Building your personal brand: a graduate’s guide
In marketing, managing your personal brand could well clinch that job for you. Here's how to do it, with tips from recent graduate and Instagrammer Sophie Olive.
A strong personal brand could even help you get a job.
What do people think when they hear your name? In the same way that companies pay attention to how they appear to the public, you should think about how you present yourself, your work and your interests to the world – together this is your personal brand. In the marketing sector, where a lot of focus is placed on attention-grabbing details, a strong personal brand could even help you get a job.
Yes and no. Following the tips in this article when thinking about your applications, appearance, business card and social media accounts is not a graduate skill in itself. Nevertheless, having a consistent ‘brand’ can help you catch an employer’s eye or stick in their memory. A few extra minutes spent tidying up your CV layout or choosing your interview outfit can make or break that first impression.
Better still, creating your own public-facing brand (such as a blog, vlog or social media account) can count as evidence of your marketing skills and impress employers – especially if you’ve acquired a large following and high engagement rate. Sophie Olive posts marketing and social media tips on her Instagram account @sophieolivemarketing, which she set up in July 2020 after completing a degree in marketing management at the University of Lincoln. She now has over 18,000 followers (as of June 2021) and the Instagram account even helped her secure her job as a digital marketing executive with a small e-commerce business.
‘Once I added my Instagram to my CV and shared a few milestones that I’d hit on my LinkedIn, I had a lot more interest from people wanting to interview me,’ Sophie says. ‘My current boss reached out to me in a LinkedIn message stating that he had come across my profile and seen that I was a recent graduate that might have been interested in a job role they had. We spoke about my Instagram in the interview and what my goals were for it.’
However, building a personal brand doesn’t need to be as impressive as Sophie: it’s something anyone can (and should) do to attract the attention of prospective employers in more subtle ways. Read on for some simple things that you can do in your applications and personal social media to help put forward the best possible image of yourself to recruiters.
Your personal brand goes beyond appearances. It starts with what you do, what you value and what you believe – then everything else follows from this.
- Be yourself. ‘I wasn’t really expecting my Instagram to be about me,’ says Sophie. ‘I made it more about teaching people new things, and then it’s developed a more personal side. My personal brand came naturally so I didn’t have to think about how to portray myself. As long as you’re authentic, your true self will always shine through.’
- Have clear goals. It’s a good idea to talk about your career ambitions in your covering letters or application forms – focus on how the employer you are applying to can help you achieve these goals. Having clear and consistent goals can help to solidify your brand for recruiters. You can also do this through a ‘personal statement’ on your CV or LinkedIn profile, but before you start writing, make sure to have a read of our article weighing up the pros and cons of personal statements.
- Show off your work. Sophie says: ‘Most people leaving uni to find a job have got the same experience as everyone else. Find something that makes your CV stand out. It doesn’t have to be Instagram; it could be a blog or YouTube – just something that not everyone’s done.’ The best way for recruiters to get a sense of your work and your marketing interests is through a portfolio. Consider including links to relevant blogs and social media accounts where you can show off examples of projects you’ve worked on. These could include articles you’ve written, websites you’ve designed or social media campaigns you’ve run (such as promoting an event for a university society – or, like Sophie, growing a following independently). Click here for more pointers on how to promote your work online.
- Don’t neglect your further interests. The extracurricular activities that you choose to include on your CV and applications can also to help paint a complete picture of you – including your interests, the type of work that you want to do and which activities motivate you. Find out more about what to include in the further interests section of your CV here.
How to build your personal brand: make sure your name is remembered
Your name is the first thing employers will notice. It will be in the header of your CV, your address on your covering letter, and in the ‘from’ bar on emails. There are a couple of rules to pay attention to:
- Keep it consistent. A brand name needs to stick. Use the same name for emails, letters or signatures.
- Keep it real. Inventing a brand might sound fun, but using your real name, as Sophie does, will be much more effective. On online services such as Skype (and on social media, if you're using it for job hunting purposes), it's worth using a real photo of yourself instead of an avatar.
- Build on clean foundations. While social networks including LinkedIn and Twitter can help you get jobs, it might be smart to separate business and personal networks by using different accounts.
How to build your personal brand: think about style and tone
You don’t have to be a graphic design master, but a smart image can help. Design includes everything from font and layout to colour and paper.
- Keep it consistent. Use the same font for your CV, covering letter, emails, follow-up letter and business card. Using a consistent colour scheme and font for social media images (with the help of a free tool such as Canva) helps to create a strong brand like Sophie’s.
- Keep it simple. A functional, smart logo or design can help link all of your output, while the same style of writing throughout your networks and documents can help tie all of your work together.
- Tried and tested. Some fonts and even some colours do not translate between operating systems. Stick to black, Arial and Times New Roman for your CV and covering letter. You can get creative in other ways. Keep in mind that employers will often print of CVs in black and white, so make sure that you don't waste time on a design that will be illegible as a physical copy.
How to build your personal brand: adapt your look
In the world of marketing, you have to look sharp at all stages of recruitment. Don’t underestimate the value of your degree, but a good image shows attention to detail. You can find out more about what to wear (and, perhaps more importantly, what not to wear) at interviews by reading our advice on how you can ‘dress for success’.
- Keep it consistent! You don’t have to wear the same suit to every stage of the process, but you should at least be recognisable at the second meeting. Avoid dyeing your hair or getting a new set of piercings until after you’re hired.
- Have a signature. Signatures are a useful trick to help you stick in an employer’s mind. This could be a signature colour, an item or a shape. If you’re going to do this, make sure it links everything they’re going to see, and try not to have too many.
- Tailor it to the audience. It could be the difference between a skinny tie for a modern company and a fat tie for a conservative one. The little touches will reassure employers that you are the right person.
While Sophie’s Instagram account demonstrated knowledge and skills that she could apply to her digital marketing job, she recognises that managing your personal brand is not the same as working to promote your employer’s brand. ‘With my Instagram it’s very much about me, portraying myself as the leader behind the brand, whereas in my job role it’s more about branding the business as a whole,’ she explains. ‘You need to understand your audience to the point of how to word things, what to put in your captions, even emojis; they’re all different between what I do at work and what I do with my Instagram. I’m a lot more informal with my Instagram than I am at work so it’s hard to shift over and remember not to be as informal at work. There’s definitely a lot of difference between a personal brand and an actual business.’