Developing a Personal Brand for Your Job Search

An out-of-work IT infrastructure director works with a career coach to identify her personal brand and improve the effectiveness of her job search.

For 25 years, Kim Seltzer always had a job. But Seltzer's long tenure ended last spring, when she was laid off from her job as the IT infrastructure director of financial services company IHS Global Insight.

Seltzer, though, didn't panic. "I'm a smart woman. I can figure this out. I know how to network," she thought. Figuring she didn't need professional assistance, Seltzer began her job search in earnest.

But by June, only a handful of employers had responded to her résumés, and she wasn't getting much beyond initial phone interviews. Like many job seekers, Seltzer hadn't anticipated such a tepid response from employers, given her skills and experience.

So she turned to a career coach for help in résumé writing. "It took me a few months to realize that I needed to rebrand myself and market myself differently for this marketplace," Seltzer says.

Enter Randi Bussin, a Boston, Mass.-based career coach. During their initial call, Seltzer says Bussin asked her some questions about her career goals. Bussin's questions made Seltzer realize she needed more than just résumé writing help. She signed on for Bussin's career coaching and personal branding expertise.

[ Everything You Need to Know About Hiring a Career Coach ]

Career coaches have promoted personal branding as an effective way for job seekers to stand out to employers during the worst job market since the Great Depression—and for good reason. Personal branding provides job seekers with a process for identifying their unique value and the types of employers to which they'd be best suited. It helps them run more effective and targeted job searches, and it can help them tap into the "hidden job market" more easily.

In this profile, Seltzer shares how she created her personal brand and put it to work in her job search.

In Search of a Personal Brand

The first part of Bussin's personal branding process required Seltzer to home in on her career and life goals and to articulate her values and passions.

"Most of my clients who come in for personal branding help are unclear on what they want to accomplish," says Bussin. "If you don't know what your goals are, how do you know where to point your brand."

Seltzer identified short- and long-term goals that align with her values and personal and professional interests. In the short term, Seltzer wants to continue to work in IT infrastructure management. Though she's always worked for big companies in the financial services industry, she's interested in the pharmaceutical and green technologies industries, as well as startups. She says she'd like to apply her knowledge and skills to industries that impact the health and well-being of communities.

Seltzer's long-term goal is to leave New England for a warmer climate to start a farm that handles horse and dog rescue. She's always enjoyed horseback riding, and her two daughters like it, too.

With her goals clarified, Seltzer focused specifically on her personal brand. She considered her strengths and what made her unique. But that's only part of it. Seltzer also needed to find out how others saw her. This perspective would become the bedrock of Seltzer's personal brand.

"Good branding is externally focused," says Bussin. "I tell clients all the time, it doesn't matter what they think of themselves, their brand is held in the hearts and minds of those around them. It's what they think that matters."

Seltzer e-mailed 49 people ranging from former employees, managers, clients, vendors, friends and family, asking them to fill out a web-based assessment of her strengths, weaknesses, skills and leadership competencies that Bussin provided.

Seltzer says the feedback she received from the 30 contacts who responded was eye-opening. "What I learned in this process was, how I perceive myself is not necessarily how people I work with perceive me," she says. "What I might think are my strengths and weaknesses, other people may see them differently. In marketing myself for a new position, I need to market myself the way I'm seen."

For example, Seltzer always prized her organizational and budgeting abilities. But people who filled out the assessment cited her loyalty, confidence and ability to remain calm in stressful situations as her greatest strengths.

"If you don't get an idea of how others see you, you miss a huge piece of your strengths," says Seltzer.

Communicating Seltzer's Personal Brand

Loyalty. Integrity. Confidence. Resourcefulness. Dependable. Motivated. Assertive. These attributes formed the foundation of Seltzer's personal brand. Now the trick was communicating her brand on her résumé, in cover letters, on her LinkedIn profile, and during networking events and job interviews.

Yet Seltzer never formally interviewed for a job in 25 years. Her career progressed through successive promotions and her employers' merger and acquisition activity. So she had little experience speaking about her work and professional value. She just wasn't comfortable tooting her own horn, she says.

But Bussin coached Seltzer out of that shell.

"The key with Kim, as with other IT folks, is pulling them up from the details, getting them to articulate what they're good at, and turning their detail-oriented projects into bigger picture success stories," says Bussin.

Seltzer says Bussin's conversational style helped draw out her accomplishments, and their ongoing dialog helped Seltzer learn to speak about her work cogently and compellingly.

"The more times you say it in front of people, the more comfortable you get," says Seltzer.

Personal Branding Helps

[ See how Seltzer brands herself on her LinkedIn profile. ]

Seltzer finished her work with Bussin in November 2009. Although she hasn't landed a new job yet (Seltzer lacks a college degree, which makes her job search harder because, despite her experience, she's automatically screened out of jobs that require a degree), she says the work she did with Bussin has improved her job search. Before working with Bussin, Seltzer estimates she had a 10 percent response rate from employers when she submitted her résumé for a position. Now she says her response rate is easily in the 50 percentile.

"The résumé tells a much better story. I tell a much better story," says Seltzer. "I can articulate who I am and what I am and what I can do based on what has been pulled out from the branding exercises. I definitely think it helped me get more traction. With that said, it's still an uphill battle."

Follow Meridith Levinson on Twitter at @meridith.

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