If you’ve been on the internet for any period of time, you know what a brand is. Companies have them, public figures have them, influencers have them, and blogs have them, too. Up until I started working on my blog and working for my full-time job, though, I never really thought about the idea of a “brand” outside of this context, and I certainly didn’t think that I would ever need to have one.
But something that I’ve learned, and had to learn quickly, since starting my full-time career is that everyone has a brand. Everyone. And it’s nothing like a logo or a catchy tagline, but rather it’s the way that others perceive you in a professional environment and the way that you market yourself to your peers and superiors. It’s what you become known for in your professional career that can make or break your upward mobility. Now this sounds more familiar, right?
Where I work, we’re constantly asked what our brand is, and our managers constantly point out to us how the way we act or perform can affect our “brand” within the company. It’s a lot to take in, especially as a new hire right out of college just getting her start in corporate America.
But whether you’re a full-time, working professional, or an officer in an organization on your campus, there’s always room for improvement when it comes to your “brand,” and there’s always time to start developing your own! Many factors go into how others perceive your brand, but I’ve listed below what I believe are the most important ones.
1. Your work ethic.
Does this seem pretty self-explanatory? That’s because it should be! Your personal work ethic is probably the most important aspect of building your brand because it’s the one that speaks the most to who you are as an employee and as an asset to your company.
We always hear that we should be putting 110% into whatever we do, and while technically impossible, you get the idea. How much effort and time you put into the work you do every day is the best way to get noticed at work and the best way to prove that you’re capable of taking on more.
Are you focused and intent on getting your work finished in a timely and quality manner? Or are you (and I’m so guilty of this) on your phone and distracted when you should be doing other things? Everything you do at work, whether verbal or otherwise, communicates your level of dedication to your management, whether you think you’re being watched or not. Being on your best behavior and focusing on excelling at the tasks set in front of you is a surefire way to impress your supervisors and to gain a reputation for being a hard worker.
Ultimately, everything else in your brand is secondary to your ability to do your work and do it well.
2. Your appearance.
Sure, looks aren’t everything, as we’ve been taught since we were children, but looks do matter. It’s the first thing anyone you meet will notice about you and it’s the first thing they’ll use to judge you as a person. That sounds harsh, I know, but it’s true!
Let’s put it this way: say your office attire is “business casual.” That can mean a broad range of things, but I’ve always adhered to the notion that you should dress at the very least a smidge better than required, just like you should always put more effort into your work than is required. Wearing something that is slightly more professional than required will help you stand out among your peers the second someone sees you.
The attire at my office is “jeans-friendly business casual,” which is just a fancy way of saying that the standard is business casual but we can also wear nice jeans. After working there for almost two months, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve worn jeans to the office, and I’ve never worn anything other than ballet flats or nice, business professional pumps. My accessory of choice is a blazer rather than a cardigan as well. Basically, I emulate what my senior manager wears and dress to similar level of professionalism (remember friends: dress for the job you want, not the job you have).
What it comes down to is this: how do you want to be seen, and how do you want people to think of your appearance? For me, I want my peers, supervisors, and managers to look at me and say “she’s always dressed professionally and she takes pride in her appearance.” That’s part of my brand.
3. Your timeliness.
I’ll never forget the words that my high school chorus teacher drilled into my head: “Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable.” It’s a motto I’ve lived by for the past 8 years and it’s definitely one that has helped me stay on top of my schedule and stand out among my peers.
I start work at 8:30am, so being on time, for me, means arriving to the office anywhere between 8:15am and 8:25am. While I don’t start my official work until 8:30 rolls around, I make sure to stop by my desk to show my supervisor that I’m there early and then I’ll take that extra time to prepare myself for the rest of the day. I’ll put my lunch in the fridge, make myself a coffee in the break room and fill up my water bottle, and sometimes I’ll run to the deli downstairs to grab breakfast if I didn’t make any that morning.
I personally enjoy getting to work early because it gives me time to get comfortable in my space and mentally prepare for the day ahead. But even more than that, it communicates to my supervisor and managers that I can manage my time well and that, if for some reason they needed something started before my normal work schedule, I’m ready and present to help.
4. Your initiative.
How quickly are you learning? How hard are you trying to learn? How often do you volunteer to take on new tasks? How often do you participate in team discussions and put forth new ideas? Have you joined any networks within your company, and have you participated in any of their events?
The answers to these questions communicate two things: how eager you are to learn about and excel in your current position as well as your initiative to continue to contribute to your company and your team. If your supervisor or manager is looking for someone to head a new project or to test out a new process, being the first or one of the first ones to volunteer – every time – puts you at the front of the line for opportunities in the future and really shows your dedication to the position and your company, whether or not you’re actually selected for the task.
Your initiative can also open up future opportunities for you within your company, such as a job promotions or a lateral move to a position that is more suited to your job aspirations! So long as you’re able to balance your work responsibilities in your job description with those that you volunteer to take on, you can’t go wrong.
5. Your ability to take professional criticism.
No matter how hard you try and how well you think you complete a task, at some point your work or your behavior will be subject to some form of professional criticism. It’s bound to happen.
You’ll be judged less by what you’re receiving criticism for, however, than how you react to that criticism. Here’s the thing: your managers and supervisors are simply doing their due diligence by you when they let you know about a problem with your work or something that you can improve upon. While getting criticism never feels like a positive experience, all it can do is make you better. Which is what you want, isn’t it?
So when you receive criticism, are you grumpy and negative about the situation? Do you argue in an unprofessional manner, or complain about it to your coworkers? Or do you thank your supervisor and let them know that you’ll work your hardest to improve the situation?
If you feel upset or annoyed with any criticism you’re given, that’s okay. What isn’t okay is letting it show, or letting it get around the office.
6. Your career-defining moments.
I’ll never forget the first time I heard the word “career-defining moment.” Our client team was having a meeting with our senior manager to go over the itinerary for the grand opening of our building, and she mentioned that we needed to make sure that we didn’t turn our access to a mini bar inside the office into a “career-defining moment.”
Here’s the thing: career-defining moments can be either good or bad, but the inference is clear – whatever it is that you end up doing, you could potentially become known for it across the office. In the discussion with my senior manager, she was implying that we needed to make sure we didn’t abuse our access to a mini bar and become belligerent around our peers and managers. That’s not a good look.
But you can also have career-defining moments that lift you up rather than tear you down! Maybe you stepped up to complete an important client presentation when someone else bailed and you ended saving the meeting, or maybe you volunteered to stay super late because the project deadline your team was working under just couldn’t wait. These instances of opportunity can define who you are in the minds of your coworkers and your managers.
In short, you want your career-defining moments to work for you, not against you, and the only way to do that is to recognize that instances that could turn into a career-defining moment and act in the appropriate manner, whether that be avoiding the mini bar or stepping up to the plate when you’re needed.
7. Your work/life balance.
Most people think of work/life balance as being able to live their lives the way they want to without their work hampering their ability to do that. But it’s also important to remember that you shouldn’t be letting what’s going on in your personal life affect your ability to do your work, either.
This isn’t necessarily the obvious “don’t let your happy hour hangover affect your ability to get to work on-time” example, it can also be making sure you’re not working on things for your personal life while you’re at work as well as making sure that, when you walk into your office, you can put aside whatever is going on in your personal life and focus. And if that isn’t possible, it’s also understanding that it’s okay to take some time off to get yourself back together.
The other part of your work/life balance, however, is how willing you are to go the extra mile for your job, even if it may be at the expense of a few hours of your personal time. Now let me be clear: this is by no means a requirement unless it’s communicated as such by your superiors. But if you have the ability to make an impact on a project, even if it’s after your normal 9-5 hours, then taking the time to do so shows your dedication to your work and your willingness to go the extra mile.
8. Your network.
If you’re looking at this heading and thinking, “Wait a minute, one of these things is not like the others,” then, well, you’re not wrong. This may seem like the outlier in this list but it can be one of the most important aspects of getting your brand noticed at work.
Who do you associate with when you’re at work? Are you talking to and hanging out with people who don’t have the best work ethic, who constantly complain about the work that they’re doing, who slack off often? Or are you surrounding yourself with people who are high achievers and whose brand you aspire yours to be like? Essentially, are you surrounding yourself with people who inspire you, or who have checked out?
Associating yourself with people who excel in their position not only gives you role models who will motivate you to do well, it also surrounds yourself with people who can help you improve and who can advocate for you during your performance reviews.
Ultimately, you want to have as many people in your corner as possible, from as many different backgrounds as possible. Befriend the IT person that helped you set up your computer, the person who works your front desk, your custodian, the supervisor that sits in the cubicle next to yours, and the manager that’s always in the break room getting coffee at the same time as you. Every person you meet has the potential to teach you something new about you and put in a good word for you!
How would you do describe your professional brand, and what’s one thing you’re doing to build it? Let me know in the comments below!