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When we see certain product images, it is natural for us to associate those with brands or companies. Branding for sales is creating a distinct image, whether it is a physical picture, a catchphrase, a slogan or another communications vehicle that is consistent with the values, pitch and product placement for a particular company. In similar terms, branding at various stages of your career defines who you are as a job seeker, what you are looking for, what you would like to achieve and, most important, what people associate with your name.
When I was a career education specialist in my former role at the Ryerson career and co-op center, we encouraged students to always reflect on their core values and their brand to inform their job search and aid their careers. I continue to incorporate the same ideology in my current role as a career services and co-op adviser at Northeastern University in Toronto. I’ve seen how branding plays an important role at every stage of your career.
Before delving into the details about how to brand yourself, you first need to know what your brand is. It’s a combination of a few different factors.
- Core values. What drives you? What makes you excited? What do you value in interactions with your co-workers and teammates? For example, I value collaboration—helping students excites me and drives me, and I value open and honest conversations with my teammates. When seeking a job, make sure that the organizations and roles you apply resonate with your core values—including what they offer you in terms of work-life balance, salary and your short-term and long-term goals.
- Communication. How and what you communicate also forms part of your brand. That includes your emails and social media posts. The tone, structuring and appropriate use of imagery can make or break your image and career. Your brand is also reflected in your interactions in person or in virtual conversations.
- Consistency. Whether it is a passion you are developing or a career you are targeting, consistency in your approach helps. Consistency in your branding is reflected in your online professional image, which may be communicated to the world in a number of ways. Your LinkedIn profile, your professional website, other professional social media accounts you may have such as Twitter, your CV, your cover letter—all these are part of your brand. Therefore, you should ensure that the message you are conveying is consistent across multiple platforms.
Building a Brand
Similar to a celebrity or a business brand, your brand is defined by your work and what you put out in the world. It is a gradual process, and it takes time and dedication. For example, when I decided to move from working as a research scientist to career advising, I wrote articles on career-related topics and organized events for graduate students and postdoctoral trainees. I did informational interviews with professionals in the higher ed field and volunteered at career development conferences and events. I started the process early on in my graduate and postdoctoral training— volunteering initially and then spending a significant time weekly doing such activities when I felt I was closer to making the transition.
So plan ahead and start pursuing opportunities that you may be interested in. You never know where your career can take you, and you can use whatever little experience you currently have as a foundation for gaining additional career path–relevant training.
Stories of Successful Branding Strategies
Most of my colleagues have used some type of branding to build their profiles in their careers. They’ve shared some key strategies that might be helpful to others.
Chris Cornthwaite: from Ph.D. to policy analyst and content strategist. Chris received his doctorate in religious studies. While job hunting in the public sector, he realized the value of marketing transferable skills gained during his academic training rather than focusing on the specifics of his research. He also incorporated field-specific terms he picked up from his informational interviews to build his job applications. He rebranded his doctoral studies to move away from a theoretical lens and provided concrete examples of his work that showcased his communication, critical thinking and analytical skills.
That led to his transition into government policy research and analyst roles—and eventually into consulting on content strategy for tech companies. Inspired to help other graduate students with their careers, he wrote a blog post that went viral on academic Twitter. Over the last two years, he’s used his content marketing skills and his passion for spreading the word about nonacademic careers to build a side project, a website that offers students career advice: Roostervane.
Roshni Christo: from postdoc to application scientist. When Roshni was finishing up her postdoctoral training, she decided to pursue a career in clinical research or field application scientist roles, combining her passions for science and interacting with people. Once she figured out she was moving to Canada, she started using LinkedIn to build her network. She built a brand around posting short digests of current news in the pharmaceutical sector and neuroscience research. She posted her content on LinkedIn at fixed times of the day so that people would read her posts during their work commute, and she did that consistently—twice a week for six to eight months.
This strategic branding led to a LinkedIn invite from the CEO of Neurescence, a biological optical imaging company, which hired her as a field application scientist. She is currently a sales and marketing manager there and continues to use similar branding approaches for Neurescence, highlighting their products through Nerdessence, a series of comic strips.
Sam Stewart: from industry scientist to career adviser. During his industry Ph.D. training in medicinal chemistry at pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, Sam realized he loved the project management and student interaction aspects of his work. While applying for student support roles after obtaining his Ph.D.—and receiving initial rejections—follow-up discussions with an interviewer led him to gain insights on the advantages of having recruiting experience to boost his value on the job market. Leveraging his industry background and previous volunteering experiences supporting students helped him land a scientific recruiter role. In that position, Sam gained experience reviewing CVs and cover letters.
Then, as he began seeking student support jobs in Canada, Sam used a multipronged networking approach on LinkedIn—targeting hiring managers, recruiters and peers who were in the roles he desired. He communicated his brand of a scientist with both industry and recruiting experience to eventually land an informational interview with a peer. That led to a hiring manager introduction and interview, a contract position that was renewed and, finally, a permanent position as a career development relationship manager at McMaster University in Ontario.
Sam’s brand has evolved from a scientist and recruiter to a scientist, recruiter, educator and mental health advocate. He has always believed in leveraging relevant skills from his vast skill set to target specific opportunities at every step of his career.
In conclusion, while branding can take on many forms, at its simplest level, it is knowing your core values, skills and what drives you and leveraging that in as many ways possible to transition into a career path. You don’t necessarily need to be a social media expert; you can create a brand through your work and communication. Continuously reflect on your skills and how you communicate them to different stakeholders. Doing so, and getting feedback from others, will help you to refine your brand and, ultimately, to succeed in your career.