For me, not having a personal brand meant several years of working at jobs I hated. In my previous career, working at large companies, I always felt like I was just a number whose voice didn't matter. I had no influence and my social media network was pathetic.
That all changed four years ago.
I completed an MBA and began to showcase my new skills by developing a powerful online profile using social media and content marketing.
In this day and age, it's not easy to stand out. The Internet has connected people in ways that no one could have predicted. As a result, talent pools for jobs have grown to epic proportions. These days, in order to stand out professionally, you have to work on building your own personal brand that showcases your skills and talents in a way that attracts opportunities.
But how do you grow your personal brand in a meaningful way that will set you apart from the crowd? Start with your profile photo.
Your profile photo is the first thing people see, so you want to be sure you are sending the right message about yourself. Different social media platforms work better with different kinds of photos, so for a professional site like LinkedIn, you want to make sure you are representing yourself in a professional and influential manner.
Your LinkedIn profile photo should be shot from the waist up or with your neck and shoulders in the photo, as this makes you look more likable and competent. Use lighting to highlight your facial features, as flat lighting can make you look less competent.
Smile with your teeth showing and slightly squint your eyes to look more likable. And be sure to dress professionally in a dark suit or all white, so that you look more professional.
There are tools out there where you can upload multiple photos and get reactions from strangers about how likable or influential you look. Check out sites like Photofeeler and PicMonkey to help you gain insight into what might make a great social media profile photo.
Take a look at your bio next.
Again, different sites require different bios. You wouldn't talk about your romantic interests on LinkedIn, but that might be just the ticket on a dating site. For your professional bio, start with the understanding that potential and even current employers are going to be reading this.
According to CareerBuilder, 70% of employers scan a potential new hire's social media sites before hiring, and that practice is becoming more common every day. In fact, many people these days say that a LinkedIn summary is more important than a CV.
Use this section to highlight your greatest achievements and successes, tell a story about who you are, and be sure to talk about your personal hobbies and interests.
You can even use video to showcase who you are as a person on your professional social media sites -- it can help remove bias based on your static images.
Your personal brand can affect all areas of your life.
Aside from making a good first impression when looking for a job or even dating, your personal brand can influence how others interact with you in a multitude of situations.
We've all heard how attractive people get out of speeding tickets just by virtue of being attractive, but creating a good first impression can also get you out of legal trouble in the courts, it can sway election results if you run for office, and it can influence your professional evaluations.
How you present yourself to the world matters.
For me, investing in my personal brand enabled me to make a pivotal career change. I was able to move away from a dead-end career in the corporate world into owning a social media marketing agency and writing for a variety of publications.
Always remember that snap judgements regarding your online profile happen often.
Most people only look at a profile for a few seconds to a few minutes. Make sure yours stands out and leaves the impression you want it to.