Personal branding is no longer a nice-to-have—it has become a requirement for career success. The emphasis on personal branding has been focused on social media and online profiles. Building relationships and having strong professional networks have also been key elements to creating a positive personal brand. The advent of the gig economy, and other workplace changes, have created the need to include personal appearance and workplace attire as part of the repertoire for professionals hoping to establish positive reputations.

Last week, I had the chance to sit down with Susan Chritton, a RiseSmart Certified Career Coach, master personal brand strategist, and author of Personal Branding for Dummies. With a mission to guide professionals toward a more authentic and meaningful career, Susan has become an expert on personal branding. We shifted the conversation from the typical discussion of how to improve your online reputation, the need to establish an in-person persona that is visible to peers and decision makers.

Here’s what Susan had to say about personal branding today:

Q: In the age of the flexible workforce, why is personal branding so important?

Susan: 40% of workers will be considered part of the gig economy in the next few years. This segment of the workforce is constantly in the midst of a job search. As a gig worker myself, when I’m in the middle of a training, I think of it as interviewing. Any one of my gigs could eventually evolve into additional job opportunities. It’s important for gig workers to pay attention to how they appear to others because they need to stand out. In addition to conveying really clear messaging about what they do, who they are, and how they can solve problems, they need to present themselves as though they are on an interview, because often times they are.

Q: What impact will the clothing choices of gig workers have on the rest of the workforce?

Susan: The reality is, when workers are coming in for a shorter period of time they’re likely paying more attention to what they’re wearing because they are trying to sell themselves for their next gig. Gig workers might think about dressing a little nicer to make a good impression. That may have an influence on the full-time employees who will want to appear at least as professional as the temporary employees.

Overall, I’m seeing a trend toward “dressing for the day.” For example, if you have a meeting with a client you might dress up, whereas a work-from-home day might inspire a more casual look. Ultimately, remember that what you wear impacts what people think about you.

Expert Career Coach Advice – Dress for Success

Q: Do you think people intentionally dress up to move up in an organization? Should we look to our leaders for a dress code?

Susan: Sure, people who are looking to get promoted may be slightly more aware of what they’re wearing because they want to make a good impression. It is true that when a leadership team creates a trend in dress, others might follow in their footsteps.

The first step in creating a personal brand is to pay attention. Notice what other people are wearing and how you compare. Learn what makes you feel comfortable, what’s appropriate in context with your organization (by looking at what everyone else is wearing), and become cognizant of the impact your clothing has on the quality of your work and productivity.

Q: What about different expectations within an organization?

Susan: There will be differences in expectations and acceptable dress depending on where in the organization you fit. For example, engineering will be different than marketing. Much of the time, specific dress codes and acceptable attire will depend on whether or not your role is customer-facing.

People in sales and leadership roles tend to dress up more often and make business-casual a part of their personal brand. Dress code can also vary from region to region. Where I’m from in Southern California, the dress is laid back. In the Midwest, companies expect a more tailored and polished look. It’s important to own your personal brand, but also understand your surroundings.

Q: What other shifts have occurred in the way people are presenting themselves at work – besides how they dress?

Susan: Recently, I’ve observed that when organizations have open workplace environments, people crave separation. I’ve noticed that many employees come up with their own version of boundaries, which is a form of personal branding. They might wear headphones, or separate their space with pictures. Your personal space can become part of your brand, too. Be selective about what you display at work. What’s on your desk may be as important as what’s on your back.

Q: Does personal branding vary among generations?

Susan: Personal brand can take the form of self-expression, and this can vary by generation. I’ve recently observed that younger generations are more brazen in their willingness to share their opinions with executives and senior-level employees. The millennial generation is approaching the work hierarchy differently by letting go of the “top-down” management mindset and bringing their authentic, uncensored self to work. While it’s important to be authentic, I think it’s also important to adhere to social and etiquette norms. Inappropriate behavior and talking about personal experiences or issues that aren’t workplace appropriate are not ways to create a personal, authentic brand and they show immaturity and lack of good judgement.

On the other hand, Baby Boomers have worked their whole lives trying to become who they should be, instead of who they really are. Although I think that is changing somewhat, each generation can learn from the successes and mistakes of each other. That is one of the benefits of having a multi-generational organization.

Q: Do you have advice for people to be their “true, authentic self?”

Susan: Being your true, authentic self doesn’t mean you have to tell all, or say whatever crosses your mind. This is misperception. You can maintain one personal brand, but act differently at work or at home. For example, I’m the same person at work, or as a mom at home, or when I’m volunteering—but I definitely act differently depending on the context. Keep your personal brand adaptive based on who you’re working with or where you’re at.

Q: Is reputation management the new personal branding?

Susan: Reputation management and personal branding are the same thing, worded slightly differently. Personal branding is all about how you manage your reputation, instead of letting your reputation manage you. Take control of how others see you and create an image of yourself that you’d like to see reflected back to you through your interactions with others.

Q: What are your top 3 pieces of personal branding advice?

  1. Pay attention to your target market. It’s really important for jobseekers to maintain a high-degree of self-awareness. How do you describe your personality, or what’s important to you? Then take this message to your target audience. But most importantly, learn to modify your brand based on your situation.
  2. Discover your differentiators. Think about what makes you different. To discover your differentiators, think about what areas you really own. I sometimes ask clients to “tell me about a time you had a job review and they brought up things that made you really happy.” When you find out what you’re good at, and what makes you happy at work, those are your differentiators.
  3. Market your secret sauce. Once you know what makes you different, it’s time to apply it. When you own your differentiators, you begin to see how they might enhance a future role, or help you land your dream job.

Q: Where is a good place to start when defining your personal brand?

Susan: Start where you are. Observe yourself in your work environment and take note of how people respond to you. Do they respond positively or negatively? What do they say to you? If you don’t like the responses you get, work on that aspect of yourself first. Be aware of the people around you and how they act, dress, and communicate. Become part of the culture in which you work.

Thank you, Susan, for sharing this valuable information and tips for jobseekers. If you’d like to read more from Susan, check out her LinkedIn channel or follow her on Twitter @SusanChritton. Her book, Personal Branding for Dummies is available on Amazon.