I learned this the hard way seven years ago when I began job hunting.
In college, I had a little too much fun, and my online pics proved it. It wasn’t until I realized that hiring managers were googling me that I learned I had a poor online reputation. So, I frantically went into overdrive to clean it up. Once I did, I started landing jobs left and right.
Pete Kistler, co-founder of BrandYourself, faced a similar (sort-of) situation.
He was top of his class in school, yet he couldn’t land an internship to save his life.
It wasn’t until a friend told him that he was being googled and a felon with the same name was appearing in the SERPs that he knew he needed to take back the search results for his name.
Pete and I are far from the only people being googled.
Half of college admissions look up applicants online
75 percent of hiring managers screen candidates online, with 70 percent doing advanced social media screening
65 percent of potential clients look up freelancers before hiring them
The reason you must start optimizing your online presence now is because it takes time for the Google search results to change, so you need to always be monitoring/optimizing it. It’s not a one-and-done thing.
You need to establish your own micro-equivalent of the Nike swoosh in today’s Google-first world.
Whatever you do in life, it helps if you have a following.
I learned this too when I began job hunting, and today my online reputation still matters—arguably more than ever—because it helps me keep food on the table (aka it lands me clients all the time).
You’re more valuable to employers, or anyone really, when you have your own following and established presence you can leverage. This will help you when it comes time to negotiate as well. The better the presence/reputation, the bigger the benjamins.
In fact, ask me how I landed this awesome gig at Vector.
The digital strategy manager reached out to me after reading an answer I posted on Quora.
Ask me how my other amazing client found me… Through a blog post I wrote on my personal blog.
Just remember: whatever you do in life, it helps if you have a following.
What does personal branding even mean though?
“When we talk about “personal branding” we are referring to establishing and promoting what you stand for. Your personal brand is the unique combination of skills and experiences that make you you. Effective personal branding will differentiate you from other professionals in your field.” (source)
The idea of personal branding makes some people uncomfortable. But if you don’t take control of your personal brand online, then you are missing out on opportunities and letting others control your narrative.
But I have nothing to showcase. How do I even get started?
I’m so glad you asked because that’s exactly why this guide was written. You’ll learn:
Sign up for a free account, which will scan search engines for whichever name you put in.
Use your full name (make sure it’s the name professional contacts are using to Google you).
The tool will then spew out what it finds, and it will ask you to rate each SERP result.
Once you’re done going through the BrandYourself process, click on the “Reputation Builder” item in the left-hand menu.
It will take you to a page like the one above, which tells you exactly what to do to optimize your online presence and even how long it will take you to complete each step.
Complete all of the steps (in the free version; you don’t need the paid version).
Step 2: Define your personal brand.
You may have no idea what type of personal brand you’re trying to build right now because many of you don’t even know what you want to do for the rest of your life yet.
Just focus on building a professional profile that accurately reflects your personality.
In this section, you’ll:
Write your bio
Craft your story
List your accomplishments
Define your values.
Write your short bio.
A great way to jumpstart the personal branding process is by asking yourself questions.
Questions will help you identify the right elements to create your personal bio, story, and resume—all personal branding assets you need.
Here are some questions that helped me when I was starting out.
What are you known for professionally? What do you have a knack for?
What’s the one problem you are best at solving for people?
Who have you worked with in the past? And what have you done for them? (This is a great post on how to track your past—and current— achievements.)
What are you most passionate about professionally? What most excites you about your work & the contribution you can make?
What are you passionate about personally? What do you really enjoy? What can’t you stop talking about?
Where can we find you when you’re not working?
What’s your favorite way to spend a weekend or a Sunday afternoon?
How long have you been doing what you do?
Where did you grow up and why aren’t you there now?
Any volunteer activities you’re crazy about?
Any nonprofits you love & why?
Any awards or medals or even medallions? Personal okay, too.
What would be impossible for you to give up?
Why would someone not want to work with you?
How do you want to be remembered?
Anything else you’d like to tell people about yourself?
Set a timer for 26 minutes and answer the above questions in a rambling, conversational style. Let your answers sit for a while, and then come back and craft your bio—extracting what’s important from your answers.
You’ll need a bio later for your online profiles.
Once you have something to work with, answer a few more questions to distill your bio down even further.
Who will read your bio? Write one bio per target audience.
What must your audience know? For job seekers, employers will want to know your professional experience, skills, and personality, for example.
What do you want your audience to know? This is more about your personality and personal story. It’s about the underlying feelings you want to evoke in site visitors. For example, I want to evoke trust and excitement when people visit my website.
What’s in it for your visitors? How do you help your target audience?
If you’re struggling to write your bio, you may also want to visit this link and this link, which feature a few short bio templates.
Write your personal brand story.
I’ll admit, your personal story and bio sound similar on the surface, but when you dive deeper you’ll see the difference.
Your bio is more serious—providing the straight facts about you and your professional/academic-related achievements. On the other hand, your story is more personal and moving—emotion-evoking—if you will.
Tell Your Story
What is your origin story? In comic book terminology, an origin story is an account or back-story revealing how a character or team gained their superpowers and/or the circumstances under which they became superheroes or supervillains.
Origin Story Examples
Batman – His parents murdered by one of the muggers, Bruce Wayne used his vast family fortune to become Batman and wage a one-man war on crime.
Spider Man – Bitten by a radioactive spider, Peter Parker found himself bestowed with spider-based superpowers. He was motivated to fight crime by his uncle’s death, which he blames on himself.
Me – My dad cut me off, and I was forced to support myself
Tell Your Story
Your story is your DNA. It’s the epitome of you. It’s what makes people connect with you on a personal level.
In order to find your unique story, you’ll have to answer questions like:
What do you believe in?
Why did you get started doing this?
Who are you passionate about helping?
Why do you get up every morning excited to work?
What led you to where you are today?
Here’s how to craft your origin story.
First, plot out the major happenings that occurred to transform you into who you are today and affect what you want to do professionally, as of right now.
In television and film, a plot point is a significant event within a plot that spins the action around in another direction.
Plot points are impactful moments or events. They’re the decisions you made. The forks in the road. The game changers. You need to find these points in your life.
Shit happens. Things change that force us to become different versions of ourselves. These transformations (plot points) may be caused by where you live; what you’re learning; where you’re working; who you’re dating; or a major life event that shifts our lives in different and major ways.
I use Trello to organize the events in my life that brought me to where I am today, but you can use whatever will help you best visualize your story.
Try to divide your life into chapters or chunks.
What were the plot points that propelled your life/story forward? What events marked the end of one chapter, transitioning you forward to the next one?
Begin from wherever you like. I chose to begin from when I began work, although I didn’t include that in my story.
Once you feel that you reach a natural transition—an event or moment when things changed direction—that begins your next chapter.
When considering whether something should be a plot point or not, make your decision to include it or not include it by asking the following questions:
Is this relevant to WHY I decided to start…?
Did this change my perspective about myself or the world?
Did a major part of my life suddenly look and feel different?
Did my goals or future ambitions change?
Did this contribute in some way to how I do things today?
Example: My story
I’ll use myself as an example.
Chapter 1: A bored kid decides to intern one summer
I was bored one summer and decided I needed to intern. I loved it so much I did another one.
Plot Point: My dad cuts me off and says “no more internships”
My dad supported me through my unpaid internships. I had to find a job fast so I got creative and made an email marketing campaign that landed me 15 job interviews for 30 minutes of work.
Chapter 2: Content marketing and internship obsessed
I landed a job as a marketing director for a local print shop, and I won at Startup Weekend Edu Orlando, so our team was accepted into an accelerator program called StartUp Orange County.
Plot Point: Discovered I was doing too much and had to cut something
This is when I ended up dropping out of college and moved in with my dad.
Chapter 3: Waitressed and freelanced to pay the bills
40 hours a week, I waited tables at Hillstone. I freelanced on the side because I didn’t want to lose all the identity capital I had from my past experience.
Plot Point: Applied and offered a job in Boston
I was randomly applying for full-time jobs, and I ended up getting a great job offer with a company in Boston.
Chapter 4: I moved to Boston
I moved to Boston for this new job, but I get let go after 3 months. I began freelancing for myself and got into the top 1% of Millennials.
All of the lessons I learned along the way—those would become my values. (We’ll talk about values next.)
1. Divide your life into chapters like I did above. You can start from wherever you like. Better to include more than less now and cut later.
2. Begin putting your plot points. Plot points will be triggered by inciting incidents. Here’s an example from Harry Potter: Harry learns he’s a wizard (Inciting incident) and goes to Hogwarts to learn magic (plot point).
You can use this G-Doc or this G-Drawing. Whichever your little heart desires.
Open a Google or Microsoft Doc and brain dump everything you can think of—even things that you think may not be accomplishments.
Don’t be shy. You’ll be tracking this stuff privately so no need to hold back.
Also, you may want to review this doc with a fine-toothed comb (and a career coach) later. The more you have, the better, because while you might not consider something valuable, a recruiter might.
I learned this when I visited my college career center.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but my resume wasn’t showcasing any of my valuable experience, so, naturally, I wasn’t landing jobs. It wasn’t until a career coach (verbally) extracted my experience from me by asking damn good questions.
To get you started, here are a few suggestions of items to document.
KPIs: Track all of your KPIs with whatever analytics tool(s) you use. Take screenshots of charts and graphs to prove it. Record how long it took to reach/exceed goals, how you did it, and other important details.
Mini testimonials: Collect (screenshot/copy) any and all good feedback from peers, superiors, clients, and/or social media connections. You can use these as testimonials on your site and in interviews when someone asks you, “What would previous bosses say is your greatest strength?” Or other similar questions.
Difficult situations: A common interview question is: Tell me about a time you faced a challenging situation with a coworker and how you resolved the issue. So if/when you have a challenging coworker situation on your hands and resolve it amicably, document it. Detail how you reached the resolution.
Daily tasks: One way to quantify your resume is by stating the number of times you’ve done something in a given timeframe. This shows recruiters just how much work you can handle. So record all the tasks and projects you’ve completed/managed each day/week and how you managed to complete these things on time. No task is too small to document.
Awards: Anytime you receive even the smallest of awards, document it. Nominee? Document it. Employee of the month? Document it. Recognized by a club or volunteer project? Document it.
Outside activities: You can put stuff on your resume that doesn’t happen at work. Maybe you are the leader of an industry meetup group. Document everything you do for it.
Professional development: Complete an online course? Write it down. Read a book? Write it down. Join a professional club or online membership? Write it down. Learn how to use a new tool/software program? Write it down.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed the first time you sit down to brainstorm and gather all of your past experience—especially if you’ve never done it before.
Things will get messy, but remember, this isn’t the final product. It’s just the very first step, which is always ugly at first.
There are a few different ways you could do this. There is no single best solution, so just do the one that feels right for you (of course, you could try each method as well).
1. Ask yourself questions.
I put this first because it might be the easiest way to recall your past accomplishments.
All you do is answer the list of questions below.
Who did I work for? (Freelance and full-time or part-time jobs)
What did I do for them?
What posts did I publish?
How many views, reads, shares, etc. did my posts get?
Where was I featured?
Where can I find “mini-testimonials?” Who have I impressed and why?
What courses did I take?
What books did I read?
What tools did I use?
What professional memberships/sites/groups do I use or am I a part of?
What new skills did I learn last year(s)? How did I learn them?
What challenges did I face this year at work? How did I overcome them?
What processes did I improve or make more efficient?
What did I do that was above and beyond my normal job duties?
How did I stand out among other employees?
Was I ever recognized by a supervisor for a job well done? When and why?
Did I win any awards or accolades?
What new processes did I implement to improve things?
What problems did I solve?
Did I ever consistently meet or exceed goals or quotas?
Did I save the company money?
What made me really great at my job?
Who did I meet/network with?
How was my performance measured, and did I reach/exceed any performance targets?
What did my boss say he/she wanted me to achieve when I was hired?
What do I feel I’ve accomplished, regardless of what my current boss or colleagues may think?
Have I done something that got better results than my employer had been getting before?
If asked what made or makes me really great at my job, what would I say?
When I did this for the first time, I had to go pretty far back in time because I waited so long to do it.
To refresh my memory, I opened a G-Doc and created 12 headings—one for each month of the year. Then I typed everything I could think of into that G-Doc—including even the bad things that happened that year.
If you want an idea of what this looks like, here you go:
You may be wondering if I remembered all this stuff from scratch.
Fortunately, I work online so I could dig through my digital history to see what I’d been up to. It wasn’t the fastest process, but it worked for me.
Social Media (To see what I posted about throughout the years. I usually post about my achievements on these networks.)
Emails: Look for any thank-you emails or emails detailing any projects or achievements.
3. Ask your superiors, peers, and mentors for feedback.
Ask your internship supervisor or boss to review your resume (if you have a good relationship). It can be eye-opening to hear/read what other people think your accomplishments are or what you did that was most valuable to them.
4. Take online assessments to prove you know something.
Take a free online course. For instance, if you’re interested in marketing, visit HubSpot Academy, which offers an array of free marketing courses for newbies.
You’ll receive a certification upon completion, and you can tout that baby everywhere.
Treehouse (Offers digital badges that you can showcase on your profiles)
Define your values.
Declaring your values helps create a connection between you and the type of people you want to associate with.
You (and everyone else) want to do business with people who share their beliefs and their values so you must, must, must think about the things that are important to you.
Why can’t you declare something else? Something else won’t create a deep connection between you and your visitors like expressing your values will because values drive decisions.
Think about how you feel when you meet someone you instantly connect with.
It was probably after you spoke with them for a bit and realized: oh, shit—we believe a lot of the same stuff. That’s the feeling you want to create for the right people—the ones who share your values.
When they come across your site, you want them to feel like it just “clicks.”
What foundational statements do you hold true that influence how you work and do business?
What personal priorities influence how I work and who I do business with?
Values denote something’s degree of importance and help determine what action in life is best or most significant.
If you only had x amount of time, how would you spend it? If you only had x amount of money to put toward work/business, how would you spend it?
These questions will help identify your priorities.
Fifty-six percent of all hiring managers are more impressed by a candidate’s personal website than any other personal branding tool—however, only 7 percent of job seekers actually have a personal website. Not only does having your own website differentiate you from the majority of applicants, but it also allows you to control what people find when they search for you and proves that you take your career seriously.
Every link you create about yourself is another search result that you control. What is a portfolio exactly? A portfolio is an evergreen collection of past work experience that reflects your accomplishments, skills, experience, and personality.
The good news is this exercise should only take you a day or two to complete, so cancel your Saturday plans because we’re about to plan the crux of your digital footprint : your online portfolio.
For readers who already have more experience under their belt, this article will be helpful.
At the very least, anyone—even people without experience—can develop a portfolio. Here are the things you should include at the bare minimum:
Homepage (Could be simple or more in-depth)
About page (Who you are, your values, story, personal bio)