8 Steps to Building a Killer Personal Brand

May Busch considered herself a “nice Chinese girl” when she started her career in banking at Morgan Stanley. In fact, so did all her colleagues. Her reputation portrayed her as a “super-organized hard worker with a great attitude.”

The only problem is that the same could be said of her top-notch secretary.

May Busch started her career at the bottom. She started as a junior analyst, but she had dreams to one day become a vice president within Morgan Stanley. She thought she could follow what many of us think is the outline to achieving success:

  • Put your head down
  • Work hard
  • Become excellent at the job
  • Wait for someone to recognize your talents
  • Rise up to the top

I personally have had experience with this, working hard at a Fortune 100 company in the automotive industry, hoping to someday move up the ranks.

But where did it get me?

Absolutely nowhere.

After years of hard work outperforming my department, I was in the exact same place, without a promotion, raise, or even any recognition for my efforts. I was just used up and abused until I finally decided to leave.

Similar things happened to May when she decided to follow this path. With her reputation set the way it was, she came to realize that her dream of someday becoming a vice president was an impossible task. Then, she discovered the importance of a personal brand.

Once May discovered this, she spent years changing the perception others had of her. Because of that, she was able to rise up to the second highest position in the company, when she became the COO of Morgan Stanley Europe–a post much higher than her original goal of VP.

But how did she get there?

  • She became self aware of how others saw her in the company
  • She discovered her potential career-stopper in time: A serious gap existed between her brand and her reputation
  • She refused to be lulled into complacency
  • She made her brand resonate with her
  • She invested heavily in her personal brand

How can you get there, too?

May Busch shares eight tips to help you build your own personal brand and rise to your full potential:

1. Make use of stereotypes.

When you are looking to give an accurate impression to people who don’t know you, it is useful to identify what they are likely to be thinking and assuming about you already.

Start by identifying the stereotypes that are likely to spring to mind when people look at you. For May, it’s that she was a “nice Chinese girl.”

Once you identify the stereotype, figure out the assumptions that go along with it that are true and also work for you. Lean into these. In May’s case they were hardworking, diligent, and good with numbers.

But don’t forget to identify the assumptions that work against you. If they are true, then work on changing them. For May, this meant working hard to stop being quiet and unassertive.

If those negative assumptions are not true, then find a way to dispel them quickly.

You can do this by showing confidence through:

  • A firm handshake
  • Sitting up straight
  • Taking up your space at the meeting table

2. Be a person, not a label.

Whether we want to or not, we’re likely to label each other. Those labels can counter the brand we want to communicate.

Instead of allowing labels to get the better of you, strive to be seen as you, not some pre-fabricated societal shorthand in someone else’s head. May focused on being seen as May Busch rather than her traits, such as being short, a woman, or even Chinese. She made sure not to let any of her labels define her.

The best way to do this is by consistently speaking your mind, staking out your own position on issues, and stating your unique take on things. At all costs, avoid repeating what others are saying or parroting the party line of groups representing these labels.

3. Identify the gap between your brand and reputation.

This gives you the basis for figuring out what needs to change. To do this, ask a few people you trust to tell you three positive words or phrases that come to mind when they think of you.

Then, compare this with your own set of three words or phrases.

Where’s the gap?

4. Focus on what moves the needle.

Once you’ve identified the gap between perception and reality, choose the aspect that will make the biggest difference in changing perceptions. What will give the biggest boost to your personal brand? What’s the one thing that will make the other parts of the gap easier to close? That’s what you want to work on first.

5. Invite others to see you in action.

As they say, seeing is believing. There’s nothing more powerful than having an opinion leader or decision maker see you demonstrating your powerful personal brand.

Have courage.

Invite them to attend your big speech or join your client pitch. You could be creating an advocate and supporter for the next decade.

6. Keep showing up.

As Woody Allen says, 80 percent of life is simply showing up. But not just at your job.

  • Volunteer for cross-divisional projects
  • Give yourself a chance to do something you enjoy
  • Demonstrate what you are capable of
  • Learn to be a little bold–the world needs you to strut your stuff and help out!

7. Say it, and you will mean it.

Much like what Carla Harris says in her book, Expect to Win, be tough.

A great way to change people’s perceptions about your personal brand is to start using the new words that you want people to associate with you, whether it’s strategic or assertive or tough.

8. Act like you have to fill in the entire “brand bar.”

Even if you’re in a larger organization with its own brand, “big up” and start behaving as though you need to own the brand, as an entrepreneur would. That doesn’t mean being a diva and making it all about you. It does mean taking ownership of your end of the branding bargain, rather than defaulting to relying on the umbrella corporate brand alone.

After May was able to rise up to the top of Morgan Stanley Europe, she leveraged her success into other opportunities. Now, May Busch has moved on from Morgan Stanley Europe to run her own leadership sessions for corporate executives, speak at events, and write her forthcoming book, The Achiever Path. She enjoys the freedom of being able to travel between Europe and America while being self-employed and having her own personal brand.

Have you been able to leverage your personal brand to attain success in the work place? I’d love to find out more. Comment below!

Originally posted on Inc.

Leonard Kim is Managing Partner at InfluenceTree. At InfluenceTree, Leonard and his team teach you how to build your (personal or business) brand, get featured in publications and growth hack your social media following.

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