Building Your Personal Brand for Your Military Transition

By Sarah Landrum

When you’re looking for a job, you have to stand out. Whether you’ve been in the civilian workforce for a while or are just starting to look for a civilian job after serving, it’s important to demonstrate what differentiates you from everyone else out there. Employers are looking to fill a need, and establishing yourself in the industry — whether it’s media, operations, manufacturing or finance — requires branding.

For a company or a product, branding is all about drawing in new customers and building relationships to keep them coming back. For the job seeker, it’s more about creating a professional identity that potential employers will respond to. Personal branding is hard work. You have to strategize, get the right tools and know how to use them. However, once you’ve formed the framework of your personal brand, you’ll have a platform for relationship, business and career development for years into the future.

Here are a few tips for getting started on building your personal brand.

Find a Niche

Every industry is packed with people just like you, looking to stand out in a sea of job applicants. When building your brand, choose an aspect of your industry to specialize in. Most fields encompass a wide range of subfields that you can focus on. Instead of being a “marketing” or “technology” generalist, figure out which subfield appeals to you most, and focus your efforts on making that niche central to your personal brand.

When you specialize, you’re not only putting yourself into a smaller pond of competitors, but you’re also opening the door for becoming an expert in your field, which goes a long way in the creation of a personal brand.

Social Media Buzz

The advent of social media has made personal branding both easier and more complicated. The fact that everyone is connected online is great for keeping in touch with contacts, getting your voice out there and easily keeping up with industry news.

Maintaining all of those social profiles can be time consuming, but they are definitely worth it.

LinkedIn

This network is a staple for any job seeker. It combines your résumé, references, cover letter, contacts and job application into one. Connect with current and former colleagues, mentors or prospective partners to grow your network and make the most of their contacts. And make sure you participate in some groups. Posting responses to discussions can help you get your opinions and expertise out to your network.

When creating your profile, align your page with your personal brand by taking advantage of the customizable aspects of LinkedIn:

  • Headline: Don’t let your headline be your current position. Write something that will position you as an expert or thought leader in your field. This will let potential employers see your skills up front, priming you for your next job or career move.
  • Custom URL: Make your LinkedIn easily accessible by changing the direct URL from a series of numbers to something that includes your name and your industry, and putting it on your business card. That way, potential employers or partners don’t have to search through pages of people named Jane Doe to find you.
  • Summary: A list of skills is fine for your résumé, but your LinkedIn summary should be more detailed. Write a few well thought out sentences that highlight your goals and experience. When potential employers are looking at LinkedIn pages, this is what they’ll look at first. As a veteran, you can use this section to translate your military skills into civilian job opportunities.

Google+

Google+ is a great venue for boosting your personal brand. By setting up a profile, you can easily showcase your expertise and share it with others in your industry, while also letting your personality come through. Host a hangout where you offer some unique advice or gather other experts together on a virtual panel. Try posting some fun facts about the industry or your experience to get people to connect with you and draw the attention of potential employers or fellow industry workers. Rob Mericle’s “Did You Know” series is a great example of this. In it, he shares surprising statistics that are relevant to the industry. The custom images capture attention and increase engagement, all while boosting his professional credibility.

Twitter

Twitter is a shorter, live-stream version of blogging. It’s another way to get your ideas and opinions out to your network.

Tweet at prospective employers, other industry specialists and publications in response to their posts. They’ll take notice, and many companies will follow the people who follow them. If you’re constantly tweeting about your expertise on a niche topic, people in the industry will begin to think of you as a thought leader, and you’ll become more desirable to employers.

Don’t forget to put your Twitter handle, LinkedIn URL and Google+ profile in your email signature, along with any other social media profiles you have. That way, they’ll be easily accessible to anyone who receives a cold email from you.

Build Your Branding Toolkit

You already know that when you’re looking for a job, it’s crucial to have your résumé handy — both in print and email format. However, there are some things to have on hand during your search that can help to solidify your personal brand that you may not have thought of.

  • Business Cards: Even if you don’t have a job yet, you should still have business cards ready to hand out to potential employers, new contacts and partners. They should contain your name, area of specialty and contact information.
  • Portfolio: If you’re just starting out, you may not have a portfolio just yet, but make sure you start assembling one as soon as you can. Whether it’s on a USB drive, disc or in print, have it available for people to look at. You can also create an online portfolio using a site such as visualcv.com, re.vu, or Pinterest.com.
  • Blog: If you want to be seen as an expert in your field and open yourself up to more career opportunities, consider creating a blog. Start a blog, either on your website, using a tool such as WordPress.com or Tumbr.com, or on LinkedIn, and get your voice out there. Make sure you’re updating it frequently (at least once a week) and that you’re promoting your posts on your social media pages as well.
  • Website: Your website is your résumé, business card and portfolio rolled into one. Get a domain name that looks professional, and lets people easily visit. For example, yournamehere.com or www.yournameyourbusiness.com. Your website can also let people know more details about you, your background and your experience. Easily connect with your social media profiles for an online hub that embodies your personal brand.

Building and maintaining your personal brand is no small feat, but once you dedicate some time to the foundation, expanding will be a breeze. You’ll find that the professional presence you’ve built will not only help your job search but also benefit you in developing your new civilian career.

About the Author
Sarah Landrum is a freelance writer and founder of Punched Clocks. Coming from a military family, Sarah is passionate about helping veterans find and succeed in a civilian career. Follow Sarah for more advice on career development @SarahLandrum

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