These days, we hear a lot about the importance of building a “personal brand.” While that might sound like a corporate buzzword, there’s a reason it comes up so often: Your brand is about how you’re seen by the world—including clients, investors, and, yes, the boss.
In this three-part series, Fortune talks to experts about how women can use their personal and speaking style, body language, and online presence to create a powerful brand for themselves.
For our second installment, we talk to communication coach Mary Civiello.
Apple. Coca-Cola. Johnson & Johnson. Just reading these names evokes an emotional reaction, a set of memories, an image. But while many of us understand the importance of branding in business, when it comes to branding yourself, things get a little murkier.
“A personal brand does for an employee the same thing it does for a business. It’s who you are, what you stand for, what defines you,” says Mary Civiello, who works with C-level executives to help them pinpoint just that.
Of course, trying to figure out what you “stand for” is a tricky, somewhat nebulous task. Fortunately, Civiello has three tips for making the process more concrete.
Step 1: Gather outside intel.
The same way that a company, in defining its brand, turns to its customers, so should you turn to the people you work with. “Ask people why they like working for you and listen to what they say,” says Civiello, noting that women, in particular, can have a hard time accepting compliments, preferring to brush them off or cede credit to the team.
“Really try to understand what makes you you,” she says. Maybe people like working with you because you make them feel comfortable. Or perhaps your colleagues admire the way you convey a lot of authority—or the way you’re always there for them. Whatever it is, be open to it.
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Step 2: Hone in on what matters.
While others’ opinions are a good starting point, next you need to zero in on what feels authentic to you and what you hope to convey to others. Ask yourself, of all the feedback you received, what resonates the most with your own values and goals?
“When you’re thinking about who you really are and what you stand for—if you have a good handle on that, you’re going to be more confident. It becomes your mantra,” says Civiello.
For example, Civiello says she has heard from her clients that they choose her because they enjoy spending time with her and feel comfortable with her. “Now that I know that’s why people work with me, I go out of my way to make sure I bring that every time.”
Step 3: Continuously reinforce.
Once you’ve pinpointed what it is that sets you apart, you need to communicate that in every way you can: through your words, actions, the work you take on, and how you communicate with others.
“You need to ask yourself, ‘Does this fit my personal brand?’ in everything you do, and weigh all of your decisions” that way, says Civiello, who says she hosts small social events for her clients as a “thank you”–a strategy that allows her reinforce clients’ perceptions of her as someone they can relax with.
People don’t have logos or tag lines, but they do have passions and hobbies, and the more we embrace them and integrate them into our professional lives, the better, says Civello. If you like to cook, host team dinners. If you’re a runner, start a group.
“For women especially, who do so much outside of work, being purposeful about your personal brand lets you show more of who you are. It’s an opportunity.”