Build Your Brand—Standing Out As a Young Professional
A step-by-step guide on how Fung Fellows can highlight their unique experiences to develop a personal brand.
As an undergraduate at Berkeley and Fung Fellow, there is an abundance of resources available to help you prepare for the professional world. From major advisors to the Berkeley Career Center to student organizations, there’s always someone available to help you get started with the basics of applying for a job, creating a resumé, and writing a cover letter.
With so many resources, you might ask yourself: “How can I take advantage of all these resources to build and develop a personal brand that helps me go from short-term job hunting to long-term career planning?” Here, I’ll be sharing some tips and takeaways that I’ve picked up during the past four years as a Berkeley undergrad in developing my own personal brand.
But first, let me give you some context on my own background. I recently graduated from UC Berkeley in May 2022 with a degree in English. I was also a member of the inaugural Conservation + Tech cohort of the Fung Fellowship! During my time at Berkeley, I definitely struggled in figuring out what professional path I wanted to pursue with my major and how I could effectively pitch my converging interests in communications, education, design, and tech during interviews.
After dabbling in marketing and computer science in college, I found my calling at the intersection of those two fields: technical writing, which helps everyday users like you and me learn how to use new technology. Starting this fall, I’ll be a full-time Technical Writer at MongoDB.
So, whether you’re at the early stages of updating your Linkedin bio or prepping for your next job interview, I hope I can help you learn how to use your past experiences to develop your own professional personal brand!
What is personal branding?
Personal branding revolves around identifying the pieces of your identity that you choose to share, which ultimately shape other people’s perception of you as a student, professional, and innovator. Figuring out your personal brand often takes a lot of introspection and requires you to reflect on your future goals, past accomplishments, and current passions.
Figuring out your personal brand often takes a lot of introspection and requires you to reflect…
“Tell me about yourself.”
After reflecting on what aspects of your life may make up your own personal brand, think about the best way to present them together. Describing yourself to someone new — whether it be a colleague or a potential employer — can feel daunting, especially in high-pressure settings like interviews. How will you condense everything about yourself into a quick elevator pitch?
To get started, think of your life as a story consisting of several unique experiences that have shaped you into who you are today. How have your casual interests developed into your current extracurricular passions, previous jobs, and where you are now?
You can ask yourself a few questions to start thinking about how to present your personal brand:
- What kind of person/professional/leader do I want to become in the next few years?
- How have I progressed towards this and developed into the person I described above?
- What kind of big or small-scale impact do I want to make?
You can even use these open-ended questions to set yourself up for success in interviews. Depending on how you decide to present your brand, you can find ways to show off unique parts of your experience and passions, beyond just your name, year, and major.
Sometimes, your path might not be as linear. In that case, try to identify where your completely different interests may intersect. For instance, while I did pursue a degree in the humanities, I developed interest in technology thanks to my friends in computer science and data science during my time at school.
From there, I developed my own quick personal pitch for job interviews or cover letters: “Hi, I’m Alison. I’m a recent UC Berkeley grad, hoping to merge my communication skills as an English major, my passion for user advocacy, and my growing curiosity for database systems as a Technical Writer at [Company XYZ]. Accessibility, especially for beginners, has always been at the center of my personal mission, whether it be leading lab as a TA for an introductory hacking course or teaching fellow English majors how to build their own clubs’ websites. Although my past experience is largely made up of marketing roles, I wanted to pursue technical writing to play a more active role in directly helping new users figure out what they can do with [Product XYZ].”
Put yourself out there.
Once you brainstorm a bit, you’ll want to find ways to share and express your personal branding vision. With social media having such a large presence nowadays, it can be a great starting point for you to build your professional persona.
Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn are social media platforms that can help you connect with people in your industry. See what others are doing to create their own professional brands. What are they doing to present their work? Are they more active on specific platforms? How do they tie in their work with their own story and values?
Level up with a portfolio.
If you’re looking for a way to solely showcase your skills and work, a portfolio can be a great way to expand your network of personal branding. Whether it be on social media or on a personal site, a portfolio is a great way to show (and not just tell) your audience about who you are, what you’re interested in working on, and what you value as an innovator.
Whether it be on social media or on a personal site, a portfolio is a great way to show (and not just tell) your audience about who you are, what you’re interested in working on, and what you value as an innovator.
The way your portfolio looks may vary depending on your specific role and industry of interest. Writers typically upload writing samples — essays, creative short stories, journalism, blog posts. Designers and artists may highlight their art, client design work, or UI/UX case studies. Engineers, whether they work with hardware or software, can show off demos from class, work, hackathons or personal passion projects.
Aside from the content that goes into it, your portfolio itself can take different forms depending on your skills and preference. A digital portfolio can be as simple as a public Google Drive folder or stylized Notion page with uploaded copies of your work. If you’re feeling a bit more tech-savvy and have more time, you may opt to set up a personal website. Even if you don’t know how to code, there are plenty of code-free website builders nowadays that you can take advantage of to create your portfolio online.
As you start to compile your work, think about what narrative you want to share through this portfolio and seek the help of peers or mentors to give you feedback. Through this, you want to make sure that you’re not only showing off the breadth and depth of your skills, but also thinking about your portfolio as a living body of work that continuously evolves with your own experience.
You want to make sure that you’re not only showing off the breadth and depth of your skills, but also thinking about your portfolio as a living body of work that continuously evolves with your own experience.
To get started, you can check out these example portfolios from Ella Lawton, one of the Fung Institute’s illustrators, or former Fung Fellow Resham Khanna. If you’re looking for more inspiration, check out Cofolios, which is a website featuring the design portfolios of university students across the country.
However, similar to your personal brand, how you choose to curate your portfolio will differ from everyone else — and that’s okay! In creating your personal brand, you’ll want to tell a story that is uniquely your own.
Keep building your brand through community resources.
If you have a story to tell, but don’t know how you can share it beyond your own networks on social media, make use of the resources available within the Fung Institute, including the FI Marketing team!
In the past, the marketing team has directly helped Fung Fellows leverage the FI social media channels to share news about their individual accomplishments, retweet project-related surveys, and publish blogs featuring their projects. This type of external exposure can help your brand expand beyond your own personal network and reach the broader FI community, which includes other students, staff, and project partners.
Beyond the Fung Institute, there are several communities at Berkeley that can help you craft your personal brand. Some of these university- and student-led organizations include Innovative Design, Design at Berkeley, and the Jacobs Institute. You can also check out student-run DeCals like the Brand Identity & Graphic Design DeCal or the Web Design DeCal to hone in on specific aspects of your personal brand. Through these organizations, you’ll not only learn new skills, but you can also develop a strong support system, which is crucial for finding both inspiration and feedback during the process of building your brand.
While the way you craft your personal brand may differ from everyone else, that doesn’t mean you have to do it completely alone. Use these communities to find inspiration for your own brand, ask for feedback on your elevator pitch or portfolio, or help amplify one another’s stories.
At the end of the day, just remember to share your own authentic story and embrace your differences!