so closely on your face, but that’s the only way it will appear recognizable in a feed.
Think "large and in charge."
4. Consider color and typeface.
Here, you want to return to the mood board you compiled. Choose a palette of about five colors and no more than two typefaces, and use them consistently across print and web platforms.
In my course about personal branding, color and typeface each get their own week, so it’s more ground than I can cover in one article. That being said, Smashing Magazine has a great three-part series on color theory, as well as an oldie but goodie on selecting a typeface.
5. Compile a style guide.
Any well-branded organization has a style guide.
This guide lists approved colors, typefaces, logo treatments and imagery. Yours doesn’t need to be anything formal, but committing your color palette, typefaces and photographic style to paper will create a handy reference for you.
This will go a long way in ensuring consistency, which is the lifeblood of any good brand.
6. Steal like an artist.
Well, don’t steal. But, you should get inspired. That is what I tell my students to do when they set out to design their business cards and resumes.
A blank page can be overwhelming. Find examples of business card and resume layouts you like, and go from there.
Side note: At this juncture, I should address the issue of color on a resume. If it’s a straight-laced corporation, and you are applying to the finance department, don't use color. If you’re seeking a creative position within a young and fun startup, a little color won’t hurt.
That being said, never let the design obfuscate the content.
7. Google yourself.
The results that appear when you Google yourself should be uniquely you.
Make sure to check out the “images” tab in Google, as well as the top search results. You shouldn't see a photo of yourself standing in front of a keg with heavy eyelids and a red Solo cup in your hand.
If you have personal social media accounts, they need to be on lockdown. Maintain (somewhat) professional social media profiles, and post content relevant to your niche.
Pro tip: Name any files you upload (at least the ones you want people to find) with your name. Search engines look at file names when indexing results.
So, "kaytappan.jpg" is far better (in terms of SEO) than "Image_4567.jpg."
8. Make your visuals consistent across all platforms, and then focus on one.
Of course, you will bump up against constraints. For example, you cannot alter typefaces and color (with the exception of Twitter) on most social media sites.
But this isn't a deal-breaker.
Don’t get overwhelmed or feel you need to be on every social media platform. Certain platforms lend themselves well to certain content, so pick the one that is best for you.
Then, focus on publishing quality content on that particular platform. Creative types might go with Instagram, while those who want to share industry news might use LinkedIn or Twitter.
Your focus should be on quality, not quantity.
9. Content is king, and it always will be.
When I lecture about personal branding, I often use the analogy that visuals are like wearing a professional and relevant outfit to the interview. It makes a good first impression, but it’s not going to land you the job.
You should spend a hell of a lot more time gaining experience, instead of fretting over your various social media accounts and the typeface on your resume.
At the end of the day, your experience, confidence and ability to articulate yourself are the things that will win you the job.
And killer references don’t hurt, either.