It's Called Branding

Who am I to pass up a Venn diagramming opportunity?

By Jesse Mostipak in reflection

June 18, 2021

If you’re looking for an excellent follow-up to this piece, please read Randy Au’s post, Personal growth and brands

You already have a personal brand

During my first month at Kaggle it was suggested that I meet with a colleague to discuss my “personal brand.” And yeah, a part of me kind of cringed at that statement because we’re inundated with branding and marketing and being pitched to and sold to and constantly reminded that we must consume or die.

But mostly I was curious. What was my personal brand?

I showed up to the conference call ready to have my personal brand revealed to me in all its glory, as if my colleague was going to arrive with a polished slide deck and show me what my brand was. Was I going to be bright colors and bold lines? Or maybe a sparsely furnished loft with flowing white curtains and an abundance of plants.

The reality was far less climactic. Instead she said, “you already have a personal brand, that’s why we hired you.”

UM WAT?!

We talked about it more and she gave me fantastic advice on how to further define and refine my brand and use it as a way to make myself stand out, and it’s absolutely helped me in my professional life. Because each one of us has a personal brand. Your personal brand is how the majority of people who know of you would describe you.

And while you can’t control how people describe you, you can develop a personal brand that influences how people describe you. Ideally your personal brand, over time, leads to a consistent public message around who you are and what you bring to the table.

There’s obviously bias here, and n = 1, but you’re getting a blog post out of this because I consistently find myself giving out the same advice whenever someone asks me for help with:

  • Getting their first data science job
  • Making it further in the interview round and actually getting the job offer
  • Rebuilding their resume
  • Getting noticed in the data science//machine learning//deep learning community

Why shaping your personal brand is important

On more than one occasion I’ve been told that hiring me is “too risky” because there are far too many unknowns. That stings to hear, but it makes sense. I don’t have advanced degress from prestigious universities, I don’t come from well-networked generational wealth, I’m non-binary, queer, and disabled, and I have a personality that commonly gets labeled as “too much.”

But I’m also absolutely confident that I have something to offer the world. Using my personal brand to put out there that I am a content developer with a solid background in educational pedagogy who has a particular talent and passion for creating a learning community that is welcoming to beginners, while also creating educational content that lowers the barriers to entry to tech careers, while still being my authentic self, has opened doors to career opportunities I would have never in a million years had access to.

It makes it easier for a company to look at my collective body of work across multiple social platforms – my brand – and relatively quickly decide if I’m who they’re looking for.

Defining and refining your personal brand

The goal of defining your personal brand is to find your “nichiest-niche.” In other words, what is the intersection of actions, ideas, beliefs, values, and skills that make you particularly unique within your field and community?

You really want to dig deep here, and get to that overlap of things where you can look around and see no more than five other people doing this exact same thing. Ideally there’s no one else around, and you’re the only person doing this kind of thing in this particular way.

Here are a couple of ways you can use to go about finding your nichiest-niche:

Ask people whose opinion you respect

Full disclosure: I do not do this, but it works for some people!

Ask those who know you and whose opinion you respect how they would describe your personal brand. Listen to what they say and learn from it. If it resonates with you, great! If it doesn’t, be open to asking questions to learn more about why someone might describe you in this way.

Make lists

I am very good at this one.

Sit down with a bunch of paper and start listing out allll the things that you like, enjoy, and you feel describe you. Don’t worry if it gets weird or off-track and doesn’t make sense at first, this is all about getting things on paper and then going through and looking for the combination of things that make you unique within your field.

From this what you’ll do is write up your bio for social platforms, as well as use it for a filter in terms of what you talk about.

The first time I did this I had several different combinations to choose from, things like:

  • combat sports practitioner, meme enthusiast, no formal data science training
  • educator using culturally responsive pedagogy, lifelong learner, likes cats
  • comfortable making mistakes, passionate about teaching, creative, loves Subarus

Eventually I ended up with this:

  • educator, learning out loud, full-stack content developer, focus on machine learning, engaging content that removes barriers to career entry for historically-excluded groups by employing best practices from K-12 education

Will this change over time? Absolutely. But it’s where I’m currently at, and I don’t anticipate it shifting dramatically so much as different areas being refined and reworked to be more focused.

Look to others for inspiration, but don’t steal wholesale

My brand is not your brand, and your brand is not my brand. Your personal brand should be authentic to who you are as a person, and how you show up in the world.

This means it’s perfectly fine to look at someone who’s doing things in a way that you love and admire and evaluate what they’re doing and why it’s working for them. Even take what you discover and see how it works for you!

Putting your personal brand into practice

Here’s a list of how to level-up your personal brand across all of the social platforms you may be a part of. My list of social accounts includes: my website, Twitter, Twitch, GitHub, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Kaggle. Your list may be different, but unless your account is in private mode, you should consider it part of your personal brand, because your community and potential employers will!

  • Ensure that your photo (or avatar) is the same across all public platforms.
  • If possible, use a consistent handle. For example, I wish that I had chosen “Kierisi” across all social platforms so that it’s quick and easy to find me.
  • Camp domain names for sites you aren’t using yet. I’ve done this with a company that I dream of one day starting, with everything from a web domain to the entire suite of social platforms. You can also do this with your personal brand – maybe you aren’t active on Instagram yet, but if you think there’s even a 1% chance that you might use the platform, go ahead and reserve your domain name as soon as possible.
  • Use the same bio statement across all platforms. I’m admittedly not great at this, but I’m working on it!
  • Use your brand as a filter for how you speak and show up in public spaces, but give yourself a little leeway. I keep my social spaces reserved for conversations about educational practices, learning data science and machine learning, and content development, with about 10% wiggle room for whatever I’d like.
  • Be authentic, but be selective. Think about how you’re speaking and whom you’re speaking to, and adjust accordingly. I could talk in meme-speak literally all day long, but because I’m also focused on educational content, I don’t want meme-speak to create a weird in-group as well as add its own barriers to accessing my content. So I work to ensure that when I’m communicating something important, I’m doing it in a way that’s accessible to the greatest number of people, while reserving memes and the like for side commentary.
Posted on:
June 18, 2021
Length:
7 minute read, 1367 words
Categories:
reflection
Tags:
branding career transition career
See Also:
Kaggle panel recap: my data science journey