A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of presenting at the 2018 NCDA Global Career Development Conference in Phoenix, Arizona with our Executive Director, Jennifer Falkoski.

We hosted two presentations this year:

  • Personal Branding: What It Is and Why You Need It to Enhance Your Professional Growth as a Career Practioner
  • Empower Your Clients Through Personal Branding

I’m honored that both of our presentations had high attendance and it got me thinking about how personal branding is an area that warrants more attention in the field of career development.

What is a personal brand?

A personal brand is a unique combination of various personal attributes, values, strengths, and passions that serve to differentiate value and leaves a unique lasting impression on others (Philbrick & Cleveland, 2015; Gander, 2014).

Put simply, a personal brand is what someone thinks about you when you’re not in the room.

Why is it important to build a personal brand? 

As the pace of technological change continues to accelerate, so are the changes in the world of work.

  • Competition to get hired, promoted, or even accepted into college now occurs nationally and globally.
  • Automation and ‘thinking machines’ are replacing human tasks and reshaping the workplace as we know it.

As Dorothy would say, “We’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Personal branding can help set oneself apart in a sea of competition.

Every aspect of the job and college-search process, including college essays, resumes, cover letters, and interviews, all deal with how someone perceives an applicant or employee (past or current). This perception is the personal brand…which exists whether you want it to or not.

Rather than “fitting in” to the workplace, the goal is to “stand out” for one’s unique, differentiating attributes. For example, Dorothy’s ruby red slippers.

How do you build a personal brand?

A powerful personal brand is one that is descriptive, clear, and authentic.  A well-known process to building a personal brand is the Reach Personal Branding 3-Step Process (Arruda & Dixson, 2007).


The most important (and difficult) step in personal branding is to discover your brand. This step requires intentional self-evaluation of one’s strengths and attributes, values and passions, vision and purpose, and target audience (who you want to know about you). This is where you excavate your X-factor—your individual uniqueness.

Authenticity is key. This is a chance to showcase the one and only you.

If you create a personal brand that isn’t aligned with who you are every day, you’ll waste a lot of energy trying to be someone you’re not (rather than spending that energy boosting your strengths) and eventually you’ll be found out.

Think about the Wizard of Oz who hid behind a large curtain, cranking gears, and speaking into a microphone to seem more powerful. When discovered, the Wizard was humiliated.

The Wizard was still able to provide value to Dorothy without the illusion and helped her get home (There’s no place like home). A more authentic brand would portray the Wizard of Oz as someone that is wise and does wonderful things for others, rather someone that is powerful and fear-inducing.

Takeaway: It’s hard work to pretend to be someone else, and doing so robs every one of the unique gifts that you have to offer and the genuine connection that we all long for. Don’t be like the Wizard of Oz, build your brand like Y-O-U!


Once you’ve discovered your brand, the next step is to communicate your brand to your target audience (e.g., professors, college admissions, employers, professionals in your field). This step involves crafting a Personal Brand Statement and incorporating it into different forms of communication tools that best reach your target audience, such as in a college personal essay, online profiles (LinkedIn), resume, cover letter, and elevator pitch when meeting people.

Step 3. EXUDE

Once you’ve expressed your brand, the final step is to maintain a consistent, authentic brand across your communication platforms. This involves staying relevant and up-to-date in your field by sharing or creating relevant content, developing a professional network, and seeking out leadership or volunteer opportunities that require and showcase your skills and attributes.

In my work as a Career Coach, I help students build awareness and gain clarity on their unique brand through storytelling, career assessments, and self-exploration. We work together to connect the dots between one’s experience, education, and knowledge, along with personal strengths to develop and communicate their personal brand in scholarship essays, personal statements, and resumes and explore careers that fit. 


Recommended Resources:

360°Reach Personal Brand Assessment by Reach Communications Consulting

Your Personal Brand Workbook by PricewaterhouseCoopers(PwC)

The Complete Guide to Building Your Personal Brand by Quick Sprout, LLC

Personal Branding for Dummies Cheat Sheet by Susana Chritton



Arruda, W. & Dickson, K. (2007). Career Distinction: Stand Out by Building Your Brand. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Falkoski, J & Flynn, A. (2018, June). Personal Branding: What It Is and Why You Need It to Enhance Your Professional Growth as a Career Practioner. Roundtable presented at the annual conference of the National Career Development Association, Phoenix, AZ.

Flynn, A. & Falkoski, J. (2018, June). Empower Your Clients Through Personal Branding. Roundtable presented at the annual conference of the National Career Development Association, Phoenix, AZ.

Gander, M. (2014). Managing your personal brand. Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education, 18(3), 99-102. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Michelle_Gander/publication/267876024_Managing_your_personal_brand/links/56946e6c08ae820ff072c5d8.pdf?origin=publication_list

Philbrick, J. L., & Cleveland, A. D. (2015). Personal branding: Building your pathway to professional success. Medical Reference Services Quarterly, 34, 181–189. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02763869.2015.1019324


Ashley Flynn, M.A.
Career Coach & Outreach Coordinator

Known for her optimism and zest, Ashley empowers young adults to discover and shine a light on the best parts of who they are, identify ways they can positively contribute to the world, and plan for thoughtful next steps along their journey. Ashley earned a Master's in Clinical Psychology from the University of Central Florida and a Bachelors from Florida State University. When she's not at work, you can find her enjoying live music, hiking, running, or skiing in the beautiful state of Colorado.