How Job Seekers Can Build Their Online Brand

Personal branding expert says creating a website is the first step.

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Personal branding. The term was used so much last year that it's almost become cliché, yet you can bet it's only going to become more ubiquitous in 2011.

But what does personal branding mean, exactly? And how can job seekers use it to their advantage?

U.S. News spoke with Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Millennial Branding, a personal branding company, and author of Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future about steps job seekers can take to build a quality presence online. Excerpts:

[See 11 Tips for Getting Hired in 2011.]

Can you start by explaining what personal branding is and how it applies to job seekers?

Personal branding is a process by which you uncover what makes you special, relative to everyone else who is competing for the same opportunities, and then communicate that to the right audience … You need to take control of your brand, project the right image, and capitalize on your personality.

The Internet is the global talent pool, there's no doubt. That means you need to be in that pool. And the only way to get in that pool is to have a strong online personal brand. That can be composed of, at a minimum, your own website, so your full name dot com. That's the cost of entry to compete in the new marketplace.

[Your online brand should also include] your social network profiles on the top three social networks [meaning Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn], because people are searching for you on those networks—or people like you—and when they do, you need to come up … In the current economic environment, you can't have anything against you. You have to use everything at your disposal [to get a job]. … Your online presence becomes your chief career asset.

You say everyone should have their own website. Can you go over what should be on your website if you're looking for a job?

You can have a section for your resume. You can have a section for your different skills, and you can have a section for projects and results. You can have an introduction video or video resume of your stuff that's under two minutes, that shows who you are, what makes you unique, what value you contribute, and what type of job you're looking for. You can have links to LinkedIn and Twitter … You can have a list of published works and the links to those [works]. You can have endorsements from people you've worked with in the past and key influencers in your world. You can have your portfolio of work if you're in a creative field ... And you can easily outsource the web design.

[See 10 Ways to Use Social Media in Your Job Search.]

For a job seeker who's just beginning to think about personal branding, how should they get started? What should come first, the website or social networking?

The first thing is none of that. You need to discover your brand before you create it. Discovery is the most challenging but most important stage, because that's when you figure out what you're really passionate about, what career you want to pursue, and how you describe your brand.

If you put yourself out there in an authentic way, and you tell the world what you're good at and what kind of job you're interested in, you're going to attract only the right opportunities because you're telling people what you want. And that's the reason why social networking and blogging and getting yourself out there is so empowering. Because you're dictating what you're looking for. You're not just submitting your resume to random jobs … You're telling the world how you want to be judged and what you're looking for.

Which social network do you think is most helpful for job seekers?

Twitter is extremely valuable … It's effective because it's public networking, and people feel comfortable. It's like going on a first date at a restaurant instead of going to that person's house. That's why it's a good starting point. It helps build your brand in [other people's] eyes if you share good content, and if you connect with them and support them on Twitter. And once you have that, then you can take the relationship to LinkedIn or Facebook or e-mail. That's why I think Twitter's probably the best tool for starters.