Dear Shannon: Can my personal brand land me a sustainability job?

Dear Shannon,

I am looking for a new challenging job in sustainability and I am single, so I am quite flexible about location and sector. I keep hearing about needing a personal brand and am wondering how to create one. Is it like designing a logo or a personal mission statement? How then to market it? Please give me some pointers about how to do this for impact-related careers. And does it apply for dating as well?

-- Alexa, Vancouver, Canada

Dear Alexa,

Well, I can't say that I am an expert on landing the dream guy, but I certainly can help with the dream job. The process for both is very similar. You probably already have a personal brand and don't even know it. As Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, once said: "Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room."

Getting started requires some soul searching. You need to know the following three things:

1. Who you are: The authentic you

2. What you are offering: Your knowledge and skills

3. Who you are targeting: Your audience

Whether it's on LinkedIn or Match.com, you need to do some prep work before launching into writing about yourself for that oh-so-public global audience.

Even if you work within a company, personal branding is crucial to building a presence in your industry. This not only benefits your company, but also you, especially when you start actively job hunting. A great personal brand can lead you to new contacts and new career opportunities, and it creates competitive advantage against the other 100-300 job seekers applying to the same role.

With trends showing that most companies are hiring from within and that 60 percent of jobs are not even posted externally, it is all the more important to build a personal brand, build networks before you need a new job and to grow your reputation based on your knowledge of a particular sustainability issue/topic. According to AudienceBloom, "Many who have a strong personal brand find that recommendations and referrals come from people they don't know personally, but who have read their content."

You may think that if you do your best at work, someone will notice. In many cases, unfortunately, that is not enough. Changes in technology and the economy have created an environment in which you need to differentiate yourself to get ahead -- whether to find a date or a new sustainability job. Actively marketing yourself starts with creating a personal brand.

Self-discovery can be thrilling and scary at the same time. Find a buddy or a facilitator to assist you in unpacking who you are, to help you throw ideas around and test your word choice. Follow this process below and then get writing.

Who you are: the authentic self

It is said that the greatest leadership asset is authenticity. As sustainability practitioners challenge companies to "walk the talk," this concept of authenticity is being used more and more. London-based consultancy Salterbaxter just released its annual Directions Report [PDF] on rules of being authentic and why consistency matters in business. If companies are required to be transparent and authentic, then as an individual you must be, too. 

The most important thing to remember when you start your deep dive is to focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses. "A powerful personal brand has to be authentic, based on your talents, values and the way you serve other people," according to John Purkiss, co-author of Brand You, in The Guardian. These are all positives about you. An authentic and positive personal brand will help people clearly understand who you are, both in person and online.

According to an article by Susan Tardanico in Forbes, leadership guru Warren Bennis said, "If a leader hasn't journeyed inside first to get clear on his or her values, strengths, passion and vision, their lack of authentic grounding will erode trust and undermine their leadership effectiveness." Whether you are aiming to be a leader in your field, to land a new dream job or just find a boyfriend, you need to journey inside first.

What you are offering: your knowledge

Your personal brand is built not only around your strengths but also your knowledge and passions. You can easily leverage these core elements of self into areas of thought leadership -- by turning your expertise and ideas into high-value content. If you write in a way that is engaging and offers tangible value, controversial opinions or useful tips, others will find it interesting to read and your brand will spread.

First identify the issue you are passionate about and become an expert in that area. What about sustainability gets you out of bed in the morning? Is it climate change, human rights, water? For me it is "getting the right people into the right roles to create a more sustainable world." Everything I write about is related to issues such as careers, jobs, sustainability, impact and corporate responsibility. The more niche your focus is, the more valuable you will be to your online following as you build your brand.

Research, write, research, write -- repeat. It takes discipline and organization to stay motivated and develop a blog while you gain followers, but stick with it and eventually you will start to gain traction and a reputation.

Who you are targeting: your audience

How can you sell something without knowing to whom you are selling and what is for sale? It is crucial to define your target audience before taking steps to start to position your authentic-self for a new job. Is your audience agency recruiters, internal hiring managers, others in your sector, university alums, clients, friends?

First think through their profile by researching them on LinkedIn (or Match.com).

-- What sector do they work in?

-- What are their pain points, and what would they likely be willing to pay for in terms of help?

-- What level are they, and how educated are they?

Defining your target audience will get you clearer about what you have to offer because you will see what their backgrounds, interests and knowledge areas are and be able to draw a connection to them. This, of course, applies to dating as well. We can find out so much about people online now -- so do your research!

If you want to target Climate Change Manager level roles in the energy sector, then you can research these types of professionals, follow them on Twitter and find out who else they are connected to on LinkedIn. Get the intel on what skills they have and what paths they took to get where they are in their careers. This will help you to streamline your own strengths, passions and knowledge areas as well as the language you are using in order to build that brand and be relevant to them in the jobs market.

Leverage your knowledge in a blog

Once you have identified your top skills, your issues of interest/expertise and who your audience is, it is time to commit to sharing it all via social media.

To build a following, you will need to write great content on a regular basis that proves and shares your knowledge. You will need a blog that you update regularly (make a schedule for yourself) to attract an active online community and stimulate discussion. Your main goal in creating content is to share knowledge. AudienceBloom notes that "when writers understand this should be the purpose of content generation, great exposure and personal branding is generated naturally."

Following other thought leaders that you want to emulate is a good starting point as well. And read the blogs of your potential competitors (not as relevant for dating, though). You need to know what they are up to and writing about as well. Try to engage your audience in conversation, not just a one-way dump of information or tips. Have your elevator pitch ready, in case Mr. Right (or the right hiring manager) comes knocking. Brush up on your interview skills while you're at it.

Now get out that laptop and start blogging to build your authentic personal brand and then translate it to land that dream job or dream date. I wish you the best of luck with your branding journey.

Lead image by Gonzalo Aragon via Shutterstock