The beginning of the new year is often when we look at our resolutions, goals and areas to improve on going forward. Unlike most professionals, when you’re transitioning from a military to a civilian career, your “new year” goals might take place at any time during the calendar year. After all, you don’t only separate on Jan. 1.
Whether you’re setting new year ambitions or looking to further your career, focusing on your personal brand is critical to ensure career success.
What Is a Personal Brand, and Why Does It Matter?
Your personal brand lives in the perception others have of you. The value they assign you based on how you communicate, behave/act and the relationships you form directly influences whether others want to offer you opportunities like a new job, promotion or introductions … or not. Basically, your personal brand is what others believe is true about you.
Your brand is crucial to career success for many reasons, including:
• How others feel about you (perceive you) can determine whether they want to work with you, refer or endorse you or help you. If their perception of you is negative, they might be more reluctant to help. If they believe you’re someone worth supporting, they might extend a helping hand.
• Since perception is highly subjective, knowing how others perceive you is important to knowing where the obstacles and opportunities lie. Learning that others see you as stubborn, non-collaborative and arrogant would be helpful to make changes to your actions and communication. Similarly, knowing that others appreciate and value your sense of humor, empathetic style and approachability could indicate your value proposition.
• Knowing how you want to be perceived (your ideal personal brand state) gives you the opportunity to move from how you’re seen today to your goal. While we cannot change other people, we can influence their impression of us and affect their perception. Without knowing how you’re perceived and what you want, this is a hard step to navigate.
How Do You Set Up Your Personal Brand?
Building your personal brand involves several steps:
1. What are your values?
This question is the foundation of personal branding, because your values allow you to gain credibility. Get clear about what you stand for, will defend and feel is paramount to who you are. Your values are your operating system; you’ll make decisions through these to earn credibility. As others see your actions match your values, they will trust you.
2. What are your current and desired brands?
Assess where you are today: How do people perceive you and feel about you? What do they consider your value to them? Either with feedback or anecdotal conversation, uncover how you’re currently perceived. Then clarify your vision of an ideal end state. What would you like to be known for? How would you like people to perceive you? With these two points in place, you can determine a strategy to move from how you’re seen today to how you want to be seen.
3. Who’s your target audience?
Your audience is the people whose perception of you matters the most. Not everyone in the world is your target. If you’re in a job search, you’ll identify employers who meet your criteria: They are the companies who are doing the work you’re passionate about, in the way you like, with other parameters you deem valuable.
If you’re pursuing a promotion, your target audience would be your boss, colleagues, other decision makers and influencers in the promotion process. If you’re in sales, your audience would be customers, vendors and so on.
4. What does your audience need to know and feel?
Each person has functional and emotional needs. They need to know things about you (career history, certifications, etc.) and feel things for you (“she’s empathetic and caring,” “he’s committed to his teams,” and the like). Your job is to identify what your audience needs to know and feel from you and align wherever possible.
With this information in hand, you’ll be able to design a post-military career strategy that’s meaningful, sustainable and measurable. You can then look at all the ways you’ll share your personal brand, including through your narrative and communications, online profiles, content and conversations, networking and relationships, presence, body language and image.
The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty” (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputation risk management.
A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.
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