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Employment Outlook

July 30, 2007
Volume 85, Number 31
pp. 252-253

Tips for Building Your Brand Identity

Marketing yourself well is important for early-career chemists

Corinne A. Marasco

In 1997, management guru Tom Peters introduced the concept of "Brand You," an innovative notion that challenged people to think of themselves as the chief executive officer of Me Inc. Just as companies understand the importance of branding to survive and prosper in the new world of work, Peters wrote, "our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You." It may have been novel then; it's a necessity now.

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Having a personal brand will help you survive and thrive in today's dynamic and ultracompetitive workplace, according to William Arruda and Kirsten Dixon, coauthors of the recently released "Career Distinction: Stand Out by Building Your Brand" (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2007). While the concept may sound more appropriate for middle managers and executives, personal branding is essential to your career right from the start. Creating your "brand identity" can help distinguish you from your competition. Having a solid brand will also help you bounce back from any career setbacks that may come your way.

Here are five tips to help you begin the process:

1. Inexperience is no barrier.

You have at most 60 seconds to grab a recruiter's attention. How can your résumé quickly communicate your value? This is one area where job seekers tend to get hung up: figuring out how to write a résumé that sets them apart when they don't have a lot of experience. "Your competition is the people you have gone to school with and others who will be graduating with the same degree," Arruda says. "Think about what you have done in school and in extracurricular activities that will interest hiring managers and distinguish you from your competition."

"The thing that we see all the time is just a list of techniques and nothing specific about a person, so all the r??sum??s look the same," adds David Harwell, assistant director of the American Chemical Society Department of Career Management & Development, which offers career assistance services, such as r??sum?? and interview preparation, to ACS members, national affiliates, and student affiliates.

Arruda suggests asking yourself the following questions to prompt your own brainstorming: Did you work through school to finance your education? Conversely, did you get any scholarships? What electives did you take and why? What projects did you work on? Did you have any internships, volunteer work, or an exceptional academic record? What is in your background that you can use to your advantage?

Harwell advises that when writing about research projects on your résumé, you need to think about why the research was done. What was the goal? What were the outcomes? "That's what the professor thinks about, and the information doesn't seem to get communicated down to the students," he says. "However, it's measurable information that recruiters like to see."

Another exercise is conducting an external assessment. Ask others, such as your professors and peers, what they think are your strengths and differentiating characteristics. "Often it is people on the outside who can give us the greatest input about what makes us stand out," Arruda says.

2. You've been Googled.

In general, job seekers don't consider the importance of Google and other search engines, but they should because an online presence can lead to unexpected opportunities.

"We know companies are using Google to locate job candidates," Harwell says, "but it also works both ways. Job seekers can use Google to research employers they're interested in. They can find out the priorities of the organization, its relative stability, and culture. If a company's employees are blogging about their jobs, good or bad, that's also useful information to know."

On the flip side, if your online presence isn't as flattering as it could be, there are some things you can do to minimize any damage, Arruda says. "If you've created your own 'digital dirt' on a MySpace page, you can remove it, and over time it will disappear from Google's results," he says. "However, if there's digital dirt that comes from somewhere else and you cannot get it removed, then you need to create enough relevant content to push the unflattering content way down in the results."

Harwell agrees: "If you have something on Facebook, MySpace, or some other website, you probably want to clean it up right now. Assume that potential employers might see it."

For more information on this topic, take a look at "We Googled You," which is a case study that appears in the June 2007 issue of the Harvard Business Review in which an executive discovers information about a job candidate through an online search that raises concerns about her qualifications.

3. Connect through blogging.

One component of your online presence could be a blog (C&EN, Jan. 29, page 41), short for "weblog," a chronological online journal of an individual's comments about topics that interest him or her. Corporate recruiters are now searching blogs to uncover job candidates, as well as to find other information that might not surface in a résumé or an interview, such as writing skills.

"Blogs are an excellent platform from which you can promote your personal brand online-to build both visibility and credibility," write Arruda and Dixon in "Career Distinction." "By creating a leading-edge, well-organized blog that is related to your niche or area of expertise, you further differentiate yourself from all those professionals who seem to do what you do."

Blogging can help you in a number of ways. For example, if you've given a paper at a meeting, you can write up a short entry about it along with a link to your PowerPoint presentation. By inviting comments from readers, you can create an interactive community that will help draw more traffic to your blog. Posting fresh content regularly will encourage readers to return. If you contribute to other blogs, be sure to include a link to your blog to boost its visibility.

Blogging is a good way to control your online identity. If you're not careful, though, you may derail any opportunities that might otherwise come your way. Being indiscreet—for example, using foul language or posting negative comments about someone who interviewed you—will likely have negative ramifications. Remember to keep your entries polished, and exercise some common sense about what you publish.

4. Use the Web to your advantage.

There are other things you can do to establish a strong online presence. "Job seekers should take advantage of their technical expertise to create a Web presence that demonstrates their brand value as well as their technological skills," Arruda says.

If you don't have the time to maintain a blog, Arruda suggests creating a website that shows off your expertise or becoming active in an online forum. You can also post reviews of books at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com. Anything you can do that will increase your visibility can result in better search-engine rankings and help recruiters find you.

Arruda also recommends Googling yourself regularly to see what your digital profile is. What comes up in the search results? Do you even show up? If the volume of information isn't high, you've got your work cut out for you.

5. Professional networking is a must.

Networking is an activity that is frequently discussed but seldom done well. Networking goes beyond asking someone for a job; it's making connections with people who can put you in touch with other people who may help you connect with career opportunities. It may surprise you to know that you already have a network.

"Think of all the contacts you have made throughout your entire time at school," Arruda says. "Professors, people you have met during your internships, friends, and so on. Keep in touch with these people to let them know what you're doing and, more important, show genuine interest in their contacts."

Harwell adds: "People always forget about classmates, professors, and alumni, but those are key contacts. They need to remember where their classmates have gone or are going, as well as any contacts their professors may have. Check out what your school's alumni association has to offer, too. Do they have an alumni online community or database you can join? Are there alumni gatherings in your area?"

Arruda suggests joining professional networking sites like LinkedIn.com and ZoomInfo.com and inviting all your contacts to join. The benefit is you can control the content that appears in your profile, which is then indexed to multiple search engines. These sites will help raise your online profile and increase the likelihood that your profile will appear in a search engine's results. And because these are networking sites, not job boards, it shouldn't be an issue if your current boss finds your profile.

Career management is something you should do every day. Creating a brand identity can help establish you as a more compelling professional who brings value to any organization.

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Please send comments and suggestions to Corinne Marasco, c_marasco@acs.org.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society

We want to hear from you!

Send us your comments
  • » How useful did you find this feature?
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  • » What other career management topics would you like to read about in C&EN?
  • Please send comments and suggestions to Corinne Marasco, c_marasco@acs.org

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