When you're looking for a job, you are a brand. And in a web 2.0 world, everything about you on the Internet is part of your brand -- from an article you wrote for a trade journal to a picture of you from a wedding. We know you've heard it before, but just as your personality and achievements have changed since you closed your first sale, so should your brand.
Personal branding is changing daily. What was a signal of expertise when you set up your LinkedIn profile two years ago is now old news, and we'll bet that there are some of you who haven't tweeted since you wrote about "balloon boy."
So how can you ensure that your online presence reflects the active and experienced salesperson or marketer you are, rather than the keg-standing frat boy you once were (or maybe still are on Saturday nights)?
Dan Schawbel, author of "Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future", suggests you take an active approach.
"When there are millions of people competing for jobs, those with the most well-known brands will stand out among the rest," says Schawbel.
Here are a few of Schawbel's tips from Me 2.0 that can help take your web presence from zero to 60 faster than you can accept a job offer.
Step One: Discover Your Brand
First things first: you need to know who you are and who you want to become. "Professionals need to brand themselves for the career they want, not the job they have," says Schawbel. Think of Robert Scoble, the computer pro turned tech-evangelist who calls himself the "Scobleizer" -- "He did something that wasn't done before; it was different," says Schawbel. "He's doing what he loves now because he figured out how to capitalize on it." Your brand should encompass the strengths that make you distinctive, what you're passionate about, and the career goals you've set for yourself.
Step Two: Create a Presence
Decide which traditional and non-traditional media you'll use -- from business cards and reference lists to blogs and video resumes, the possibilities are endless. Keep in mind that your brand should be unwavering: "Ensure that the content, including pictures and text, is concise, compelling, and consistent with how you want to represent yourself." Consistency is key when considering how to craft your presence for the long term, says Schawbel. "Take Perez Hilton," he says, speaking of the syndicated gossip columnist. "Those drawings are posted all over the web -- they aren't going anywhere. That's how he'll be remembered."
Step Three: Communicate
This isn't just about suggesting your Facebook friends "like" your fan page; Schawbel advises you go all out to get your name circulating. Writing for sector-specific blogs and magazines, pitching yourself as an industry expert to the media, and landing speaking engagements are just a few of the ways you can increase your brand's exposure. Consistency is also crucial, says Schawbel. "Someone like Seth Godin, who delivers content every day, has been able to develop a strong audience," Schawbel says. Godin's online signature is sending out thought-provoking ideas in as few words as possible. "[His audience] expects the content to come out. It's good, thought-provoking, and from someone they trust."
Step Four: Maintain Your Brand
"As you grow, the brand people see has to grow at the same time," says Schawbel. "For every new job, award, press article, and client victory -- to name a few -- everything you have created has to reflect that." In particular, keeping your appearances and expertise up-to-date online could have recruiters searching the web for candidates and finding you through your brand channels and asking you to send in your resume. Not sure where to start? Try LinkedIn's feature that allows you to add a list of your certifications, patents and places you've been published as an expert.
Brand maintenance is also about information and damage control. "You have to carefully monitor your brand," he says, "so you know what people are saying about you, and you can react accordingly."
-- Once you've established your brand, you can't just let it sit there and stew. It's easy to set it and forget it, but your brand isn't a crock pot. Technology is going to change and so is your brand. Keep up.
-- "The web has leveled the recruitment playing field," says Schawbel, "and favored job seekers are those who are the most connected and visible." Use the internet to your advantage. Find people the companies and skills you want to be connected with and form referral-building relationships with them.
-- Take charge of your search results. "By developing a blog, writing articles for other sites, and having social media profiles, you're able to have control over the search results for your name, and thus control your online rep," says Schawbel.
-- "At the end of the day you have to make it your own," says Schawbel. "You might have seven kids. You might not be able to maintain your brand every day." Considering yourself and your lifestyle is necessary for the brand you develop to be a real success.
-- "Don't be just another marketing expert or social media guru," says Schawbel, "be someone who can't be replaced. If you don't do something creative, people won't spread your message or find you."
Write to Kelly Eggers