Your brand is a your unique combination of strengths, values, personal attributes and passions that differentiate you from others – it refers to how others perceive you. A solid personal brand is the key to landing that job, contract or even that raise you feel you deserve.

Working hard is no longer enough – you need to know how to best market your skills and reputation in today’s competitive, super-connected world.

Branding expert and author of Be the CEO of Your Brand, Kate Moodley shares her five steps for cashing in on your personal brand.

Create the right image

Guard your online behaviour and image. Irresponsible use of social media can have a devastating effect on your career. Although it’s illegal, a prospective employer can decide not to hire you if your social media profile is not in line with their brand values. In the worst-case scenario, an ill-advised online update could destroy your career.

Former-Hawks spokesperson McIntosh Polela and New York-based PR executive Justine Sacco, who learnt this lesson the hard way come to mind. Polela was fired last year after he infamously tweeted: “I trust that JubJub’s supporters gave him a jar of Vaseline to take to prison” when the singer was found guilty of murder in May. Sacco was summarily dismissed in December after her racist tweet about concerns of getting Aids in Africa sparked an uproar.

While some get it horribly wrong, the correct use of social media can boost your career. “Social media is a practical way to market yourself, especially because it’s free! You don’t need a media company to do that for you,” Moodley says.

“I always encourage people young or old to have social media profiles because they are a free platform. LinkedIn is particularly great because you can use it to define your interests, skills and work strengths. Also, job opportunities come up quite often, which can tie in quite nicely with what you are interested in.”

Moodley warns that it’s important to reflect a positive, cohesive image in order to grow your brand. “Make sure your social media profile ties in with your professional profile. Also make sure your details are correct and up to date.”

Network

Don’t be the world’s best-kept secret, Moodley says. “The greater the network of people you know who can influence your career, the better. In fact, the more people you have in your network, the more successful you will be.”

“Networking within your business is just as important. You need to know who the key players in the business are and make sure they are aware of your skills and strengths. But be careful you don’t come off as arrogant when putting your best foot forward,” she advises.

While positive interactions are encouraged, Moodley’s advice is to stay away from office politics. “Corporate organisations’ business is all about politics. You don’t have to involve yourself, but understand who the important people are and then navigate your career in that direction.”

Differentiate yourself

Make sure you stand out, Moodley adds. “Do things outside your job description. Be innovative – come up with creative ideas that are new and would be beneficial to the company. Try and find something that sets you apart and makes people sit up and take notice.”

Be bold

Never be afraid of stating your expectations — even as early as at the interview stage. But you need to have a clear strategy in order to do this effectively, and you can only do it if you understand the organisation.

“I’d suggest that you ask to job-shadow a person in the department you wish to be in. That way you’ll have a concrete idea of what you want to do and where you want to be.

“Consider studying the career paths of those upon whom you’d like to model your own brand and career. Analyse what they do best. If you want to end up as a director of a company, study that company and others that have been successful. You need to understand what people are doing to further themselves.

“The work environment is very competitive today. You need to know what is required for you to succeed.”

Connect

Use social media or mutual contacts to get in touch with the people you have identified as successful. “Often you find people are willing to share with you how they have branded themselves and gotten ahead. You can learn from their journey. Alternatively, use the meeting as an opportunity to ask them to mentor you.”

Additional reporting by Mbali Zondi