Personal Branding: Blending In to Stand Out

On a trip to the mall, I saw two young ladies who obviously had coordinated their wardrobes that morning. That fact was rather apparent due to their blindingly white knee-high leather boots and matching white leather purses. They did make a bit of a statement there. It got me thinking about personal branding, job hunting, and the talk about “standing out from the crowd.”

On his Facebook page, personal branding authority Dan Schawbel recently said, “Personal branding is a process by which you uncover what makes you special, relative to everyone else who is competing for the same opportunities, and then communicate that to the right audience.” I generally agree with this definition, but there’s one concern I have with it. For many people, I think the tendency is to assume this means that you have to be the lone person with a distinctive message to stand out.

But if everyone is trying to promote their brand by emphasizing what makes them extraordinary, wouldn’t the efforts just get lost in a sea of uniqueness? As an observer, there would be so many different things attempting to catch your eye that it would become a blurry mess. It becomes nearly impossible to focus on any one thing when there’s too much that is different.

What if a better tactic to stand out would be to draw attention to the features you have that you share with someone else?

Say, for example, that you are applying for a position with a company you would love to work for, and you know someone with a well-established reputation who is employed there. Instead of making yourself completely different, work to craft a cover letter, and résumé that would embody some traits that you share with the person you know. In an interview, highlight your experiences and results that are similar to him/her. In doing so, you become more of a known commodity, someone they can see as part of their team because they already have another person with those attributes in-house.

Should you get so focused on emphasizing the characteristics you share with your acquaintance that you put your qualities on the back burner? Absolutely not. The goal here is not to become a clone of the other person, but to show shared strengths. Instead, mix in some of your aspects that complement the joint traits. This gives your interviewer a snapshot of how you could mesh with the team and enhance its activities with your unique talents.

Another word of caution: make sure that the attributes you are promoting are truly ones that are a part of who you are. With the two girls I spoke of in the beginning of my post, I thought they were trying a bit too hard to match. It went beyond the accessories; the one mirrored the walk, mannerisms, etc. of the other so closely that it appeared contrived. Pretending to be like someone else simply to gain an advantage is not authentic and will backfire.

With a job, interviewers are able to pick up on the deception much of the time and you won’t get past the initial screen. But if you do somehow manage to make it through the interview process and are hired, you then face the challenge of behaving in that manner all day, every day. And really, you can only keep up that façade for so long. A better option is to just avoid all of this by keeping it real.

So when you apply for your next job, don’t just look for ways to completely differentiate yourself to get noticed. See how you can stand out by authentically blending in with the company’s crowd a little.

Melissa Cooley is a career consultant at The Job Quest. She is a diligent blogger, very active on Twitter (@TheJobQuest), and always happy to hear from job seekers and career advancers anywhere in the world.

Related: How Personal Branding is Just Like Riding a Bike.

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