The other day a client, who is currently in transition and desperate for a job, asked me about personal branding for job search.

Hmm.  That’s a funny question, I thought.  I tell you why in just a bit.

But first, what is branding? Many job seekers perceive personal branding as a magic bullet, which can be formulated on the spot and used to elevate them above the crowd directly into C-suite offices.

In marketing speak, though, branding “is about getting your prospects to see you as the only one that provides a solution to their problem.” Source:

Still sounds good for job search, doesn’t it? After all you want to be the only solution for the employer. And hence the person chosen for a job you applied for.

Well, not so fast.

In career coaching, which has been muddled together with job search coaching, the term personal branding has been thrown around so much lately that it completely confused many struggling job seekers.

In fact, the term doesn’t even make sense when you desperately need a job. And need it fast.

What personal branding really means is managing your career while you are actually employed. But to manage a career, you first must have a job. Tom Peters in his 1997 article “The Brand Called You” explains step by step what it takes to create a strong personal brand for your career.

Just like with networking, it takes time and making deliberate strategic actions and career moves that lead you in a direction of your desired job.

Personal branding is not something you undertake on a spur of the moment. Just like business brands, personal brand is created over time. At the core of branding lies repeated interaction with your audience.

Branding is a terrific long-term career development tool. You use it when you have options: when you are proactively, but not desperately looking for your next career move. In this case, you have time and opportunity to position yourself in a certain light. You take up initiatives that increase your visibility and credibility, and differentiate you in the eyes of your colleagues. It’s those colleagues who constitute your audience, without whom branding is meaningless.

Now, back to my client…While looking for a job, though, especially if you are unemployed, it’s essential you position not yourself, but your skill-set in a light that solves a potential employer problem. 

And if you wonder what that problem is, that’s easy.  It’s a set of tasks that need to be done every day for a specific period of time.  And that is all in the job description. (Well, in the good ones at least).

You show a potential employer that you can do those tasks through your resume and interview. But that’s nothing to do with branding.  That’s called being a qualified candidate.

So, should you use branding?  Yes. But save it for career development when you actually have a job.

Marina Gapeenkova, CHRP, HR and Recruitment Specialist, Job Search & Career Coach

Author of Invincible Interview, What Every Candidate Needs To Know To Succeed At An Interview