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Seven headshots with the text "Putting your best foot forward".

Putting Your Best Foot Forward

How to Strengthen Your Personal Brand – and Why It Matters

By Gaye Hill

Putting Your Best Foot Forward

How to Strengthen Your Personal Brand – and Why It Matters

By Gaye Hill

Personal brands have been having a moment of late – so we checked in with some of our faculty and staff experts and asked them to reflect on the concept of personal branding through their particular professional lens. Their insights might surprise you – and provide ideas for how to think about and strengthen your own brand.

We asked our experts these five questions:

  1. What is a personal brand?
  2. How do you express it?
  3. Why does your personal brand matter?
  4. Where or when might you use or express your personal brand?
  5. How can a person identify or strengthen their personal brand?

Whitney Manzo smiling.Whitney Ross Manzo

Associate Professor of Political Science

  • A personal brand is what you are known for. It’s your reputation and your image – the picture that enters someone’s mind when they hear your name. This can be both positive and negative, of course, and it’s easy to think of political figures who fall into either category.
  • For a politician, their personal brand literally becomes their logo. Done right, a voter should be able to see a candidate’s logo and have the candidate’s personal brand immediately come to mind. It could be a short catchphrase, an icon, or even just a distinctive font, but the goal for any politician is to have every voter aware of their personal brand and like it.
  • If voters do not know your brand, they will likely not vote for you. We know from political science research that name recognition is huge for political candidates, and a good brand can help with that.
  • You express your personal brand any time you want people to know who you are. For elected officials and political candidates, that’s essentially always!
  • Political candidates workshop personal brands with focus groups. This is pretty cynical, but it’s part of what you do to get elected. Then, once you have your brand, you repeat it ad nauseam, everywhere you go, so people remember it when they are in the voting booth.

Dana Sumner smiling.Dana F. Sumner

Director, Office of Career Planning

  • Your personal brand is a reflection of your identity – who you are, and not only who you say you are … it’s what you do. This includes your behaviors, your actions, your accomplishments, your commitment to what you do and get done, and your credibility and trustworthiness! It also includes what you are known for – your values and beliefs, and what you are good at – what you do best!
  • You express your personal brand genuinely, authentically, consistently, intentionally, and purposefully.
  • It can provide you with direction and purpose, keep you focused on your goals, and help you clearly communicate your skills and aspirations. It can also dictate how employers, team members, and colleagues perceive you in their organization, on their team, and in their community – and therefore the opportunities given to you. When your brand aligns with what a team or organization is looking for, it can increase your chances of an employer choosing you over the others competing for that job.
  • You use or express your personal brand in person, through informal and formal conversations with others; online, through LinkedIn and other social media; and through professional documents, including your resume, emails, and quick messages/chats/texts.
  • To strengthen your brand, first take time to reflect and become self-aware: know your unique skills, talents/strengths, values, beliefs, priorities, and motivations. What do you want most? Document your reflections.
    • Then, consider your unique story and develop a succinct way to share it – in person and online – challenges, risks taken, mistakes made, successes, motivations, dreams, outcomes, and what you’ve learned.
    • Think about your brand as what others are saying about you when you’re not in the room. Ask this along with the following questions to individuals you trust: What do you see as my strengths? What do you think I do well? If you were describing me to someone else, what would you say?
    • Consider what you want to gain from your brand and what you want to be known for. Are you looking to build your network, elevate career opportunities, be an influencer, provoke thinking and new ideas?
    • Next, set short-term and long-term goals around how you will strengthen your brand. How do you want to express yourself to others? How do you want to be seen? How do you want to engage?
    • Then, create, share, and engage, identifying your audience to individualize/tailor your messages. Connect with others; be intentional and identify those you need and want in your network. Networking can help manage your brand and widen your circles of influence.
    • Keep an open mind and get feedback consistently: know how your brand lands on and resonates with others. Stay consistent with your values and beliefs – and be willing to tweak your messages and actions as needed. A growth mindset can go a long way.
    • Finally, revisit your brand regularly – each month at minimum: Is it accomplishing your goals?

Hyojung Cho smiling.Hyojung Cho

Assistant Professor of Fashion Merchandising and Design

  • A personal brand is the unique identity, image, and reputation that individuals cultivate and present to the world. It encompasses their values, beliefs, skills, personality traits, and overall essence. Just like corporate brands, personal brands aim to differentiate individuals from others, leaving a lasting impression and conveying a specific message about who they are and what they stand for.
  • Expressing a personal brand through dress requires a strategic and deliberate approach to selecting clothing, grooming practices, and overall fashion sense. It begins with a deep understanding of one’s identity, values, and objectives, which are then translated into tangible visual cues. Based on identity theory, dress serves as a symbolic tool through which individuals construct and negotiate their identity. For instance, an individual embodying a personal brand centered around professionalism and dependability might gravitate towards tailored suits or dresses in neutral colors, whereas someone representing a more creative brand might experiment with vivid patterns and accessories. Every aspect of dress, ranging from garments to accessories to hairstyle, contributes to the comprehensive image and message conveyed.
  • In the job market, where competition is fierce and first impressions are crucial, a strong personal brand can make all the difference. Employers seek candidates who not only possess relevant qualifications and experience but also align with the organizational culture on a personal level. A well-defined personal brand enables candidates to distinguish themselves, showcasing their unique strengths and leaving a lasting impact on potential employers. Furthermore, in the digital era, a compelling personal brand can significantly bolster one’s online presence and professional reputation, especially as recruiters increasingly screen candidates online.
  • Personal branding is not limited to specific occasions or settings; it permeates every aspect of an individual’s life and interactions. Whether in a professional setting such as job interviews, networking events, or client meetings, or in personal settings like social gatherings or volunteer activities, one’s personal brand is continuously being communicated and reinforced. Additionally, with the rise of social media and online platforms, individuals have more opportunities than ever to express and amplify their personal brand to a global audience.
  • Identifying and strengthening a personal brand through dress necessitates introspection, experimentation, and consistency. Firstly, individuals should engage in reflection on their values, strengths, passions, and aspirations to gain clarity regarding their personal brand identity. Then, they can explore diverse clothing styles, colors, and accessories to determine what aligns best with their brand message and persona. Ultimately, maintaining consistency in attire choices across various contexts and over time solidifies one’s brand identity and leaves a lasting impression on others. Furthermore, in the age of social media, where virtual identities are gaining prominence, leveraging dress as a tool to shape one’s online persona can be particularly impactful in building and disseminating personal branding.

*See end of story for references.

Michael Altman smiling.Michael Altman

Assistant Professor of Practice and Program Director, Hospitality and Tourism Management

  • I believe that a personal brand is how you want your authentic self to be seen by others, who include colleagues, friends, family, and most importantly guests or clients. It is not on its own your “reputation.”
  • Ours is a service industry, so your personal brand is primarily expressed by your attitude and how you handle every single “moment of truth” which is a single guest or customer encounter, good or bad. You could have hundreds, even thousands of them every day!
  • While I said that your personal brand is not on its own your reputation, it does go towards how others see and experience you and how thorough, reliable, and trustworthy they feel you are. These all contribute to your overall reputation. The better that is, the more likely you are to be successful in your hospitality-related work.
  • You express your personal brand when you are in front of a guest or customer, when you are working with colleagues, when you are negotiating with suppliers, supporting partners, or even reporting to management.
  • In our industry, you first need to determine whether you are suited to and truly have a desire to serve and/or become a servant leader. Some people are and some aren’t. If you do, then you must find an organization who you feel will support your own values, beliefs, and goals and will cultivate and support your efforts to perform on the job. One good way to strengthen your personal brand is to find a mentor who through their own behaviors, counsel, and connections can help you progress.

    Emily Caldwell smiling.Emily Caldwell

    Director, StrongPoints®

    • Your personal brand is who you are, and how others see you. It’s also about why you do the things you do. It goes beyond the details of your actions, blending your core identity with who you are and underscoring your natural strengths.
    • Your personal brand is expressed in everything you do, from your professional demeanor at work to your conduct in class, the way you interact with others, and even your presence on social media. It’s about consistently showcasing your authentic self and values and strengths in every facet of your life. It’s about embracing who you are, releasing who you are not.
    • Your personal brand matters because it differentiates you in a world where people often get lost in the crowd. It’s a reflection of your unique contributions, perspectives, and strengths.
    • Your personal brand is expressed all the time. Whether you’re in a professional setting, working on a group project for a class, engaging with friends, or active on digital platforms, your personal brand permeates your actions and communications, signaling who you are to the world.
    • Identifying and strengthening your personal brand begins with a deep understanding of yourself – recognizing your intrinsic qualities and strengths. CliftonStrengths® offers valuable insights by providing a language to articulate your unique strengths. Recognizing not only your strengths but also understanding your weaknesses and the potential downsides of your strengths is crucial. This awareness, combined with an ongoing exploration of your identity and careful attention to your public image, are key in building a strong personal brand. The more you learn about all facets of yourself, the easier it will be to articulate your personal brand and who you are.

      Lormarev Jones.Lormarev Jones

      Assistant Professor of Theatre, Program Coordinator

      • Branding in the theatre space can be tricky, depending on what your work is. Actors very often find themselves getting cast as a certain “type” – that is, an archetypal role that they have the right look for. Actors do get opportunities to “play against type,” but it is good for them to know what roles they are most likely to be up for.
      • My personal brand is primarily expressed on my website, though I very often get referrals for freelance gigs from previous collaborators. In the past, I have also used quirky business cards. I am a multi-disciplinary artist, so my website has to cover a lot of ground: I am an actor, a director/choreographer, an intimacy director, and an educator. Obviously, useful skills for each of those roles overlap, but it helps to provide someone who doesn’t know me personally with a full picture of the breadth of my work.
      • Branding can feel icky, sure – like selling yourself as a product. BUT – it is important to identify what it is that you do well; it’s usually many things. Highlighting and featuring those skills, whether through writing, speech, or visual elements, can create a fuller picture of who you are as a worker and as an artist.

        Kelly Wilder smiling.Kelly Wilder

        Assistant Professor of Marketing

        • A personal brand is the unique mix of skills, experiences, and personality that defines you and the way you present yourself to the world. It incorporates how you are perceived by others, your reputation, and the value you bring to both personal and professional interactions.
        • Your personal brand is communicated in all the ways you interact with the world. Your presentation on social media platforms – both personal and professional; the way you interact in professional settings and networking events; your verbal and non-verbal communications including your appearance; and finally, how consistently your brand is presented are all ways you express your personal brand to the world.
        • A personal brand helps set you apart from others in the market – enhancing networking and career advancement opportunities – and when expressed in a consistent fashion, helps establish credibility and trust amongst your professional peers. An additional benefit of defining your brand (and checking in with it regularly as you grow personally and professionally), is that it can serve as a reminder to you of your goals and values, helping you maintain your authenticity as you grow in your career.
        • Defining your personal brand can feel like a difficult task when you are still learning who you are and don’t yet have much experience. A helpful approach is to consider yourself as a problem solver. Are there certain problems
          • You are good at solving?
          • You enjoy solving?
          • You want to learn how to solve?
          • For which you want to be part of the solution?
        • Today’s employer is primarily focused on your potential. While they might be interested in your experience, that experience benefitted someone else. Employers are more intrigued by the potential benefit you offer their organization in the future. By framing your personal brand around the problems you can and will solve, why solving that problem is important to you, and how you are uniquely suited for that work, you can craft a personal brand that allows you to authentically express your professional value and values.


        Jenkinson, J. (2020). ‘Wear your identity’: Styling identities of youth through dress – a conceptual model. Fashion, Style & Popular Culture, 7(1). 73-99.
        Khedher, M. (2019). Conceptualizing and researching personal branding effects on the employability. Journal of Brand Management, 26(2), 99-109.
        Koifman, N. (2022, September 7). Building your personal brand using fashion. Forbes.
        Lennon, S. J., Johnson, K. P., & Rudd, N. A. (2017). Social psychology of dress. Fairchild Books. ISBN: 9781501330711

        We asked our experts these five questions:

        1. What is a personal brand?
        2. How do you express it?
        3. Why does your personal brand matter?
        4. Where or when might you use or express your personal brand?
        5. How can a person identify or strengthen their personal brand?
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