As professionals pursuing a second career or attempting a change of industry may have noticed, seeking employment can itself be full-time work. With thousands of candidates hunting for fewer positions, it therefore bears repeating: As many best job search guides now note, the smartest career move you can make is investing in yourself.
Enter personal branding - the practice of packaging and presenting yourself as Apple or Nike would consumer products. A necessity in today's mile-a-minute, increasingly visual world, where first impressions are everything, you either instantly stand out or become hopelessly overlooked. Nowadays, the most important brand you'll ever represent is yourself. Doubly so in the eyes of increasingly harried, time-strapped employers, whose perceptions it ultimately shapes.
Note that this doesn't mean pretending to be something you're not. Rather, it's about realigning yourself to fit contemporary viewpoints. Want to be perceived as relevant? Let others know by keeping your skill set, experience and online footprint up to date. Following are several personal branding basics worth remembering - use them as a general job hunting guide, and you'll instantly improve your chances of getting hired.
Get Your Story Straight - Forget the fabled 30-second "elevator pitch..." In today's hyperkinetic age, you've got to summarize yourself in one sentence. Observers tend to group people into easily-sorted mental categories, so keep descriptions brief and individually crafted to suit each audience to avoid typecasting. Likewise, from your personal blog to your resume, collateral messaging should also remain consistent. Getting the cold shoulder? One problem may the language you're using. Free services like Google Insights for Search and Google AdWords keyword tool' (which reveal popular online search terms) can disclose if the world's actually looking for an "IT manager," not "systems administrator."
Control Your Online Presence - With employers increasingly turning online to research job candidates, search engine optimization (SEO) - tailoring web pages to rank high in online search results - is vital. Start by inserting your name into Google and see what it spits out: First-page placements are 24X likelier to influence viewer perception (and top three results drive the most traffic). Create more favorable impressions by securing a website featuring your name or a simple variation (ex. www.johnqpublic.com, www.johnquincypublic.com), then filling it with high-quality professional insights. Pursue similar strategies and placements on popular social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) or ones featuring popular keywords fitting your expertise ("/CollegeProfessor," "/SecurityExpert," etc.) as well. You can also use popular blogging platforms like WordPress and TypePad (dozens of sites offer eye-catching plug-and-play designs), and create posts featuring these terms to improve search results, and highlight your unique personality and perspective.
Make Your Voice Heard - Most hesitate to speak up for fear of criticism or ridicule. But with so many competing for so little nowadays, the squeaky wheels get the grease. Personal branding lets you establish yourself as a subject matter expert who brings singular, indispensable services to the table, not just another nameless drone. To this extent, you need to create platforms (websites, blogs, podcasts, self-published books/magazines, online video channels, email newsletters, etc.) that can reach large audiences, and galvanize support and discussion from professional readers/viewers. Once built, content that illustrates your expertise should be provided on a running basis, including research, analysis and opinions. All creations should be readily shareable via social media, helping you become a well-known and trusted online presence.
Participate in the Community - Doing favors for fellow job hunters, responding to reader emails and contributing as an unpaid volunteer to industry organizations may seem financially unproductive. But it helps build relationships, contacts and goodwill, while letting you have a positive impact on the professional community at large. Not only do such activities provide the perfect venue to demonstrate your skills and enthusiasm, and connect with potential mentors or advisers. With as many as eight in ten jobs going unadvertised in 2012, the connections they provide could prove essential to landing a new gig.
Join the Online Social - Numerous vehicles - submitting free bylined articles to trade publications, participating in online insider newsgroups, etc. - exist to become a strong and stable voice in your professional community. But you also have to be accessible as well: People have to know where to reach you, and that you'll acknowledge their opinion by responding to questions and feedback as well, with conversation a two-way street. Note that the door works both ways, however, which savvy job hunters can also use to their advantage. With more employees launching corporate or personal blogs, sometimes the easiest way to get someone's ear is simply to reach out directly and impress them through perceptive and intelligent discussion.