As someone who has read, researched, and written various articles on career advice, I’ve noticed that there is a common lingo that many career advice blogs and websites share. It’s the same lingo you see in corporate management books, the same stuff you hear on TV shows in which talking heads give their own advice to would-be job-seekers. “Personal branding” is one such example of the business nomenclature, and if you really want a job, you better learn to understand and interpret these buzzwords.

At the same time, however, “personal branding” has always struck me as a somewhat vulgar way of describe a human being. Aren’t brands what we affix to objects in grocery store aisles? Aren’t brands for marking cows by searing of their flesh with a molten-hot piece of metal? All I can say is ouch. Personal branding is nonetheless a useful strategy, and here are a few ways to employ the term’s more meaningful concepts, chuck the corporate jargon, and avoid the pitfalls.

1. Your brand is all about who you truly are

Personal branding is a metaphor, nothing more, nothing less. You are a human, not a brand. Be yourself.

The term “personal branding” obviously comes from the marketing strategies that companies used to get people to recognize and value their products and services. This product branding is accomplished using various methods, which have become more complex with the rise of the Internet. But translating product branding directly into personal branding that is, taking the metaphor too seriously runs the risk of you thinking you need to completely transform yourself into a self-marketing machine by whatever means possible. Good personal branding always starts with understanding who you truly are and making that known to the right people.

2. Actions speak louder than words

Presentation is important, but there has to be a man behind the microphone. Doing a Wizard of Oz is the wrong way of approaching personal branding.

Actions, as the saying goes, always speak louder than words. You can have the flashiest presentation, but if you don’t have substantive tasks, actions, and projects you have accomplished, then all the self-promotion in the world isn’t going to get you anywhere. I challenge job-seekers to accomplish, in the real world, tangible goals that help other people, before even starting on personal branding.

3. Make it a team effort

Standing out is important, but standing out by promoting and motivating the work of others is even better.

There is a tendency within many who hew to zealously to personal branding strategies to make it all about ME. When you become too motivated by the self-marketing methods that some personal branding strategies promote, you often do so at the expense of becoming really involved with a team effort by trying too hard to outshine others. But, consider this a true leader is someone who can inspire others to believe in themselves, not just the leader. If you want to develop leadership skills and work with a successful team, you will have to put the philosophy of “standing out” to the side.

4. Know your personal brand channels

Online personal branding doesn’t have to be flashy. Don’t participate in certain things unless it’s genuine.

Of course, personal branding online is highly participatory in nature, and keeping up a blog, and a presence through various social networks like LinkedIn is a sound self-marketing strategy. At the same time, if you don’t have anything to blog about, if it’s not your style, then don’t do it. Keeping a full profile online of your professional activities on LinkedIn is great, but building up a monumental number of connections isn’t noteworthy unless they are genuinely connected to you professionally. It’s the same thing with Facebook. By all means, have plenty of friends, but don’t do it just to promote yourself. Do it because you truly know the people you are “adding” in some capacity.

While this may seem like a wholesale dismissal of personal branding, it isn’t. It is simply an argument against those who take personal branding to an extreme, such that it becomes not only less useful for your career prospects, but it can actually work against you in that it makes you seem like a shallow, narcissistic self-aggrandizer. Don’t fall for personal branding’s dark side. Do it the right way.

Author: Mariana Ashley is a freelance writer forĀ She enjoys strong coffee, a Russian accent and a well groomed moustache.

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