How to build a personal brand
“You’ve gained quite the reputation for yourself!”, the interviewer remarked, as I sat down in front of the camera, prepping for the video shoot.
“Everyone I’ve talked to seems to have been impressed by your story and how you’ve branded yourself, I’m looking forward to talking to you!”
I was being interviewed for a video about the new University of Florida engineering building, a $300 million, 84,000 square foot state-of-the-art research and educational facility. UF has put a lot of work into this new project over the past few years and was creating a video for its official unveiling ceremony, featuring Herbert Wertheim (a philanthropist, billionaire, and namesake of The Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering), The Dean of the Engineering School, and, for some reason, me.
I am often given opportunities like this, and, although I’m just a 22-year-old dude without the mileage or experience of the dean or Mr. Wertheim, I think there’s one thing that has given me an edge over my peers: a good personal brand.
The perception people have of you, while largely out of your control, is an integral element of success in this world. Being able to showcase your value is a skill that is becoming more and more important since the impetus for many interactions begins with a scroll through your social media feed. Here are a few lessons I have learned that have aided me in building a solid personal brand:
Learn in Public
Everyone has at some point desired to learn a new skill, and, after some quick research, become paralyzed by the discovery of a million experts in their field who are much better than we believe we will ever be. This is the reason why so many people quit new hobbies: it is hard to get a real understanding of the work it takes to improve when all you see is the finished product. While you are going through the journey of becoming a better writer, or singer, or blogger, be open about your journey. Not only will this honest look into the process of your improvement encourage and engage others, but it will also serve as a method of keeping yourself accountable for sticking to your goals.
Listen More Than You Talk
People LOVE talking about themselves. When given the opportunity to talk to those that could offer great insights, take in all that you can and doors will open for you. Last year, I reached out to a product manager at Amazon. On a call that was supposed to be 15 minutes, I got a 2-hour synopsis of his life, how he thought about business, and everything he wished he knew at my age. That same night, he emailed me, thanking me for being a great conversationalist and provided me a list of recommendations on how to improve my resume. Great dividends are paid from being a good listener.
Play the Student Card While You Still Have It
A year or two ago, I was trying to figure out what career path I wanted to take in tech and figured that talking to someone with much more mileage in the field would be a good start. During my research, I found the founder and CTO of a local, newly public tech company and sent him an email expressing my interest in gaining insight from someone like him. He got back to me within a few hours, invited me to the company headquarters, and, despite the busy schedule I’m sure he had as the founder of a 250 person company, took 2 hours out of his day to let me ask him all the questions I had. One of the great joys of success is being able to mentor those who are going through some of the same struggles that you have. Take advantage of your status as a student because it can open doors that would typically be harder to breach later in the course of your career.
Learn to Tell Stories
Humans are intrinsically drawn to stories. One of the tactics that has made my communication both on and offline more captivating is engaging the audience with a narrative. No one wants to be preached to or cajoled, but if your advice, insight, or content is embedded in a tale that captures people’s attention, teaching and keeping people engaged is much easier.
Building your personal brand is an integral skill in the digital age. While becoming competent in a specific skill set is important, I encourage you to learn in public, become a storyteller, and improve your communication skills. These things have paid great dividends for me, and I hope they do the same for you.