A personal brand sets job seekers apart from other candidates by aligning their skills and experience around a personal story. We surveyed 505 employers in the U.S. to determine which personal branding activities are the most valued during the hiring process.
More people are out of work in the U.S. than at any time in history. In the midst of a once-in-a-generation economic downturn, people looking for jobs must do whatever they can to be noticed by companies.
A personal brand lets job seekers tell potential employers what makes them unique. People starting a job search during these challenging times should invest in a personal brand for the short- and long-term.
We surveyed 505 employers in the U.S. to understand how companies value a candidate’s personal brand when making hiring decisions.
What Employers Look for in a Personal Brand
- Almost all employers (98%) do background research about candidates online. Candidates should have a tailored, professional online presence.
- Most HR professionals (72%) say a resume is very important when evaluating an applicant.
- Almost all employers (95%) consider an “elevator pitch” important. Applicants should make sure their elevator pitch works for remote hiring processes.
- Most employers (90%) factor a job candidate’s social media accounts into their hiring decisions, and 79% have rejected a candidate based on their social media content.
- Almost half of HR professionals (43%) use Google search to research job applicants, but 80% say a personal website is important when evaluating a job candidate.
5 Personal Branding Tips for Job Seekers
- Make your resume stand out
- Perfect your elevator pitch
- Polish your social media profiles
- SEO your name
- Invest in a personal website
Why Job Seekers Need a Personal Brand
A personal brand, unlike a business or company brand, is how someone markets his or her individual experience to employers or potential professional connections.
Personal branding helps people distinguish themselves from others with similar interests, skills, or qualities.
Almost all employers (98%) use search engines and social media to gather information about potential new hires.
A well-executed personal brand helps candidates stand out from the crowd, which is especially important now as unemployment has reached record levels in the U.S.
Personal branding can include:
- Creating a personal portfolio website
- Promoting personal projects or work on social media
- Building thought leadership online by publishing articles and blog posts
Heather May was laid off in March 2020 and has been looking for a job during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Getting my resume done along with creating an effective LinkedIn profile for a personal brand is time-consuming,” May said. “I’ve been unemployed before and never had a personal brand. I’m hoping this time, having a brand will produce a better, faster, and more desirable outcome.”
Personal branding takes time and effort to develop. If you’re looking for a job during the coronavirus pandemic, use this time to build an online portfolio or create a professional social media presence in time for the economy to rebound.
1. Make Your Resume Stand Out
According to Glassdoor, each job post attracts, on average, 250 resumes. That’s hundreds of similar professional experiences, formatting, and fonts that might start to blend together.
Resumes, however, are still the most important tool employers use to evaluate candidates. Almost all employers say a candidate’s resume is very important to determining their readiness for a position.
Resumes tell companies about your past experience. Using specific phrases in your resume aligns your experience with a personal brand.
Marketers, for example, often want to include high-quality writing as part of their personal brand. Using words or phrases such as “storytelling,” “writer,” or “content specialist” can help consolidate a personal brand around a specific skill set in a resume.
Now is the best time for job seekers to update their resumes to be an extension of their personal brand.
“Instead of the run-of-the-mill statements touting skills, hiring managers are looking for more depth,” said Alex Azoury, founder and CEO of coffee company Home Grounds. “Job seekers should insert a brief statement about their experience, values, and goals in a way that shows [their] unique value proposition to an employer.”
Hiring managers will review hundreds of similarly formatted resumes from candidates with often similar backgrounds and experience. Job seekers must use their resumes to make themselves stand out.
“I focus on being specific about the work I did,” May said. “I avoid the temptation to be a generalist. I balance being industry-specific and showing how well I can apply what I’ve done before in my next role.”
Job seekers should use specific language and examples when describing past responsibilities and always tailor resumes to the positions they apply for.
2. Perfect Your Elevator Pitch
Job seekers should be able to define what sets them apart clearly and succinctly. The traditional “elevator pitch,” however, will look different in the COVID-19 age.
Almost all employers (95%) say a personal statement or elevator pitch is important when evaluating a candidate.
An elevator pitch is a brief summary of your professional and personal background that should be short enough to fit into the length of an elevator ride. It is an easy way to condense the essential components of your personal brand.
Job searching and hiring is different now that many companies are working remotely. Job seekers should be aware of how remote technology may impact their personal brand.
Most job interviews will take place via an online conferencing platform or simply over the phone. This requires the ability to express yourself without relying on nonverbal cues such as facial expressions or hand motions.
“In remote settings, it is even more important for employers to be able to quickly and accurately decipher the authentic you,” branding consultant Katy Goshtasbi said. “Your elevator pitch should include details about your personal story and how that parlays into you being a good fit for the role.”
Tips for a Successful Remote Elevator Pitch
- Identify the key professional experiences to communicate about yourself.
- Connect your personal story to how you fit the role
- Practice speed and annunciation before your remote interview
Job seekers should use this hiring slowdown to prepare their elevator pitch for when hiring starts up again.
3. Polish Your Social Media Profiles
Social media is an essential part of a personal brand, but job seekers should be cautious when posting to public social media profiles.
Almost all employers (90%) say social media is important when evaluating a candidate.
Job seekers should use social media to tell a story about their lives but should be careful about how much they share online.
Getting too personal on social media can hurt your chances at a job.
Most HR professionals (79%) surveyed have denied a candidate based on their social media profiles.
Social media content that can get candidates denied includes:
- Hate speech
- Images of heavy partying or drug use
- Illegal or illicit content
- Poor grammar
- Confidential or sensitive content about a former employer
LinkedIn is the best platform for job seekers to start building a personal brand on social media. LikedIn profiles are structured like resumes, so job seekers can use the platform to tell their personal stories and give details about professional experience.
Job seekers should make sure their LinkedIn profiles are accurate and comprehensive. Every first impression online counts when it might be awhile before you meet a recruiter in person.
“Hiring managers want accuracy, a profile that is comprehensive, as well as one that matches up well with other accounts,” said David Walter, hiring manager at Electrician Mentor, a website that provides resources for potential electricians. “If you come off as a supremely professional individual on LinkedIn, yet you have images of you partying on Facebook, that's not going to go over so well.”
Candidates should make sure their personal brand is consistent across their public social media channels.
A polished and professional LinkedIn profile could appear incongruent with an Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook account where you post about partying or illegal drugs.
“Unless you're trying to become a social media star, update your privacy settings,” said Shayne Sherman, CEO of TechLoris, a website that provides guides to fix tech devices at home. “If you're looking for a job, expect that your prospective employers will look at all of your social media, not just what you link on your resume.”
This doesn’t mean that job seekers have to completely overhaul personal social media profiles to appear more professional to employers.
One solution is for candidates to create “professional” social media profiles to build thought leadership and align their personal brand with their resume and LinkedIn profile. They can set their personal profiles to private if they contain potentially controversial content.
Social media profiles are essential to modern personal brands. Make sure yours aligns with your professional goals while communicating your personality and style.
4. SEO Your Name
Hiring managers don’t just research candidates on social media. Many use search engines to learn more about candidates’ past work and activities.
Job seekers should be proactive when creating a personal brand on search engines. Almost half of employers (43%) use Google search to research potential candidates.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a helpful branding exercise for many companies, and job seekers can also benefit from increased search visibility.
A quick search of your first and last name shows how visible your brand is to search engines. Searching for “Kelsey McKeon” for example, results in headshots and images followed by the corresponding LinkedIn profile.
Not all job seekers will immediately have a professional website appear in search results.
Candidates looking to improve their search engine results page can update their LinkedIn profile to help improve personal SEO.
Start by completing essential fields such as “Location” and “Company” or by customizing your profile URL to include your first and last name.
You can also optimize other channels such as Google+ or Twitter to appear in results pages more readily.
5. Invest in a Personal Website
Creating a personal website may seem daunting, but it can help applicants stand out from the crowd by bringing specific elements of a resume or cover letter to life.
About 80% of employers say a personal website is important when evaluating job candidates.
A basic website is free or inexpensive for individuals to create and can also help with personal branding SEO.
WordPress, for example, offers free starter websites and charges $4 per month to customize a domain by adding your name to your website’s URL.
Katy Goshtasbi blends personal and professional aspects of her work in her consulting firm’s website.
Goshtasbi uses her “About” section to tell her personal story, which provides context for her professional experience and builds a connection with readers. Job seekers can do the same with a very simple website.
It helps to think of a personal website as serving a similar function to an appropriate social media account. Personal websites showcase a candidate’s personality.
“A great personal brand helps us determine a fit for the company culture,” Azoury said. “Personal websites definitely don't hurt, as long as the website builds a personal brand as an extension of social media presence.”
Personal websites show more of a candidate’s personality, which helps employers make a more informed hiring decision.
Websites including headshots, animation, videos, and examples of past work all provide hiring managers with more information to make a decision about your candidacy.
Culture fit is an important factor in hiring decisions. A high-quality personal website will help hiring managers make those decisions more easily.
Job Seekers Should Invest in Personal Branding
Job seekers should invest in a personal brand. Personal brands help tie job seekers’ personality and background to their professional experience, setting them apart from other candidates.
Adjusting a resume is the first step of any job search. During the COVID-19 pandemic, where more people than ever before are looking for jobs, however, job seekers should emphasize specific experiences or qualities that help them stand out.
Job seekers should also adjust their “elevator pitch” and make sure it’s clear and succinct for remote interviews.
When applying for jobs, candidates should make sure their social media is a positive reflection of their personality and experiences. Private accounts help job seekers keep personal lives private.
Finally, job seekers should invest in strengthening their presence in search engine results by optimizing their names for search and building personal websites.
Investing in personal branding will help job seekers in the long term.
About the Survey
Clutch surveyed 505 full-time employers in the U.S.
Sixty-two percent (62%) describe their role as a hiring manager; 50% as a human resources generalist; 34% as a recruiting or staffing specialist; 20% as an executive; 10% as a consultant; and 5% as other.
Twenty-four percent (24%) live in the Midwest; 18% in the Northeast; 35% in the South; and 19% in the West.
Six in 10 respondents (60%) are female, and 40% are male.
Forty-three percent (43%) of respondents are ages 18-34; 47% are ages 35-54; and 10% are 55 years old and above.