Unlike Jennifer Aniston movies, everyone is unique. You have a story unlike anyone else, whether you consider your rural upbringing “dull” or the pop-punk band you started to rebel against your suburban background as “just a phase.”

No matter what you think of yourself, people will think of you and identify you based on who you are and what you do – not out of malice, but out of necessity. Identification is how we all get through the world; just as we identify certain foods (like hot dogs) as "not sandwiches" and certain objects (like bed corners) as dangerous, we identify people by the reputation they put forth.

This reputation, one’s personal brand, describes how you’re known and it’s important to be proactive in managing your personal brand, particularly when you’re starting a job search.

So, how? How do you start to manage your brand? Do you put out press releases on Facebook after your every achievement? Do you retweet your rivals with snarky comebacks and later apologize to the public? Sure, if you want, but in reality, it’s easier than that. In small ways, you’ve been managing your personal brand all your life without knowing it.

Actively make choices

If you want your personal brand to be known as creative, a people-person and worldly, make choices that align with those values. If you want to be known as savvy, achievement-oriented and professional, make a choice that aligns with those values.

The most important thing is that you actively make choices, rather than passively react to the world or be forced into anything.

It doesn’t hurt to make a list either. It might seem awkward to write out a list basically outlining who you are, but you’ve probably done weirder things and this TIME, it’s reasonably necessary. Ask questions and answer them.

What are you good at? Does scientific terminology come easily to you? Would you rather talk to a hundred people or help someone talk to a hundred people? Be specific and be critical. If you were a branch of government, which would you be? Which city or town do you see yourself living in and what social organizations would you be actively part of there and why?

A good follow-up to this activity is to make a vision board where you write out what your vision is and what steps you’ll take to make that vision come true. Give yourself monthly benchmarks to measure your success.

Be authentic

Be authentic in your actions. It’s easier to explain an honest mistake than it is to create an elaborate lie that covers it up. Flaws make us human, and people (and employers) will recognize and bond with you over them.

Especially if you’re young, dampen the desire to be self-conscious regarding your actions. Obviously, don’t do things that are damaging to yourself or others, but people who are self-conscious are usually terrible at hiding their self-consciousness and other people can detect that uneasiness and easily mistake it for hesitation, indecisiveness or inauthentic.

Being authentic also forces you to be yourself and discover what you honestly like, dislike, are interested in and are naturally inclined to do. Knowing about yourself makes future decisions, like where to go to college, what field to study, what clubs to join, and which companies/industries you’re interested in, much easier to make.

Show people who you want them to see

An image is important.

You want to have an avenue where you can have a public presence that aligns with what you want people to see you are. Really into graphic design? Post links on interesting topics. Regularly comment on art blogs or art publications. Leave a digital footprint for others to see how into art you are.

Ensure your profile picture/headshot is appropriate for your field.

If you’re in business, suit up. In the creative department, you’ll probably be safe with smart casual. If you’re expecting to interview with employers in the next few months, start getting comfortable with wearing suits and tying ties. You don’t want to walk into your interview looking appropriate, but stiff and uncomfortable.

The point of showing people who you want them to see isn’t about misrepresenting yourself, but positioning yourself outwardly to be a reflection of who you are inside. It might seem forced to go out of your way to show that you read an interesting article, but no one’s going to know if you don’t show them. Sometimes it’s more important that they see for themselves instead of you telling them.

Make your brand sustainable

Twinkies go bad. Fossil fuels stink. Holding your breath is hard. Cat videos do get boring. Museums change their exhibits.

What you do and who you are can’t be static. Give yourself room to grow, both up and out, to make your personal brand sustainable through both your career and life. That means occasionally branching off into other interests, exploring what the future of your interest might look like, and learning what the historical origins of those interests look like.

Be goal-oriented

Job markets shift. Position requirements change. Companies fail or move. If you’re goal-oriented, rather than career-oriented, you’ll always have somewhere to go. If you’re committed to helping homeless kids find food and shelter, not only are you pure of heart, but you have a wide swath of career options available to you, from running a local nonprofit to becoming Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

Goal-oriented people are guided by sheer passion and others see that. Remember, your personal brand is a reflection of how others see you. Being guided by your passion naturally opens you up to relationships, networks, and opportunities that will bolster your reputation, abilities and experiences.


Brands compete all the time, so why shouldn’t you? In the real/working world, you’ll be competing against hundreds of other candidates with qualifications that might exceed yours. Counter competition with skills, experiences, and qualifications that not only set you apart but also give you an edge.

What else?

Flex your personal brand the way only you can. Whether that means making your own logo or stepping out of your comfort zone to make choices you know you need to make, the very best thing you can do for yourself is to define your values, be relevant and enjoy yourself.

At a certain point, you can’t control how people see you and there’s no point needlessly stressing about it. You have to appreciate yourself. What you will always have control of is whether you make your story your own.