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Brand You: how do you come across at work?

If a visitor came into your office looking for you, and asked a colleague to point you out, what would they say? The short, messy one? The busy one with her glasses on her head?

If a colleague was describing you to someone from another department, how would they sum you up? A good project manager, but she never replies to emails? Great with the technical stuff but lacking in people skills? Lovely to work with but a bit of an airhead?

This is Brand You: how people see you in the workplace (and out of it) and therefore how they form opinions and judgements of you. You could be more effective at work if you knew more about the impression you make and how to improve it. I spoke to Salma Shah, Founder of Beyond and one of the trainers at womenintechnology. She’s an expert in personal branding, leadership, communication and conflict resolution.

Salma, What is a personal brand?

A personal brand is your ‘reputation’: how do people describe you? It’s the emotional fingerprint you leave on others. Successful, leader and trustworthy or are you someone who is described as creative, disorganised and unassuming? Body language, posture, clothes, facial expression, accessories are all part of the package. The key to developing a successful personal brand is authenticity and self-awareness. How we are judged by others is based on a whole host of subconscious decisions. Most of us a highly attuned to picking up fake behaviour.  So faking it is a massive brand saboteur. You have to be true to your real self and then apply skills to make a better impression.

Oh, so I have a personal brand already?

Everyone already has a reputation and therefore a brand. The question is, are you in control of your brand? Colleagues and acquaintances already sum you up in a few words. Your emotional fingerprint is also your ‘reputation’.  Are you aware of how others describe you? Or are you sabotaging your personal brand through ignorance or naivety? If you were a supermarket – what kind of supermarket would you be? Lidl or Waitrose?

OK. I want to be Waitrose. Or even the John Lewis Food Hall on Oxford Street. Can I improve my personal brand?

Yes, of course you can work on your brand. The question to ask yourself is what is the motivation behind your public personal brand.  Is there a pressure for you to be like everyone else? Is there an internal disconnection between the real you and how others perceive you?  Do you need to work on your external image?  If you want to be perceived as someone who is  successful, a leader and a professional do you look, sound and behave this way?  Perhaps the changes you need to make are on the inside, working on your confidence and communication skills.

Making changes on the inside sounds difficult. How does it work when you run courses?

My experience of running personal brand workshops falls into two camps. The already converted arrive to pick up hints and tips on separating themselves from the herd. Then there are the sceptics – their dominant

argument is ‘Why do I have to behave differently or dress a certain way?  I am an expert at what I do and what is on the inside that counts.  Others should see my natural brilliance.’  At some stage during the workshop the sceptics will moan about how they keep getting passed over for promotion and how they feel undervalued by their boss.

So personal branding has a lot to do with how others see us, but that depends on what we show them. I’m different at work to how I am with my friends, so is that part of it?

Those with a good personal brand typically have a well developed sense of what their private and public values are.  Where possible their public and private value systems are aligned giving them clarity, positivity and purposeful confidence in all aspects of life choices.

A key aspect of personal branding is to portray your key messages clearly and consistently in your appearance. Visual triggers dominate in humans so reflecting your personal brand values consistently in your presentation creates a powerful and winning package.  Dress, grooming, body language or facial expression.  These shout volumes about you without you speaking a word, so make sure they say the right thing.  Achieve a good balance in your image between ‘standing out’ and ‘fitting in’.  You aim to ‘stand out’ because you consistently project your strengths and not because you look awkwardly out of place. You ‘fit in’ because your dress and grooming always create an appropriate professional appearance in context with the situation. Add your individual style choices that signal your qualities and brand values.  Personal image is comprised of many details that together create a holistic picture.  Ask yourself if all the details in your picture are working towards creating a true and positive impression?  Does your image help you to stand out for all the right reasons by clearly reflecting your unique personal brand?

Thanks, Salma! Sounds like I need to go shopping…

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About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.


  1. Pawel Brodzinski says

    I must agree that it’s more difficult to be a woman when talking about appearance. Slovenly man is somehow acceptable in some situations but no one would like to see slovenly woman.

    I’d add one more factor to your list – a company culture. In one of my previous company my successor (a parachute manager) wasn’t accepted by the team because he always wore a suit and a tie which made him a wimp in the eyes of people.

    • Elizabeth says

      A suit and tie made him a wimp? You really do have to be careful how you are seen at work, bet he didn’t realise that was what people thought of him! I say that assuming that if he did realise he would have done something about it, but I guess he might have gone even smarter and just made it worse…

  2. Elizabeth says

    @Pawel: maybe it’s partly a man thing and partly an IT thing. The dress code is certainly more relaxed in the IT world than in other fields like law. I think women are bothered more by clothes and judged more on their appearance than men. It’s also probably cultural and therefore related to the country – and even town – you work in.

    I think it must be difficult to create rules that apply to everyone and every situation. I think the main rule has to be ‘appropriate for the situation’. From what you’ve said, you might not fit in but you are never inappropriate with what you wear, so you’ve obviously got the whole appearance thing cracked!

  3. Dan Schawbel says

    I think it’s fair to ask your manager how you’re perceived in the office. Many times your fellow employees will mention how you’re acting, whether it is good or bad. That kind of feedback is extremely important in your personal development.

  4. Pawel Brodzinski says

    I really like the interview although I think I don’t suit well to the goal which Salma describes. At everyday work I rather don’t compromise when talking about clothes or, more generally, appearance. Of course when I’m going on the meeting with customer I’m dressed appropriately but other than that it’s not uncommon to see me in the office in shorts and sandals, which I guess doesn’t work as ‘fitting in’.

    Personally I’ve never experienced any problem with my ‘brand’ whenever it came to promotions, appraisals or whatever else. What more I used to appreciate that since it helped me to keep fairly informal relations with my teams.

    I’d love to see a supplement to the interview discussing the situation. I guess it’s not aligned very tightly to what Salma teaches.


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