You got the job—congratulations! But unless you want to remain in an entry-level position long term, don’t relax. Now, you need to brand yourself so you stand out from your coworkers.
Dress the part. Dressing casually and comfortably comes with a price. “Research shows Millennials don’t dress well at work,” says Catherine Kaputa, author of You Are a Brand and the upcoming (March 2016) book Graduate to a Great Career: How Smart Students, New Graduates and Young Professionals Can Launch Brand You. “Employers and recruiters think they dress too casually and don’t fit in.” One of Kaputa’s clients, who dressed in inexpensive blouses and skirts in a culture of stylish suits, watched as her ideas went to meetings without her. A few suits later, she was included in the boardroom and deemed promotion worthy. Beyond being too casual, women face other potential pitfalls. Low necklines, tight outfits, jangly bracelets, overly long hair signal you’re not management material. “Have your own style, but you want to fit in too,” Kaputa says. “You want to dress in a way that fits the company culture or maybe a notch above.”
Be authentic. This is one time when ‘fake it till you make it’ won’t work. “Some people think branding is phony—that you’re just making up something about yourself to get ahead,” Kaputa says. But building your personal brand starts with who you are. So, if you’re not good at math, don’t try to brand yourself as the go-to person for running the numbers. “There’s no point in pretending to be someone you’re not,” says Simon Middleton, author of Brand New You and founder and creative director of The Shackleton Company, which makes banjos, boots, beer, clothing and accessories inspired by polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.
Find your strengths. Build your brand by building on your strengths. Start with a self-evaluation. Think about what you do best, what you’re passionate about and when you receive compliments. Then think of what others, especially your boss, have said about you. “Your yearly review gives you information about how your boss perceives you,” Kaputa says. For more insight, take a friend or coworker out for coffee and ask questions such as ‘When you think of me, what words or phrases come to mind?’
Be distinctive. As you sift through your strengths, look for the ones that make you stand out from the rest. “If there are half a dozen people in your office and one is getting noticed, there’s no point in trying to be like that person,” Middleton says. “You have to be your own person.” Perhaps you’re the gal who can think on her feet. Maybe you’re the guy who is good at strategy or the go-to worker who builds the bridge between a good idea and getting results. Even if you’re good at many tasks, pick one or two where you excel. Think star pitcher—not utility infielder. “In the branding world, a jack-of-all-trades is nowhere,” Kaputa says.
Find your passion. If you need to narrow the field, determine those tasks that awake your passion. That done, it will be easy to be emotionally compelling as Middleton advises. “You have to make an impact on somebody emotionally as well as intellectually or rationally,” he says. “The other person feels compelled to engage with you, hire you, promote you, get you on their team.” If you’re passionate about something, you’ll also find it easier to work hard and impress others.
Find your weaknesses. Although you’re building on your strengths, you don’t want your weaknesses to hold you back. Read your performance review again carefully looking for potential problems you may have missed. Maybe coming in five minutes late once or twice a week has hurt you. Perhaps you come across more abrasive than you intended. Whatever they are, begin addressing those weaknesses.
Be visible. To brand yourself a success, you have to do more than put your nose to the grindstone. You need to be visible within your company, Kaputa says. Go to meetings, volunteer for cross-functional teams and look for other ways to meet more people in your organization. One of Kaputa’s clients set up a weekly brown bag lunch meeting with her team and invited colleagues and senior management to talk about their areas of expertise.
Be able to explain your value. People talk a lot about elevator pitches, a short sound byte that describes who you are and what you do. For Middleton, elevator pitches are a turnoff. “It’s not about making a pitch,” he says. “It’s about opening your heart.” Here’s where casual can be a good thing. As opposed to a canned pitch, develop the confidence to strike up a spontaneous conversation about what you do should you land in the elevator with top management or anyone else. If your speaking skills aren’t top notch, join Toastmasters or take a public speaking class. Kaputa worked with one client who often rode the elevator with her CEO but spent the time talking about the weather. Finally, the woman built up the confidence to engage the man about her work. Her career rose along with the elevator.
Build mentors. Your company may give you one mentor. But don’t stop there. Reach out to other higher ups in the company, Kaputa says. “Say ‘I’m impressed with how you navigated your career and I’d love to hear how you did it,” she says. “Can I get on your calendar for coffee for 15 minutes?”
Strive for excellence. Set excellence as your goal. No matter how small the task, no matter how much you hate it, consider that task the most important thing. “You don’t have to always achieve excellence, but you have to be chasing it all the time—no matter how limited your role,” Middleton says. “If you make that effort and in a consistent way, you can quickly make yourself visible and valuable.”
Be reliable. Do what you say you’re going to do and meet deadlines. It sounds so simple, but many people fail at this. “If you can be the one guy or gal in the office who never lets a person down, no matter what, you are going to be a distinctive brand,” Middleton says.