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One sure way to know when a topic has hit full stride across social media is when it starts gathering as many detractors as it has groupies. Once that happens, you can bet that it’s a topic that’s not likely to go away anytime soon, however much it may evolve. This is the case for “personal branding.”

Spend a few minutes researching the latest job search trends, and you can’t miss someone talking about it. Whether it is on Twitter, in LinkedIn groups, or out in the blogosphere, career pros are more often than not debating the merits of a job seeker’s personal brand.

One area that is often overlooked in the discussion, however, is how all this “branding” translates into the interview setting. The problem for most job seekers is that they struggle even to create a “personal brand” in the first place, or one that they feel comfortable promoting at a face-to-face level. But that is exactly where they need to start: When you look someone in the eye, what type of candidate are you really?

The Three Essentials to Personal Branding

1.  Don’t get caught up in the polish. 

For years, career pros have been equating the job search process with “marketing,” telling job seekers to apply marketing concepts to their job search approach. The only problem is that although the advice is good on a general level, marketing itself has been evolving over the last several years to meet the demands of a modern social media environment. Therefore, job seekers who think about marketing from a perspective that’s too traditional can end up taking their personal brand in the wrong direction.

On a basic level, a traditional marketing approach looks at “branding an image,” whereas a modern social media marketing approach looks at “branding a person behind the image.”

In other words, it’s not polish that makes you shine; it’s distinction. Personal branding and polish don’t mix, but personal branding and what makes you “you” do.

It’s an important piece of the personal branding puzzle, and the one you want to bring to an interview: How are you distinct as a candidate?

 2.  Keep it simple.

Many people are familiar with the KISS approach: “keep it simple, stupid.” The idea behind personal branding should be to create a clear, consistent message that is simple to grasp across BOTH traditional and social media. Whether we meet face to face or I find you through your LinkedIn profile, I want consistency. I don’t want to be wooed online into thinking you’re something you’re not.

This concept is anything but new. Interviewers for a long time have expressed frustration at being unable to match up how candidates come across on paper (or online) with how they come across in real life.

If you keep your approach clear and simple, it will be much easier to do that.

 3.  Solve problems.

Personal branding should solve problems: period. Ask yourself: How can I solve my potential employer’s problem(s)? If you know how to answer that question (in an easy-to-follow way), then all the rest (your resume, LI profile, blog, etc.) become basically a support system to letting an employer know how you plan to do that.

Therefore, when you come in for the interview, from your branding materials to your interview preparation, you’re signaling to the interviewer that you’re not a problem to solve (how does this person fit within our company?) but a problem solver (this person has an answer for how to help us grow as a company).

So the moral to this story is to prepare a clear, simple personal brand that is distinct to you and your background (everyone’s credentials and experiences are unique). That brand or message should solve problems, not turn you into a shiny commodity, and that is what you should never leave home without.

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