Authenticity: Getting to the Heart of Personal Branding

Mark Twain once said, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”  It’s from this adage that we derive the very basis of personal branding – authenticity.

Why is authenticity important?  Imagine for a moment that you looking to purchase a diamond ring.  What would be the most important consideration for you?  Would you appreciate a cubic zirconium passed off as a diamond?  No.  If you are making an investment, you want to ensure that your money is well spent.

The same goes for employers who are seeking talent.  They want candidates who will represent themselves truthfully on the application, in the resume, and during the interview.  They do not want to pay for talent that is not authentic.  To be authentic, you must be aware of your strengths and your shortcomings.

Know Yourself

I recently completed the Strengths Deployment Inventory (SDI).  This was an eye-opening exercise because the SDI revealed information that contributed to my self-awareness.   I discovered how my strengths operate within a team and how to navigate beyond my weaknesses by temporarily “borrowing” other attributes.  Combined with education, work experience, and skills, the addition of the SDI was like having a GPS system for my personal brand.   As a bonus, I earned the affectionate handle of “pit bull” from my team mates for being a red-green type.

You must cultivate personal awareness to begin building your brand.  Hone in on your skills.  What are they?  Are you an Excel expert?  Can you build websites?  How proficient are you in each?  Examine your strengths.  Are you a leader and team builder?  Are you analytical and goal driven?  What sets you apart from others?    How does your education and work experience factor in?  In other words, what makes you special?  Where do you stand out?  If you experience difficulty in this exercise and are a college student, please visit your career services office.  They have staff trained to assist you in your discovery process via assessment tests and one-on-one career counseling.  If you don’t have this access, perhaps you can take a few quick online personality assessments like those found at PersonalityMax.

Don’t Invent Yourself

When building your brand, invention (guilding the lily) can be a temptation. We are competing with a myriad of qualified professionals on the job and in the job search.  Because we reside in a techno-wizard world, we can keep reality at an arm’s length at first if we so choose.  We can stretch the truth by over exaggerating our work experience.  We can torture the truth by claiming skill levels that that we do not yet possess.  We can even dispense with the truth entirely by adding fictional work experience or degrees.  While this might pull the wool over the eyes of others temporarily, the truth will always out.  Even Frank Abagnale, of Catch Me If You Can fame, was eventually caught in his cons.

Be Authentic

Imagine the consequences of invention. Could you re-invent yourself so well that you could offer up a convincing elevator pitch or be successful in an interview?  What would you do if someone probed your fluffed up work experience? How would you manage if you were asked to demonstrate those skills that you exaggerated?   Would a potential employer attempt to verify that fictitious degree or work experience?  How far would you have to go into this new invention to pull it off?  Would you even resemble yourself at the end?

The truth is easier to remember.  It is also easier to build upon.  It facilitates preparing for an interview or compiling an elevator pitch.  If you are job hunting, you need to be able to convey who you are and do so convincingly.  Thus, you must know yourself, be authentic, and brand yourself accordingly.

Coming Up Short

You might ask, “What do I do if my resume is thin and my personal brand is lacking the pizazz to get me noticed?”

The answer is that you must still be truthful.  Explore ways in which you can shore up your experience and skills with volunteering, community service, internships, additional courses, conferences, seminars or professional certifications.  You might just have to give yourself time to accumulate experience on the job.

Popeye was fond of saying, “I yam what I yam.”  That is what you must be.


As Assistant Director of Recruiting within the Wake Forest Schools of Business Corporate Relations team, Lisa’s passion is connecting employers with student talent and creating a positive experience for both. She manages all aspects of recruiting, retention, and systems for the graduate business school.  Her strengths include relationship management, networking, social media engagement, information aggregation, process facilitation and communication. Lisa has been employed at Wake Forest since the fall of 2002.  She has over 20 years of work experience in various roles.  Prior to arriving at Wake Forest, she was an entrepreneur, venturing into web-based international sales and marketing of salvage automotive parts and accessories.  Before that, she was a trust officer in the Employee Benefit Trust area of Wachovia Bank.  Lisa is also a veteran of the United States Air Force. Lisa earned a B.S. in Business Administration from Rollins College and will complete her Masters in Liberal Arts from Wake Forest in 2011.  Visit Lisa’s blog, follow her on Twitter, or connect on LinkedIn.

Related posts:

  1. Personal Branding, Dirk Nowitzki Style
  2. Personal Branding Advice from the World’s Most Attractive Employer: Google
  3. Personal Branding with Purpose: What’s Your Intention?

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  • Dan Schawbel

    Dan Schawbel, the founder of the Student Branding Blog, is a world renowned personal branding expert, the international bestselling author of Me 2.0, as well as the publisher of the Personal Branding Blog.

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    Chelsea Rice is the editor-in-chief of the Student Branding Blog. She began her work for just before graduating from Boston University, where she studied journalism and minored in international relations.

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