Do Engineers Need a Personal Brand?

Max Power!
He’s the man,
Whose name you’d love to touch!
But you mustn’t touch.
His name sounds good in your ear,
but when you say it, you mustn’t fear!
‘Cause his name can be said by anyone!
— The Simpsons, “Homer to the Max”

The concept of personal branding has become increasingly popular in recent years. As with any business buzzword, we need to ask ourselves several questions:

  • What is it?
  • Should I care?
  • What do I actually need to do?

We’ll attempt to address each of these questions in this post.


What is a Personal Brand?

In the simplest terms, a brand is a way of differentiating or positioning something. Typically, companies develop brands for their products and services. They might create a catchy name, a logo, a tagline, a color scheme, a brand voice (the tone and style used in marketing materials), and so forth. In reality the brand is none of those things, but rather the ever-changing collective perceptions that customers and prospects have in their minds about the company, product, or service. All of the efforts put into branding are meant to help shape those perceptions in positive ways.

Your personal brand, then, is how other people see you as being differentiated. Note that as with a company or product brand, the brand itself lives in the heads of other people. Because of this, the question “Do you need a personal brand?” that is so often asked these days is actually irrelevant. The answer is that you already have a personal brand. It’s whatever people think of you. The question you should be asking instead is what, if anything, you should be doing about it.


Is Personal Branding Important?

Yes, yes, and oh, also - yes!

As mentioned above, you already have a personal brand, whether you like it or not. Personal branding, then, is simply being an active participant in the creation of that brand.

You know yourself, and you know that you have something (or many somethings) unique to offer. Everybody else may not know that, but you can help them. It’s not about constant and shameless self-promotion - you can leave that to the politicians of the world. It’s just a matter of coming up with a coherent and consistent story of who you are and what value you bring to the table. And the easiest way to do that is to tell the truth.


Branding Me: What Do I Do?

Nothing. Or, a number of things. Let’s have a closer look.

When TV’s Homer Simpson wanted to get more respect and improve his life, he changed his name to Max Power. Suddenly, everything started going his way!

Please don’t do that.

Personal branding doesn’t need to involve a new name, a logo, or a color scheme (though a bit of good design can help with a resume or work portfolio). You’re a person, not a product. What is important is to look at how people see you, and how you would like people to see you, particularly in the context of your career.

If you were on a large team of engineers, all equal peers and all with the same job description (which you very well may be), how would you stand out? Do you have a specific area of expertise that your teammates come to you for? Are you the organized one, or the creative one, or the scrappy make-it-happen one? Are you an uber-productive lone wolf contributor, or a team player who helps everyone do their best together?

Try asking your teammates how they see you (perhaps your organization already does this via 360 team reviews). If your differentiation is clear to you, and clear to them, and you can express it clearly and succinctly on your resume and in an interview, then you’re in pretty good shape. Otherwise, you may need to do a bit of homework.

If you’re not sure what your differentiation is, then it’s time to make an effort to better understand your work personality. We explore this a bit in a prior post, “Choosing the Right Company Culture For Your Personality.” There are a variety of ways to better understand yourself from both a personal and a career perspective, some of which are explored in that post. Using these methods, try to better understand your core personal, interpersonal, and work strengths. Don’t focus on vague terms or popular resume filler words - the point is to be you, and to stand out.

Authenticity is important. Your “brand” may not be exactly the same at work as it is with your friends, but it shouldn’t be entirely contradictory. If you tell your coworkers that your passion in life is writing code, but your Facebook says you hate coding and your real dream is to be a shrubber, then that’s a red flag.


You can keep it simple.

There’s no need to hire a PR firm or create a brand book. Try the following:

  1. List 3-5 things (knowledge, skills, personality traits, etc.) that make you stand out in the workplace. Consider examples of how each has helped you add value
  2. Write a 30-second elevator pitch that says who you are
  3. Update your resume, LinkedIn, professional Twitter/Facebook, and other relevant materials to reflect these key points. Make sure your design and copy style match the brand you’re trying to establish

If you start with these simple steps, you should find that you’re better able to tell the story of you a little more quickly, concisely, and convincingly. This will help you in your current job as well as in your next employment search.

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