ATD Blog

Why Personal Branding Is Key to Talent Development

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Too often, professionals with real potential go unrecognized because they aren’t able to effectively communicate their skills and abilities. Helping employees develop a strong personal brand enables them to understand what they can bring to the table, and makes your organization stronger because it can leverage each person’s true talents.

Here are five ways you can help others—including yourself—discover their personal brand and share it with the world.

Try the “three words” exercise

As talent professionals, you know the value of comprehensive 360-degree reviews. But it’s just not possible for every employee to undergo that comprehensive of a process. Instead, as I suggest in my book Reinventing You, you can do a two-minute version that’s remarkably effective.

Over the period of a week, ask five to six people to describe you in only three words. Very quickly, you’ll start to see patterns emerge that can help you understand how people view you and what traits shine through (energetic, responsible, visionary, thoughtful, and so forth). That way, you can begin to play to your strengths.

Make reinvention a habit 

One of the talent professionals I interviewed for Reinventing You was Steven Rice, executive vice president of human resources for the Silicon Valley company Juniper Networks. He told me that when he’s interviewing candidates for senior leadership positions, he always asks the question, “How are you reinventing yourself?”

Rice believes we need to make reinvention a habit in order to succeed in this fast-changing economy. Finding small ways to stay current (attending a different conference, learning a new skill, reading regularly) is valuable for any professional.


Create a narrative 

One of the biggest mistakes people make in personal branding is failing to create a narrative. They assume that others will instinctively understand their career progression. But often, other people really aren’t paying close attention to where you’ve been in the past and where you are now. Their perceptions of you may be significantly out of date.

So, take ownership of your narrative and create a short statement explaining how your past feeds into your future (“Because of my experience in X, I’m able to do XYZ more effectively in my present role”). That ensures others aren’t constructing their own—often erroneous—versions of your history.

Take on leadership roles 

Every professional knows that participating in professional organizations is a great way to network. It follows that “more” should be better; if you’re a member of 10 groups, you’ll meet far more people than if you joined only two.


But it turns out that logic is faulty. The goal shouldn’t be to attend lots of meetings; instead, it should be to form deeper relationships and make a real impact. Instead of joining 10 groups, become a leader in two.

Thanks to the psychological concept of “social proof,” you’ll be regarded very differently if you’ve been elected a leader by your peers; you’ll be sought out and regarded as an expert, which can make a big difference in your career trajectory. When it comes to the organizations you join, go deep instead of wide.

Share your ideas 

Every company has a different social media policy, and it’s important to understand and honor it. But every organization, in one form or another, encourages idea sharing. It could be through your own podcast series or Twitter account, or perhaps through an internal corporate social network like Yammer or writing for the company blog. Whatever the method, it’s important to start putting yourself out there and sharing your ideas.

As I’ve written for my Forbes blog, the Internet is now your resume. If you share your ideas publicly, it allows others to learn about you and see how you think. That increases their level of trust in your judgment and often draws them to you: I want to do business with this person.

Keeping your head down and your ideas hidden is a thing of the past. Today’s successful professionals understand the importance of making a contribution and sharing their insights.

As talent development professionals, you’re committed to helping others develop their true potential. Personal branding is key to that process, because it enables professionals to grasp what makes them unique and bring that talent to work. 

About the Author

Dorie Clark is a marketing strategy consultant and frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review and  Forbes. Recognized as a “branding expert” by the Associated Press and Fortune, she is the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future. Clark consults and speaks for a diverse range of clients, including Google, the World Bank, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, the Ford Foundation, Yale University, the Mount Sinai Medical Center, and the National Park Service. A former presidential campaign spokeswoman, Clark is an adjunct professor of business administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She has been named to the Huffington Post’s “100 Must Follow on Twitter” list for 2013 and 2014, and to the #Nifty50 list of top women on Twitter.

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