How to build a personal brand



By Rajkamal Rao 

Go back to Step 1: Prepare Better. Define Your Brand & Decide What You Want

Your brand is your mark of distinction - a definition of who you are.  We all associate brands with somethings that we like and somethings that we don't.  For example, the moment one mentions a BMW automobile, you assign various attributes to it - it is pricey, it always looks great, it is featured in James Bond movies, it is a symbol of luxury - but the one factor that is universally associated with a BMW automobile is that it's superbly engineered.  It has taken the BMW brand decades to build and nurture this identity.

You are just starting out, so this effort at defining your own brand is critical.   A good framework for building your personal brand is to define yourself across four dimensions:  

  1. Personal competencies - including how prompt you are to class, how well you interact with others, how helpful you are, skills in languages, etc.
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  2. Functional competencies - including how good you are in your core subjects, whether you ar a big-picture person or a detail-oriented individual, how comfortable you are with your final-year project, etc.
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  3. Technical competencies - including how good you are in the use of computers and software development.
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  4. Industry competencies - students tend to be low in this dimension but if you have exposure to a particular industry - say healthcare, because your parents work at a hospital - it is good to write this down.
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Notice that you can use the above framework throughout your career.  And note also that the brands you associate with in your career will help further define who you are.  For most of us, the three most important brand identifiers throughout our careers are:
  1. The colleges you go to - both undergraduate and graduate institutions. 

    People rightly or wrongly will assume that if you get into a good school, you are a person with good abilities; and conversely, if you get into a bad school, you are not quite that accomplished. 

    Luckily or unluckily, the shelf-life of US education is about 5 years.  Unless you graduate from an internationally famous university such as an Ivy League school or one of several renowned institutions such as Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, Caltech, UC Berkeley, University of Chicago or Duke - where the shelf-life and the power of the brand will stay with you for life, the impact of the brand of your school will gradually fade.  [The other exception is if you return to India.  Most Indians do not understand US schools and cannot differentiate between, say, the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois in Chicago. [the former is a world-famous institution, the latter not quite so]]. 

    In other words, five years after you graduate from a US school, not many people will care which school you graduated from - so excessive reliance on school rankings may be meaningless for most students.  For our strong views on this topic, see Step 2: School Rankings Matter Less Than You Think, So Think Different.
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  2. The most important brand identifier for most of us is the list of employers we associate with.  If you work for major multi-national companies throughout your career, this says something about you.  If you work for a majority of time with start-ups, this says something different about you.  If you inherit your family's business and run it, the narrative could be different. 

    So for most of us, employer branding helps define our personal brand more in our professional careers than school branding.
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  3. The last association is your professional network and what you do after you return from the office.  Relationships that you have with professional organizations and associations can greatly help build your personal brand.
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In summary, how you define your personal brand and what you do to nurture it throughout your professional career is an integral element of our seven step approach.  This is why we devote so much time to this topic.

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