Telling Without Selling: Personal (Un)Branding

Does the phrase “personal brand” elicit a groan for you? Perhaps a bout of buzzword fatigue? Then we’ve got some advice you might appreciate. 

Sure. It’s important to present your best professional self to the world. But what if you could drop the sales-speak branding for a human-centric way of sharing what you’re all about? 

Wendy Lawton, a communications and public relations expert, wants people to do just that. In her webinar for Harvard Extension’s Career and Academic Resource Center, Telling Without Selling: Personal (Un)Branding, Lawton discusses how you can craft an authentic statement that captures who you are as a professional. 

Lawton calls this an identity statement—a short paragraph that communicates what you do, who you help, and how you show up.

Here’s an example: 

What do you do? 
I teach business strategy.

Who do you help? 
I teach business strategy to established and aspiring entrepreneurs. 

How do you show up? 
I teach business strategy to established and aspiring entrepreneurs with a dynamic energy that brings case studies to life and inspires forward-thinking insights. 

The first two parts of this statement are easy enough, right? The last—how you show up—may require some reflection. Even if you have a strong sense of how others perceive you, it’s a good idea to seek outside opinions. 

“It’s not about you and what you think, it’s about what other people think about you,” says Lawton. 

Making A Statement

Lawton, owner of Con Brio, developed her identity statement by looking at the recommendations from her colleagues on LinkedIn. She searched for the most commonly used phrases or sentiments. Then she narrowed them down to a statement that accurately reflects who she is. 

The result:

“I tell stories, build relationships, raise money, and inspire teams to achieve major goals for the nonprofits I serve. I get my hustle from a decade of experience as a daily newspaper reporter. I bring clear vision, boundless enthusiasm, and relentless follow-up to my work.” 

Don’t already have written recommendations from colleagues? Seek them out. Start by asking those with whom you have a positive relationship. Explain that you’re developing an identity statement to give future employers or clients a concise, accurate description of who you are. 

Additionally, you can look at your past performance reviews. Your human resources department should be happy to provide you with those summaries. And in future talks with your manager, don’t be afraid to ask straightforward questions to get the information you want.  

If you’re just starting out and don’t have a network to leverage, ask your friends and family members how they might describe you to someone. 

Once you know what you want to say, it’s time to put it into words. This alone can say a lot about you. Lawton has the following tips to keep in mind when expressing your identity statement: 

  • Use words sparingly. Don’t shout when you can whisper. As a test, consider running your identity statement through the Hemingway Editor
  • Employ visuals when it makes sense. Photos and graphics on your website and social profiles are a great idea. And unconventional headshots can help you stand out in certain fields. 
  • Stay relevant to your industry. Look at what your peers and colleagues are doing, and take note of what you like. 
  • Avoid buzzwords. Overused words (e.g. mission-driven, innovative, strategic, etc.) eventually lose their meaning, and they won’t help you stand out. 
  • Leave your hobbies out. Again, relevancy is key. 
  • Don’t overthink it. Write something down with the mindset that you can revise it over time. Remember that your identity statement isn’t set in stone, so don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.  

Remember that you’re trying to tell others about you, not sell yourself. A hard-sell pitch is easily identifiable, and the tone can be off-putting. But when you tell someone who you are with energy and authenticity, it makes them want to know more about you. 

Harvard Extension students can take advantage of the Career and Academic Resource Center, as well as other support, to hone their (un)brand. Those curious about how our courses and programs can help focus a career path can browse options or reach out to our Enrollment Services specialists.

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