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Defining Your Personal Brand | How to Hack Your Next Job Search

As an executive, you are not confined to your resume, nor defined by your job. Rather, you are a brand.
H. Michael Burgett
Contributing Writer

When we consider companies and their specific positioning in the marketplace, we often think of Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Tesla, Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Nike, and Disney as examples of organizations who have purposely worked and continue to shape both the internal and external impression of their corporate brands.

Some folks may love one brand and detest another – but no one can argue that these companies have benefited from a carefully crafted persona that resonates with their targeted consumer segments.

The idea of branding absolutely applies to each of us individually. As professionals seeking to further our chosen career path, it is important to understand how we are perceived and how best to position our capabilities for future opportunity.

Whether you are an executive currently seeking your next opportunity or one looking for mobility within your current organization, one must consider their own personal brand and work to align that brand toward the overall marketplace.  Even if you haven’t considered developing your own personal brand, your actual brand already exists and we each will benefit as we come to understand our current positioning and as a result start to shape and own our unique brand.

Your Brand Already Exists

As an executive recruiter and career coach, I am often introduced to individuals and prior to a discussion, I will review their resume and professional network profiles. 

Often, that includes ct a comprehensive review of their digital footprint—LinkedIn profiles, resumes, articles they’ve written or been mentioned in, speaking engagements, videos, and even their activity on various social media platforms.

Whether we like it or not, this digital footprint forms an immediate impression, serving as a virtual handshake that introduces your personal brand to the world. It’s a snapshot of who you are professionally and, to some extent, personally. And it happens before you even get a chance to articulate yourself in a conversation.

This underscores the critical importance of being intentional about your personal brand. Every tweet you post, every article you publish, and even the way you interact in professional networks contributes to the narrative about who you are. If you’re not careful, you could inadvertently let external factors shape this narrative for you, leaving you at the mercy of public perception.

So, how can you take control? A practical exercise to gauge your current personal brand is to invite someone who will be brutally honest with you—a friend, a co-worker, or a family member—to review your digital presence. Ask them questions like: “Based on what you see, what do you think I do for a living?” “What skills or expertise do you think I have?” “Do you get a sense of my personality from my online profiles?” Their answers can provide invaluable insights into how you’re currently perceived and where you might need to make adjustments.

Without this intentional discovery, we are at the mercy of our brand being shaped by other external factors.

Discovering Your Personal Brand

Awareness of who we are, our strengths, weaknesses, capabilities, and expertise are an important first step in aligning our online profiles, personal marketing documents, and other mediums to match the branding that we want to represent. 

But what if I do not know the branding that I want to exhibit within the marketplace?

As a reader of my articles in The National CIO Review, you may already be aware of my recommendation for every professional to create a Project or Professional Portfolio. As a recap, a Project Portfolio is a one-page document, that looks nothing like your resume. In building this document, one should write 8 – 10 bulleted narratives, 3 – 4 sentences each, where you speak to specific projects, accomplishments, transformations, or implementation successes across your career. 

In writing these narratives one should not mention the specific company for whom you performed this work. And in most cases, it is best not to mention the specific industry, unless of course you want to brand yourself specifically in that industry. For more on the project portfolio process and how it can be used in a job search, visit Rethink the Resume | How to Hack Your Next Job Search.

For one it is a great to have a project portfolio in your marketing collateral, but it can also serve as a means of discovery of the key defining moments and accomplishments that you have achieved during your career progression. And with proper presentation these defining moments can serve to further establish your personal brand.

Let say for example you joined a company at a certain stage of growth and during your leadership the organization grew 5X, or 10X.  In this particular narrative, you would describe the elements of your leadership, your performance, that allowed for this growth. How you managed your organization, what steps you took to keep pace, how you had to modify, build your team, how you led during this period, and what results were accomplished against all odds are important considerations.

Clearly, someone who reads this narrative may see your personal branding as a transformational leader who has the ability to scale an organization, during a stage of chaos, and normalize performance as the organization grew.

Perhaps you have a demonstrated track record of continual learning? Let’s for example consider that you are constantly seeking new learning, network strongly with your peers outside your organization to obtain knowledge on emerging trends, that you regularly participate in associations and share your expertise as a thought leader. Well, if that is a part of who you are – it would definitely represent a marketable element of your personal brand.

We could share many examples that would make great narratives in your Project Portfolio. However, the key point here is to begin a method of discovery on what you have accomplished throughout your career and look for common themes. Being able to share these narratives, explaining the commonality of your persona, can begin to shape how others receive your personal brand.

Fill the Gap

Let’s consider that in discovering your personal brand and working through the exercise of determining what may be marketable in your background, you determine that there are elements of branding that you want to have, but you have yet to obtain relevant experience in that area.

Understanding who you are but more so in who you want to be is an important element of personal branding.

I once knew a technology executive that was the CIO for a mid-size organization whose company was located in a smaller market. She had been in their role for quite some time and her branding as a result was quite skewed to that company, industry, and geographical location. In short, she felt somewhat stuck in their current role, and opportunities both internal and external were limited. What was interesting is that this executive had a bit of experience in the emerging security sector and it was something of high interest in their career path.

So what did this forward thinking individual do?

They began to educate themselves further on the topic of information security, applying many of those principles into their current organization. Next this leader began writing articles on the topic, speaking at conferences, and began building their brand as a thought leader in this field.

Fast forward and this leader was able to pivot their career and is now considered more of a CISO (Chief Information Security Officer) than generalist technology leader and is seen as an expert and thought leader in the field of information security. Needless to say this individual was able to transition into a security technology leadership role in a much larger organization, in a much larger market.

Regardless of the gap that you want to fill in your personal branding, it can be done.

Showcase Your Personal Brand

Once you’ve embarked on the journey of crafting an authentic and defensible personal brand, understand that this is a continuous endeavor that evolves throughout your career. Consistency is key; make sure that the elements of your brand are harmoniously reflected across all your social and professional platforms. This alignment not only reinforces your brand but also positions you as a thought leader, attracting those interested in your area of expertise.

Your resume and other personal marketing materials should be meticulously curated to reflect the persona you’ve built. They should highlight experiences and achievements that resonate with your brand, thereby creating a cohesive narrative about who you are and what you stand for.

But don’t stop there. Take your brand beyond the digital realm. Speaking engagements at industry conferences and contributions to trade publications are excellent avenues for further establishing your expertise. These platforms allow you to share valuable insights and knowledge, thereby enhancing your brand’s credibility. Moreover, these activities not only elevate your standing in the broader professional community but also underscore the value you bring to your current organization.

It’s Not Too Late

Too often I hear from leaders that are in transition, attempting to find their next role, express regret on having not devoted the time to shape the external view of how they might be viewed in the professional marketplace. Whether we are currently employed or actively seeking our next opportunity we must devote the time to continually assess, build, and showcase what we bring to the table as executives and thought leaders.

Branding can be difficult and at times seem self-serving. However, it is up to each of us individually to continually build on and reinforce this brand that we have chosen and want to see represented.

The time spent to thoughtfully consider one’s brand is an investment that will pay dividends as we progress through our professional career and chosen endeavor. Without intentional commitment, our brand will be defined for us.

This is the eighth in a series of articles for my upcoming book, “How to Hack Your Next Job Search”. For my readers, I will be sharing insight, observations, and specific coaching on how best to conduct a job search. These strategies are simple, yet diverge greatly from most traditional approaches. It is my goal to share a proven process and cultivate a mindset that will elevate you into the top 5% of job seekers in any particular market or industry.

I. Deciding to Take Action | How to Hack Your Next Job Search

II. Approaching Your Search Like a New Job | How to Hack Your Next Job Search

III. Begin With Realistic Expectations | How to Hack Your Next Job Search

IV. Rethink the Resume | How to Hack Your Next Job Search

V. Uncovering Hidden Job Opportunities | How to Hack Your Next Job Search

VI. Addressing Gaps in Employment | How to Hack Your Next Job Search

VII. Ace the Interview | How to Hack Your Next Job Search

VIII. Defining Your Personal Brand | How to Hack Your Next Job Search

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