After a year at Baruch College, I’ve heard the term “personal brand” thrown around a lot. Nearly every speaker I’ve seen and professional development event I’ve attended on campus has brought up some form of the idea. It seems to be that personal branding is about establishing an image for oneself that reflects one’s values to the world; a personal aesthetic of sorts. Everything from the way I dress to the way I act should represent my personal brand. Apparently, it’s crucial that I establish a strong personal brand that I can show potential employers so they can determine if I may be a good fit for their organization.
But there are questions here. When do I need to behave in accordance with my brand? What parts of myself and my habits should be incorporated into it? Should I have multiple brands? How intensive should they be?
At all of the events during which the speakers were talking about the personal brand, I am fairly certain I was wearing a suit, usually less jacket and tie. These were events hosted by Baruch in which professionals from a variety of fields were invited to speak about whatever they were speaking about. I was usually the youngest person at the talk, everyone else was also wearing business casual at the least. Why?
Most of society agrees that the person wearing business attire gives off a sense of professionalism, of seriousness. That’s a trait that I wanted to include in my brand and my potential-employer-facing image, so I wore a suit. I want everyone to know I am professional and serious about learning and working. It should be noted that I did not go to these events with plans to meet a potential employer, but you never know, right?
Great. I know that I’m a serious worker and now anyone who sees me and my nice suit will know too. The issue that presents itself is that I do not like wearing suits. I prefer t-shirts and pants. How am I supposed to show the world that I’m a professional if I’m not wearing my suit? Other aspects of my personal brand need to come into play. My can-do attitude, uncomparable intelligence, and impeccable soft skills need to shine. Time to break out the business cards.
If, for whatever reason, I feel the urge to network while wearing my lowly t-shirt and khakis, I’ll strike up a conversation with a stranger that begins with inquiries about them, though all focus points should ultimately come back to me. I need to talk about how professional I am since I can’t show it through my attire. It should be noted that my intelligence is far from uncomparable and my soft skills can be described as “not good” at best.
But what about my friends? I am eighteen years old. Most of my friends are in their early twenties. I don’t think they hang out with me because they like hanging out with a professional and serious worker, it’s more likely they hang out with me for whatever other reasons they have for wanting to hang out with me. Maybe I’m funny. The point is that my outward-facing image changes based on my environment, the biggest factor usually being the people I’m surrounded by.
My attitude at a career fair is one that shows a company rep how focused I am on making gazillions of dollars for their corporation. My attitude in a club on a Saturday night is one that doesn’t really care about showing anything to anyone, it’s one that just wants to laugh and listen to music with friends. Does that make my personal brand a farse? I sure hope not.
I’d argue that the fact I turn my professional attitude on and off from time to time is actually a part of my personal brand. Deciding what topics of conversation and what language is appropriate for a given situation is a continuous and conscious effort, when I want it to be. Decisions like those aren’t on my mind when I’m at ease with friends in a casual setting. However, in a professional one, I’m constantly thinking about the direction in which I can take a conversation to leave a positive impression on the other person. In some ways it seems to me like a mindful and mild form of schizophrenia.
Some could possibly consider this part of my personal brand, these personality shifts, to be misleading or even unethical. I hope that’s not the case; it would reflect poorly on the brand.