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If you teach employment communication and job search strategies as part of the business communication course, personal branding can be a great way to help students understand what they have to offer future employers and how to focus their communication efforts.

Even though personal branding is a hot topic these days, more than a few professionals have probably expressed the sentiment of “I don’t want to be a brand; I just want to be a good employee.” However, like it or not, personal branding affects everyone, in every profession.

The Automobile Analogy

Automobiles offer a great analogy to help students understand the importance and meaning of brand. Volvos, BMWs, and Cadillacs can all get you from Point A to Point B in safety, comfort, and style—but each brand emphasizes some attributes more than others to create a specific image in the minds of potential buyers. Common mental associations for these brands, for instance, are the safety emphasis of Volvo cars, the performance emphasis of BMW, and the luxury emphasis of Cadillac.

Employers think about potential employees in much the same way. Three candidates for a particular job might have all the basic skills required—they can all get an employer from Point A to Point B—but the first might come across as a highly focused technical whiz, the second as a potential business leader, and the third as competent but unmotivated and uninspiring. The impressions an employer forms can help or hurt the job seeker, and they can range from spot-on to wildly inaccurate, so it’s vital for candidates to take control of their brand images.

If You Don’t Brand Yourself, I’ll Do It for You

Even though some people are reluctant to brand themselves or even disdainful of the whole idea, personal branding always takes place. The only question is who is in control. BMW could leave its brand image entirely up to others, letting drivers, mechanics, and journalists decide what “BMW” means. All these parties decide for themselves what “BMW” ultimately means to them, of course, but the company works constantly to shape that mental picture, through everything from its product advertising to the architectural nuances in its dealerships.

Similarly, if job seekers don’t establish a clear brand image for themselves, interviewers and hiring managers will do it for them. A good place for students to start grasping this concept is to realize they have already established a personal brand with their professors, classmates, teammates, and others, based on how they’ve behaved and performed in the past. Now is the time to become more conscious of that brand and to consciously shape it for long-term professional success.

Helping Students Identify and Promote Their Personal Brands

To help students craft their personal brands during the job search, guide them through these four steps:

First, figure out the “story of you.” Simply put, where have you been in life, and where are you going? Every good story has dramatic tension that pulls readers in and makes them wonder what will happen next. Where is your story going next?

Second, clarify your professional “theme.” You want to be seen as something more than just an accountant, a supervisor, a salesperson. What will your brand theme be? Brilliant strategist? Hard-nosed, get-it-done tactician? Technical guru? Problem solver? Creative genius? Inspirational leader?

Third, reach out and connect. Major corporations spread the word about their brands with multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns. You can promote your brand for free or close to it. You can spread your brand message by networking—connecting with like-minded people, sharing information, demonstrating skills and knowledge, and helping others succeed.

Fourth, deliver on your brand’s promise—every time, all the time. When you promote a brand, you make a promise, a promise that whoever buys that brand (as in, hires that employee) will get the benefits you are promoting. All of your planning and communication is of little value if you fail to deliver on the promises that your branding efforts make. Conversely, when you deliver quality results time after time, your talents and your professionalism will speak for you.

Personal Branding Resources

Here are some great resources on personal branding to share with students:
www.personalbrandingblog.com

http://altaeeblog.com
http://blog.brand-yourself.com
www.krishnade.com/blog
http://cuberules.com
www.jibberjobber.com/blog
http://theengagingbrand.typepad.com
http://blog.brand-yourself.com

Do you teach personal branding as part of employment communication? If so, what advice to you have to share with other instructors?