The game played between recruiters and candidates used to be simple. There were resumes. Interviews. Handshakes. Offers. It was who you were offline that mattered.

But now the game has changed.

Today the traditional two-player contest has evolved into a complex, multifaceted experience that takes place over multiple online channels.

And it’s the people that adapt best to this change that’ll grab the best career opportunities. It’s basically marketplace Darwinism.

What does this mean to you? It means that in today’s graduate landscape you have to stand out across a web of social network profiles, portfolios and blogs. It means that business recruiters are looking for a consistent, impressive and authentic profiles of talented applicants.

It means you need to create your own brand.

So what’s your personal brand? Why do you need one? And what is a personal brand, anyway?

Personal brand evolution

The idea of a personal brand was first suggested by Tom Peters in the late 90s. The basic premise was that individuals could apply the same approach as companies when it came to values, messaging and core propositions.

Even as recently as the late 2000s the idea hadn’t really caught on. People identified with some individuals as brands. Richard Branson. David Beckham. Jay-Z. Britney Spears. We knew who these people were and what they stood for.

They were celebrities, though. Businesses built around icons. They weren’t regular people like the rest of us.

But then social media explosion happened. Suddenly, everyone had numerous platforms to curate a digital identity. Everybody had channels to market themselves to the world. And if you’re not sending the right message, why would a business want to employ you?

Clearly, building a compelling brand is in the interests of any aspiring modern professional.

Building your profile 

So how do you do it? How do you become a brand without becoming a satirical punchline?

Well, it all starts with knowing who you are. Sounds easy, right? I mean, you’re you. You should know yourself.

But all too often people end up creating a professional profile full of skills and promises that they can’t deliver on. This might work in the short term, but when people figure out you’re a fraud, well, it’s all over.

So the first step is to achieve authenticity. Be honest about yourself.

The next step is to communicate what you believe in. Question what you stand for. Your values. That might sound fluffy, but it’s important. Recruiters are people. And people are drawn and relate to people that have opinions. Beliefs. An ethos.

Obviously you don’t want to be too controversial or edgy, but even that’s better than being a placid, neutral character – because those people are only ever supporting players. They’re never the lead.

Once you’re armed with authentic values, you need to establish your proposition. Your USPs. What do you do better or differently to anyone else? What are your skills that pay the bills?

Why does anyone need you?

Establish your base

You might be an incredible writer. Designer. Programmer. Illustrator. But unless you showcase that somehow, no one will know.

So the core of your online brand should be a portfolio. This could be a bespoke website or just a simple WordPress blog, but it’s a good idea to have a nameplate domain that you own. This is your personal brand HQ. Your digital stronghold. It’ll also allow you to create your own domain email, e.g. [email protected].

From there, you can create your online outposts – places you don’t control, but can build a presence. LinkedIn. Twitter. Google+. LinkedIn is a huge opportunity. It’s effectively a shop window, and it’s worth investing the time to create a strong profile, connect to relevant people and seek out recommendations and endorsements. If your social profiles are an embarrassing mess, learn how to clean them up or your career could be over before it even begins.

It’s important to be consistent across all your online profiles. You wouldn’t think much of Apple if their logo and messaging was different on all their products, would you? So you need to coordinate all your branding. Pick a headshot you like and use it for all your public-facing profiles.

Keep it fresh

There’s plenty more advice out there for graduates on how to create a personal brand. A key takeaway is that just setting up respectable, honest and consistent profiles isn’t enough. You need to be interesting. Follow thought leaders. Get involved in industry trends. Engage with people. Become part of the conversation.

Recruiters pay attention to people with something new to say. And if you want to crack into any business, you should probably have some original ideas. Share these, and make that your brand.

Even when you’ve landed an awesome job, you need to put in the time to maintain your profiles. Don’t lazily allow your brand to degrade over time. After all, you probably won’t stay in that awesome job forever – and who knows what business head-hunters are out there checking out your online presence?

Don’t cringe or be embarrassed by the idea of personal branding. It’s a real thing. And it’s only going to grow. Just don’t refer to yourself as a brand and you’ll be fine…

For more information on personal branding, check out these guides on Mashable and the Guardian.

Feature image via Creative Commons