How To Avoid The Five Worst Personal Branding Mistakes

I write about bringing life to work and bringing work to life. Full bio

I was a Fortune 500 HR SVP for ten million years, but I was an opera singer before I ever heard the term HR. The higher I got in the corporate world, the more operatic the action became. I started writing about the workplace for the Chicago Sun-Times in 1997, but it took me ages to find my own voice. Now I write for the Huffington Post, Business Week, LinkedIn, the Harvard Business Review, the Denver Post and Forbes.com and lead the worldwide Human Workplace movement to reinvent work for people. Stop by and join us: http://www.humanworkplace.com


It’s hard to talk or write about yourself. We don’t know where to start. On top of that, articles and books and webinars for years have been teaching people the most heinous personal branding ideas imaginable. We’ve been taught to bury our personalities under piles of bureaucratic sludge. No wonder people are confused about how to describe themselves in writing!

Many of us fall into common personal branding mistakes when we are asked questions like “What do you do?”

Here are some of the five branding traps we see most often in our work with clients:

  • Tasks
  • Trophies
  • Zombie brand
  • Praising adjectives
  • The One

What do these terms mean?

Tasks are lists of job activities that you have performed. Very early in our careers, we can use tasks in our branding to make it clear that we know how to create reports, process invoices or whatever tasks we have performed.

As we mature and begin to look at our roles from a higher altitude, we can see that the tasks we know how to perform are not very important in our branding. We can perform any number of tasks.

What’s more important is the impact that we have made already and the impact we plan to make in our next job. We can talk about ourselves at a higher level of altitude than the task-y approach “I spin, I weave and I sew.”

Millions of people can perform most of the common tasks that working people perform. You are so much more than a list of tasks. You can brand yourself for the job you want without making your brand a list of tasks.

Trophies are brand names that some people sprinkle into their personal branding. It’s great to have been to wonderful schools and to have worked for great companies, but you want to make sure that your brand is not all about trophies and brand names.

For the same reason, if you love Sales it’s wonderful to say in your LinkedIn profile and your Human-Voiced Resume Summary that you love Sales and everyone can tell, because you’ve because successful in several Sales roles.

It’s not a great branding choice to make your LinkedIn profile Summary or your Human-Voiced Resume Summary a list of awards you’ve won and goals you’ve met.

choose your brand for ten resume mojo boosters story

That is a ‘grasp-y’ branding approach that says to the reader “I hope you find me worthy! Look at all the awards I’ve got and the goals I’ve hit.”

Human branding is based on who you are, not your past report cards or blue ribbons. Those things are part of you, but you have much more to bring to a job opportunity than a report of the accolades and praise that other people bestowed on you.

Your strongest and most authentic brand comes from what you believe and what you choose to do, not from the approval other people have given you.

Zombie branding is the traditional business branding that millions of job-seekers use to describe themselves. Most of us were taught to describe ourselves this way:

Results-oriented professional with a bottom-line orientation, skilled at multiple disciplines and experienced with cross-functional team. Motivated self-starter who works well with all levels of staff. Dedicated team player who meets or exceeds expectations.

This branding statement could describe anybody. There is no life in it. There aren’t even any complete sentences in it! The personality and power of the resume’s owner are completely hidden.

Every hiring manager has seen thousands of zombie resumes. No one needs to see any more of them! You can sound like yourself in your resume.

Page 1 / 2 Continue
Comment on this story
More Trending Stories