In 2009, personal branding became the buzzword of choice for job seekers and career coaches alike, and for good reason. When done right, personal branding—the act of identifying and communicating your unique value to people who can help advance your career—promised to be the job seeker's silver bullet, his surefire way to stand out in a crowded job market.
The social media and social networking technologies that took 2009 by storm sure made personal branding easy. Too easy, perhaps, since many job seekers made careless mistakes in their haste to brand their way to a new job.
Personal branding experts say some of these mistakes can undermine professionals' job searches and career management plans. For example, too much self-promotion can alienate the audience you're trying to reach, says Catherine Kaputa, an advertising executive turned personal branding strategist.
Kaputa and two other prominent personal branding strategists list the six most common and most damaging personal branding mistakes people make, so that as you recharge your job search for the new year, you can ensure your personal branding efforts put your best face forward.
[Find out how one IT infrastructure director is putting the promises of personal branding to the test in her job search: Developing a Personal Brand for Your Job Search ]
1. Putting the cart before the horse. The biggest and most common mistake people make is using the tools for personal branding, such as blogs, LinkedIn and Twitter, without first taking the time to define a strong, authentic brand for themselves.
"One of the most prevalent myths about personal branding is that it has to do with just creating a lot of visibility," says personal branding strategist and Career Distinctionco-author Kirsten Dixson.
Consequently, people lay "a lot of digital footprints," she says, before considering who they are, what they want to become known for long-term, and how they can differentiate themselves from people with similar goals and backgrounds.
Kaputa advises clients to think strategically when they're defining their personal brand. She recommends they go through many of the same exercises marketers use when releasing a new product. These include such tactics as: SWOT analyses, setting goals for themselves, considering the visual and verbal identity for their personal brand, and establishing a marketing plan for themselves.
Dixson says honing in on your personal brand is hard and takes time, but it's worth the effort as it guides all of your future personal branding efforts. What's more, many of the other personal branding mistakes people make stem from not having a clearly articulated brand. Therefore, taking the time to define your brand sets you up for success and function as a preventative measure.
2. Having an unfocused brand. Many job seekers purport to practice personal branding. But instead of identifying and demonstrating their unique value through their communications, they continue to brand themselves as, say, an IT project management expert and a business process improvement expert and a virtualization expert.
"People have 'slash' identities, and it's a problem," says Kaputa, author of You Are a Brand! "In the world of branding, being a generalist, jack-of-all-trades gets you nowhere."
3. Adopting a copycat or generic brand. The purpose of personal branding—and, indeed, any kind of branding—is differentiation. Savvy job seekers work to brand themselves in order to distinguish themselves from other job seekers with similar backgrounds and skill sets. So don't fall into the trap of branding yourself a "results-driven manager" or "turnaround CIO," says Kaputa. You'll just look like everyone else who's describing themselves the same way.
"You want to own an idea," she says. "You want to stand for something that's a strength and a competitive advantage."
4. Behaving inconsistently. When you commit to personal branding, you commit to having one identity, one voice that's consistent across all media, all channels (e.g. phone, voice mail, e-mail, instant messaging), and between the physical and online worlds.
If you represent yourself as a paragon of professionalism on your LinkedIn profile, says Dixon, but you leave mean-spirited comments on blogs or your e-mails come off as less than professional, your target audience will question your authenticity.
5. Not committing to social media and social networking. Blogs and social networking sites are effective vehicles for personal branding, but only if you use them regularly. Otherwise, you look lame and uncommitted.
"If you establish a Twitter profile but you never tweet, it's going to hurt you more than help you," says Dan Schawbel, personal branding expert and author of Me 2.0.
Similarly, Schawbel adds, if you have a LinkedIn profile, make sure it's 100 percent complete. And if you're taking the time to write a blog, you must also take the extra time to promote it so that people can find it in a sea of more than 133 million blogs.
"You have to be as committed to your social media profile as you are to your husband or wife," says Schawbel. And he means genuinely committed.
6. Over-promoting yourself. Some people go overboard with self-promotion when they embark on a personal branding campaign. Too much self-promotion can do more harm than good. That's why Kaputa advises clients to think about the frequency of their self-promotion efforts.
Too much self-promotion can manifest itself in the way people represent themselves on the comment section of blogs, adds Schawbel. Most people leave their name, URL and their comment, as is customary. But some people who are trying too hard to brand themselves also leave their title, the name of their company and their personal branding statement, he says.
"They look bad because they're over-promoting themselves," says Schawbel. "What matters is writing a great comment that inspires or states an opinion on the post. When you do, people will click on your URL. It's about the soft sell."
Follow Meridith Levinson on Twitter at @meridith.