Looking for a new job? You probably keep hearing that you have to “sell yourself”. And if you are like 90% of the job seekers out there, the term makes you uncomfortable, to say the least.

Maybe the idea of selling yourself makes you squirm because it depersonalizes you, making you sound like a company and not an individual; maybe you don’t like the idea because packaging and selling yourself would cramp your real personality; and maybe you shy away simply because you are a naturally modest person who hates to brag.

Branding and Bragging: What’s the difference?

And yet…how will the right people know about your skills and abilities if you don’t sell yourself? There is a way out of the quandary, and it’s called personal branding.

To the uninitiated, the difference between personal branding and just plain bragging is unclear. But there is a big difference between the two, to the extent that someone who would never brag can learn how to brand, and to feel good about it.

We can all tell when we meet a braggart. We get the distinct feeling that his conversation is focused only on impressing us with his accomplishments and personality. We feel almost irrelevant to the conversation, because the braggart shows no interest in us, and seems to be using even the questions he does ask as segues to talk more about himself.  Most of us can identify a braggart within minutes, and then we do our best to politely extricate ourselves from the conversation.

Branding, on the other hand, is a way to help people understand who you are in a deep sense, even when the encounter you have is brief.  If done right, branding will leave your partner in conversation wanting more interaction with you, because they felt you were authentic and were able to quickly get a sense of your personality, without feeling that their own personality was erased in the process.

Developing an authentic brand

To develop a personal brand you need to know who you are, personally and professionally. A good exercise to help you define yourself is to make a list of all the personality traits that define you (such as: caring, independent, detail oriented, idealistic etc.) and another list of the skills define your professional identity (such as manager, teacher, writer, analyst, administrator etc.).

Next, try to narrow the first list down to three items that are most essential to your professional personality, and narrow the second list down to one or two items that most directly express your professional identity. Then, formulate those words into a sentence, which begins, “I am a….”.

Write it down.  For example, you may come up with a sentence like: I am a passionate, independent and caring writer and educator or I am a detail oriented, approachable and service driven project manager.

Read your statement out loud and see if you feel good about it. Does it succinctly state who you are? Are you comfortable with that professional statement as a calling card? If not, keep working at refining your professional statement until you feel that it describes your professional persona to a T.

Storytelling: The best branding technique

Once you have a statement that you feel truly expresses who you are, the trick is to think of ways to get that information across in an authentic and engaging manner.

You can’t really walk up to someone and say, “Hi, I’m a detail oriented, approachable and service driven project manager.” That would be distinctly weird.  (Your professional statement is a great way to open your CV — but that’s for another article).

However, you can think in advance of experiences you have had and professional or personal situations you have faced that directly express your professional statement, and work them into your conversation or interview.  Framing your description of yourself through brief anecdotes is a great way to brand yourself, as it will draw in your audience, will be more memorable than a list of facts or traits, and will comes across as much more human and authentic.

Ask — and then Listen!

People are most likely to feel an affinity with you and remember your conversation if you have shown an interest in them. You can’t fake interest; everyone can smell a phony. Part of authentic branding is interactive, and it means sincerely opening yourself up to learning more about the people you are communicating with.

Also, the more you know about the person you are speaking with, the more you will be able to respond directly to their interests and concerns.  And lastly — authenticity breeds authenticity. If you are sincere and real, you will evoke the same kind of response in your counterpart. And everyone will feel better about the interaction when their most authentic self has been expressed.

Branding is not selling; it is sharing yourself with others. If you are expressing your truest self, through real life situations, and displaying a genuine interest in your counterpart, branding is simply an efficient way of establishing meaningful and memorable communication.