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There’s something in this personal branding stuff

by Fiona Christie on January 20, 2012

Within the world of careers advice and coaching, personal branding is a phrase that has kept coming up in recent months and is a concept that I have had my “eye on” for some time as a framework for  individuals to harness in planning and developing their careers.

One of my colleagues Tim Ward has made it his business to get “under the skin” of personal branding and having witnessed him training a group of students in personal branding and seeing  how engaged the students were, made me realise it was something I wanted to have a deeper understanding of – for my career as well as the students and graduates I work with.

What is personal branding?

“You already have a brand. As Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, once said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room”. The best way to market yourself is to build your brand.”  This is how a recent book “Brand You” sums it up.

The fundamental notion of personal branding is about thinking about yourself as a brand: “Brand You”.  We are all so familiar with brands that this is a concept that it’s easy to engage with – most of us will instantly be able to comment on successful brands and what they represent – e.g., what does the Apple, Nike or BBC brand mean to you. Similarly many celebrities will have a clear brand, e.g., Victoria Beckham, Richard Branson, and Alan Sugar.

Personal branding advocates argue that branding isn’t just for businesses or celebrities and that individuals can use some of the essentials of personal branding to further their career.

The challenge is to be aware of your own brand, manage it and make the most of it.

The definition of personal branding my colleague Tim Ward uses is:  “Your total perceived value, relative to competitors, as viewed by your audience!”

There are four main elements to drill into, in order to understand your brand. I am putting them in no particular order.

  1. Personality
  2. Competencies
  3. Your USP
  4. Personal Appearance

How can you start thinking about your own brand?

There are some key questions individuals can ask themselves.

  1. What are your defining characteristics?
  2. What differentiates you from your peers?
  3. What have been the main achievements of your life so far?
  4. What skills and talents do you have? These should be evident in contributing to your achievements.
  5. What is your purpose in life/work?

No-one said this was easy.

Tactics to help you answer these tough questions

Some would argue that if you are struggling with this it’s a good idea to consider main archetypes and work out which one fits you best and think about how you could include this in your personal brand. Are you a hero, a ruler, a care-giver, a sage etc?

Another tactic is to think about the people you admire, as often what you may admire in others could be qualities/skills that you identify with yourself.

With regard to your purpose it can help to think about how you would spend a £10 million if you had the cash to spend on you, your family and friends and wider Society. This would say a lot about your values.

Still not easy…but interesting

It’s who you know

We’ve heard it so many times – but who you know and are seen to know is important too. Your connections (whether online or in person) can reinforce/support your brand.  Think about the connections that you most value and that could help you build your brand. Remember, helping people you admire can greatly benefit yourself in the longer term. Don’t always think about what others can do for you – think about what you can do for others and then they are more likely to want to help you.

The digital sphere of social networking sites means the chances to make your brand more visible have grown.  How you present yourself in your summary on Linked in or Twitter is a good example of this. Twitter profiles are very brief but will instantly convey to reader what you want to project about yourself.  What do you think of my Twitter blurb… @FCChristie careers consultant, parent, reader, blogger, curious about most things, won’t give up on making the world a better place…my views only

Want to find out more?

There’s a growing range of information on personal branding.  Examples include:

In my view personal branding re-packages the essentials of what careers advisers/consultants have been saying for ages. However, it’s a different approach – an approach that will capture the imagination of many and could really help in that really important area of Career Planning “knowing yourself”. Better start thinking about my own brand now…

Thanks to the following people for sharing some information that helped me write this post.

@cristinacost; @JohnPurkiss; @KingfisherCoach

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Frances Bell January 20, 2012 at 5:23 pm

Very interesting post Fiona and useful for readers.
One question, could you elaborate on what you mean by personal appearance?
Hoping brand is not just for the ‘beautiful people’


Fiona Christie January 20, 2012 at 6:02 pm

Hi Frances, you will have noticed I didn’t say much about appearance. One part of the theory I am uneasy with, to be honest. I am no expert on this. Just an interested interpreter. However, my take is that it’s not about how beautiful you are but just being pragmatic about dress codes, image and thinking about what you want to project about yourself which in career terms is going to vary a lot depending on your industry/role etc. I guess it’s also pragmatic to consider how people may respond to your appearance “first impressions count” and to anticipate this. It could also refer to your not just your physical appearance but your image eg in digital spaces in terms of your professionalism or not. But yes a tricky one. The part of personal branding which I am most sceptical of. As with anything though you can take what aspects of a framework that you like and ignore those you don’t. Would be good to get the view of someone more expert on the framework.


John Purkiss January 21, 2012 at 8:15 am

Hello Frances and Fiona – David Royston-Lee and I have run into this issue a lot over the past six years. Our (shared) view is that it’s best to start on the inside and work outwards, i.e. you discover who you are before you start projecting it via your clothing, what you say, your Web presence etc. That’s why we start with discovering your talents, values, purpose and preferred archetype(s). Everyone has a brand – not just the so-called ‘beautiful people’. :-)

Fiona – the free sample chapter at might help you. It describes how the archetypes can help you communicate what you’re all about to the outside world.


John Purkiss January 20, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Hello Fiona – very interesting blog post! Thank you for including ‘Brand You’. It’s amazing how this subject has developed recently. When David Royston-Lee and I started work on our book just over six years ago, most people had never heard of personal branding.

There’s just one thing I would like to add. While I agree that we all have a personal brand, I see it as a symbol or label, over which we have some control, but not 100%. It’s a shorthand for what someone is really about, which you might describe as their ‘purpose’. Many people find the concept of purpose hard, but find it much easier to identify their ‘mission’, based on the things they can’t stop doing. See

This subject goes deeper still. Having used David’s exercises for some time, as well as many others, it dawned on me that the exercises that work are all based on love – in one way or another. That’s what I’m writing about at the moment at

In the context of personal branding, it’s best to focus on the talents you love to use and the people you love to serve or work with. Your purpose is reflected in what you’d love to do if you had unlimited time and money. People who do what they love are usually inspired. They often have very powerful personal brands which attract people and resources.

I hope this is useful.

Best wishes



Fiona Christie January 20, 2012 at 6:07 pm

Thanks John, I like your point but I worry that for many people “doing what they love” seems a remote possibility for range of reasons eg., economic etc. I also think some people aren’t in touch with what they may “love to do”. You present the ideal but for many they may be content to be only part-way there.


John Purkiss January 21, 2012 at 8:05 am

Thanks Fiona – good point. For most of us, orienting our lives towards love is a huge change. However, once it takes hold, the economic problems usually fade into the background. I’ll reflect on that for the next book.


Cristina Costa January 24, 2012 at 7:51 am

Great Blogpost Fiona!

It really makes me think how important it is to create an “image” of ourselves that reflect who we really are. I think that comes with time and, as it has been pointed out, the more ‘you know yourself’ the better you are able to portray your inner-self to the world…

I must say that having been immersed in online environments as part of my professional interests has helped me develop a more thorough image of myself as I am ‘forced’ to communicate who I am to establish a visible profile in here. Through that process of trying to achieve communication I have discovered myself… if that makes any sense!?

I think developing a ‘Personal Branding’ takes a lot of reflection, inner-knowledge, and practice at communicating better. That’s our main flaw. I speak for myself…! And I don’t think the majority of people have been born with great communication skills, and only few are innate communicators. It’s something that we need to work on, that we develop through the school of practice. The sooner we become aware of that, the sooner we get to develop those skills.

I know the word appearance always causes controversy. It is often associated with an almost uniform view of beauty, etc. I would prefer to use the world ‘style’. The more you know yourself, the easier it is to identify your style and represent your uniqueness through that personalised style. It becomes part of one’s brand. I know a lot of people who have adopted a unique ‘style’ – this can be the way they address an audience and communicate, the way they dress or style their hair, what they do…and ultimately what they have become. They are “they”. I wouldn’t want them to revert to what we would call a “standard appearance” because it wouldn’t match who they are… and that is what fascinates me about them.

This reminds me of two authors:

(1) – Goethe – “Tell me whom you hang out with and I’ll tell you who you are. Shall I know what you do, so will I know what will come of you.”

(2) – Goffman – The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life


Frances Bell January 24, 2012 at 10:47 am

Very interesting comments on appearance and style. It has put me in mind of Naomi Wolf’s ‘The Beauty Myth’ where I think that she said that men in suits were protected by their standard appearance whereas women at work were constantly seesawing between expectations of professionalism and attractiveness and never ‘sure’ of their appearance.


Tim Ward January 24, 2012 at 11:52 am

Great post Fiona!
As stated the word appearance does tend to invoke the wrong image. BUT what I think it refers to or this is how I put it across to students is that the appearance aspect refers to that ‘First impression’.
This could be how we appear on the page of our CV or covering letter or as Christina stated the impression our virtual profiles create or even how well we ‘appear’ on a telephone interview.
Unfortunately appearance always signposts people to physical appearance and yes ‘beauty’! Perhaps the terminology needs to be changed (and I will look at this when developing further work on Personal Branding.
Humans react(unfortunately sometimes) emotionally first and rationally second but appearance (or whatever we start to call that element) will always play a massive part of not just personal Branding but also Emotional Intelligence where self and social awareness is affected by Appearance! Any ideas on a different title rather than Appearance will be gratefully plagiarized!


Salami Amen February 2, 2012 at 8:09 pm

Thanks Fiona for the Blogpost.

This is a comment i am throwing open to all.

I had the opportunity of having my CV checked by Fiona in the University of Salford late last year and the advice of tailoring a unique cover letter.

However, sad to say i still haven’t got myself fixed up on any opening irrespective of the wonderful looking cover letter and tailored CV. My big question would be “what then are employers looking out for?”. I understand the comments on personal branding, however that then becomes imminent when you have been successfully considered to scale through with the first stage in the employment process.

It is unavoidably disheartening when comments that seem really positive on your application ending with the sad tale of “sorry, but you are not successful this time”. Is it just my career part or its something biting deep through all fields.

I also put the question out whenever have a chat with a student life consultant by asking, what measures are taken to provide ‘potential’ employees and entrepreneurs on experiencing actually industry practice? Sometimes i think it would sit easier if the universities intercede on behalf of the students on getting places and in turn would be an advantage to the reputation of not only an institution of learning but perhaps a place where actual professionals and enterprising individuals are groomed.

I was at the Enterprise futures event held in the Media city and was an eye opener and hope such of more events would serve as a life line before we get drowned in the frustration bequethed on “us” by these employers.



Fiona Christie February 2, 2012 at 8:47 pm

Thanks for your comment. Sorry to hear you haven’t found an opportunity yet. What kind of position are you currently looking for? You are always welcome to make contact again and we can endeavour to identify what else you can do or new tactics you can try. We run a Graduate Gateway programme just for graduates – might be something you would like to explore.

Try not to lose heart. Having a beautiful CV and cover letter is only one part of the picture of getting a job. Experience, contacts and networking, flexibility – all come into play as well as a really honest reflection on yourself and your skills, not to mention a really good understanding of what the sector you are looking at requires. What is feasible? You get the drift…

Regarding the role universities take in interceding for students. Within Careers & Employability we advocate for students and graduates with employers all the time which generates job vacancies (including work experience) which we advertise and also secures employers and others to attend events such as Enterprise Futures and our other recruitment events. In Careers & Employability we don’t tend to intercede for individual students but create opportunities for our students to access.

Really glad you enjoyed Enterprise Futures. There is no doubt it’s a challenging time for looking for a job.


Salami Amen February 3, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Thanks Christie for the response.

Well, i am a graphic designer and currently doing an MS.c Design Management.
However due to the increasing competition and failure to secure one, i am gradually shifting my focus to design management as opposed graphic design which was/ is my initial competence, not a good way to loose a potential gem is it?

However, all said, I would come once more into the check again, hopefully by then i have secured a clear direction that makes me more employable.



Job Coaching February 9, 2012 at 2:17 pm

Hi Fiona,

There’s some excellent advice in this post.

With so many candidates applying for available positions, standing out from the pack is more important than ever before. A top notch C.V (tailored specifically to each role) is a great place to start – and this goes and in hand with having a “personal brand”.

Best wishes, Alex.


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