Personal Branding Tips

Will Styler

Here are a few notes about personal branding, and what to consider as you build a brand for your academic and public career. Put simply, a ‘personal brand’ is a conscious effort to represent yourself to others in a particular way, and align your projected public image with a set of goals.

Elements of this may feel ridiculous, disingenuous, or even synthetic/artificial, and you’re not wrong. But authenticity may be a core value for you, and you may not like the ‘professional’ vibe which this is written towards, in which case, you’ll adjust elements of this whole process to reflect that. There is not an inherently right or wrong way to build your brand (although some branding concepts may be wildly unpalatable to some employers), and ‘dismantling the historical trappings of professionalism’ may be a part of your brand.

Elements of a Personal Brand

As you think about the concept of a personal brand, there are several key elements which you’ll want to make clear to anybody who searches for you or examines your public-facing life. You don’t have to answer every question directly, but you need to have an answer for each, and build your image accordingly.

How to communicate your personal brand

Once you’ve chosen your personal brand, you’ll want to operationalize it across the many domains of your life. Put differently, you’ll want to make sure that anything public-facing is reflective of and consistent with your brand. Here are a few things to consider as you do this.

Your Website

It’s a good idea to have a ‘one stop shopping’ place which has all the information that an employer or student or colleague would need, and in 2024, that’s a website.

Your site doesn’t have to be your own domain, but it should be a site you control and can tune and edit easily and regularly. It’s likely wise to consider the perceptual effects of using (e.g.) a university website vs. a github page vs. linguistdude42.myfreewebsitelol.com, and you’ll want to make sure the style of the site matches your branding above.

Consider this to be your Only Official Site, containing authoritative information, and supplanting every other site. As such, it should be updated regularly as things change.

Your site should contain, at the very least…

Your Photograph

It’s not required to have a photograph or headshot on your website, but it’s often a good idea, if nothing else, so folks can say “Oh, I’ve seen this person at talks!” or to let people recognize you when meeting you in public. Having a high-quality, public-facing photograph also provides an easy place for people to ‘grab your photo’ for a guest talk poster, etc.In addition, many sites (e.g. LinkedIn) will require a photo, and many people might not trust a profile with (e.g.) a picture of your cat.

That said, posting a photo of yourself carries operational security risks. Remember that public facial recognition tools are a thing, and once labeled pictures are out there, with a smartphone picture, people could link you back to your identity, or, for folks in stigmatized communities, allowing people to link your professional and personal life. However, you’ll often find that you’ve already lost this privacy (e.g. thanks to a past employer’s newsletter on a website), and as such, there’s no risk of posting another.

Be mindful of the kind of message your picture sends. I am ridiculous, therefore I tend to have a ‘double thumbs up’ gesture such that there’s no confusion as to whether I take myself seriously. Others may have a professional headshot, or a picture of themselves with their family and/or pets, or of them surfing. Each of these choices sends a message, and is a decision you should make consciously.

Finally, please don’t be the person using a picture from 1995, such that people are looking for somebody with a full head of non-gray hair for a job interview.

Curation

Particularly for those of us who grew up on the internet before it was widely known just how archived our online lives would be, it’s common to have a very large ‘digital footprint’, including a lifetime of expressions, some of which might not reflect your current thinking.

So, a part of building your personal brand is ensuring that your online presence is consistent with it. As such, you might consider…

Social Media

Figure out how people in your field use social media, and use accordingly. If yours is a LinkedIn field, use LinkedIn. If Instagram is the norm, do that. Just make sure that your posts and approach are consistent with your brand, and think carefully about the consequences of your speech online, even in venues that you don’t think would be examined by an employer or colleague.

Your Contact Information

First, make sure it’s clear how somebody should contact you. Whether that’s email, phone, LinkedIn, or otherwise, be directive about the best way to get in touch, and then check that regularly.

Be conscious of how your contact information will appear, and there’s a difference between ‘first.last@fastmail.com’ and ‘sk8erboy1985@hotmail.com’. Also ensure that the address is reliable, rather than (e.g.) your old university email which gets deactivated two years after graduation, in the middle of your job search.

Other Expressions of your Brand

Of course, there are other places where you express your brand. This could be in your CV or resume, statements of purpose, letters of recommendation, and even your office decor. Just make sure everything’s on brand for you.

Acknowledgements

This article was written based on my own experience, synthesis of the advice I’ve heard previously, and bits and pieces of small articles. One excellent article which informed my own thoughts is this one https://academicentrepreneur.org/personal-branding-for-the-academic-entrepreneur.