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Build your career; build your brand

Earlier today, I conducted a workshop on job search techniques for students in a local job training program. Most of the students had been searching for work for several months to no avail, and hopelessness and dejection hung heavily in the air. Finally, one woman asked the question so many in the room wondered but were too embarrassed to ask, a question echoed in quiet corners across this country by millions of people in the midst of an unproductive job search: "What do you do when you just want to give up?"

As one who has been on both sides of this equation, I can say confidently that discouragement and poor results in a job search effort almost always result  when we try to attain a goal without an effective strategy. In an economy such as this, the most effective job search strategy you can implement is differentiating yourself and what you have to offer from everyone else; in short, you have to establish a personal brand.

Personal branding is a term which has been thrown around an awful lot lately by marketing professionals and career coaches. So much of the rhetoric surrounding the issue is aimed at middle-to-upper level professionals seeking to differentiate themselves in the workplace, and the advice on how to establish a personal brand abounds, from starting a blog, to launching a personal website, to writing articles to establish one's expertise in a particular area.

But what about the average Joe-the manual laborer, the secretary, the childcare provider-who doesn't have an advanced degree, corporate aspirations, or interest in writing a blog? They, too, can and should develop a strong personal brand. Everyone, regardless of title or job description, has something valuable to contribute in the workplace; your job is to decide what that value is and to consistently, deliberately deliver that value, or promote your brand.

Simply put, your brand is what people think about when they think of you. It's the aggregate of the thoughts and feelings they associate with being around or doing business with you.

Knowing your brand--how you come across, what energy you project, what experience others have of you-is critical to professional growth and development. To ignore it or render it irrelevant is akin to career suicide. Following are just a few of the components which help to make an effective Brand You:

1. Confidence: This simply means believing that you have something valuable to contribute.

2. Self-awareness: This involves knowing who you are; what is your personality? What are your values? What are your areas of expertise? It also involves knowing how you come across, what messages you convey through your attitude, presentation, style of dress, etc.

3. Authenticity: Realize that you are an original. No one can be you like you, nor can you credibly duplicate anyone else.

4. Value: What are your skills? Your unique gifts and talents? What do you do better than others who have similar skill sets, education, etc.?

5. End goal: What are your goals? By what process do you plan to attain them?

6. Self-promotion:  Even the best product is no good if it stays on the shelf. Market yourself; let others know what you have to offer and that you can add value to their bottom line. You can do this through your resume, in an interview, or while networking.

Finally, be energized. Remember that YOU have to be sold on you before others will.