Your Personal Brand is Not Going to Get You a Job

I’m about to make a statement that’s going to ruffle some feathers. It’s not a great revelation; in fact it’s a statement that 10 years ago was a given. But times have changed, the information highway has taken over, and people are hungry for anything that appears to offer sound-bite answers to life’s toughest questions.

There is no such thing as a “personal brand.” That’s right, folks – you heard it here. I’m mounting a one-man campaign to take this term out of the vernacular. Will I be successful? Not on your life. But does that make me wrong? You be the judge.

There’s a debate raging in our Nation’s capital about whether business can be considered people. While this isn’t a political blog by any stretch, I don’t see how that’s even a debate. A business is not a person. And along the same line of thinking, a person is not a brand.

So what exactly is personal branding supposed to be? It’s how you present yourself in real life and online. Some of the basic criteria for what’s considered a “good” personal brand:

  • Real Life:
    • Well dressed
    • Groomed
    • Firm handshake
    • Well spoken
    • Not stinky
  • Online
    • Considerate
    • Giving
    • Engaging/Engaged
    • Intelligent
    • Relevant

Is it just me, or are these attributes nothing but basic protocol for being professional and successful? Depends on who you ask, apparently.

Taking the things we already know to do and wrapping an easy-to-digest-yet-slightly-intimidating term around them is, well, is just good business. If your personal reputation and activities now constitute a “brand” then isn’t it a no-brainer that you need a qualified professional to manage that brand, or at least to tell you how to manage it yourself? The boom of personal branding experts and coaches is a testament to that. It’s capitalism at its best, folks. Create a need; fill the need. What I’m saying is that just because the need has a name doesn’t mean that it’s anything different from what people have been doing since the beginning of time.

Should you be all of these things that make up your “brand?” Of course you should, but to think of it as branding is to already be disingenuous. If you’re branding, you’re not being you. If you’re putting up a false front in the interest of being a better brand, you’ve already lost.  Again, there’s nothing new in this branding concept except a ton of confusion and overwhelmed job seekers. Instead of thinking of your personal brand, think of not being an asshole. That tends to pay dividends.

So if your brand isn’t going to get you hired, what will? The same think that always has and always will. The right qualifications, the right cultural fit, and a bit of luck. Out of these three, you can control all of them. So do what you can to be in the right place at the right time. Apply to the jobs that you’re actually right for. Do your homework on the companies to see which ones you think are the best match for your values and personality. Ask your friends and acquaintances for favors that can help you to get in front of the right people, and offer assistance and favors without being asked.

Because which would you rather have people saying about you (this is the multiple choice part)?

“Marge is really great. Talented, driven, down to earth, giving, and not bad to look at.”


“Marge has a really great personal brand.”

I know which one I’d choose.

Do you think personal brands are for the birds? Do you think they’re awesome? Have no idea what I’m talking about? Leave a question or comment below or email me at and we’ll see if we can get it sorted out.


18 thoughts on “Your Personal Brand is Not Going to Get You a Job

  1. I agree with your sentiments on being a well rounded individual in order to land a job. Maybe there is indeed too much emphasis on the business concept for some. However, I think the ‘personal branding’ trend has provided a benefit to individuals by making them aware that their online personalities are just as important to manage as their ‘in person’ real life skills.

    1. Diana – I think you have a point, though if I were to play devil’s advocate I might say that anyone who needs to be reminded that what they put out in public online venues is in fact public shouldn’t be competing as effectively for jobs as those who figure it out on their own. Employment Darwinism?

  2. OMG! Thank you, Dave! I love this!

    I’ve been shaking my head and rolling my eyes at all teh jargon that is flying around for job seekers. This is a very stressful time for a lot of people.

    We don’t need more games and more hoops to jump through: We just need jobs!

  3. I agree with your article on most points, except it seems you’re implying a job seeker has a lot on control over whether the interviewer likes the applicant enough to extend the job offer. I do realize that the printed word can only go into so much detail, so you may not be saying this at all. But I’m personally tired of of reading articles that say, “just do this, just be like that, and the job is yours.” It’s so not true – nobody can make the HR person like you enough to extend the job offer to you. As a matter of fact, if the HR person like you, it’s more about the HR person than it is about the applicant…

    1. Kim – Thanks for the thoughtful response. I am not implying that the job seeker has a lot of control over whether s/he ends up getting the job, I’m flat out saying it.

      In fact, the job seeker has exactly 50% of the control over whether HR and the hiring manager decide to extend a job offer. The other 50% is dictated by the profile and qualifications set up by the hiring manager and by the other candidates in the pool.

      Are you implying that the job seeker DOESN’T have any control over whether s/he eventually gets the job? If so, I’d love to discuss that one further.

      Of course there’s no magic bullet; no formula where if you follow steps 1-5 you’ll get the job. But to go the opposite direction and say that the job seeker is a passive bystander in the process is, IMO, taking it too far. The fact is that when you send your resume, the recruiter/HR/hiring manager WANTS to like it. When you go in for an interview, they WANT to like you for the job. Everyone in the process is focused on the same thing – filling the position with a great candidate. But it is most certainly up to the candidate to take advantage of the opportunity to present him/herself for the job and to demonstrate what a great match s/he is.

      If you just sit there like a wet noodle in an interview and wait for someone to “like you” enough to give you a job, you’re in for a long journey. If you take responsibility and accountability for the impression you make, you’ll realize that you do indeed have the power to influence the outcome and determine whether you are in the end successful.

      The one thing that you can always do to get the job – and I’ll repeat this until I’m blue in the face – is to be the best qualified candidate, from both a skills and culture perspective. Everything else is fluff.

      1. I don’t think that’s what Kim is saying at all, Dave.

        I think Kim is expressing a frustration that many of us job seekers feel–that it’s all games and a popularity contest and that you can be the best darned you you can be, and someoen will still find a reason to judge and reject you based on nothing more than personal preferences.

        THAT is what job seekers have little to no control of. You can go in dressed to the nines having done your homework with solutions to hypothetical problems for the company, have a great portfolio, and STILL not get the job.

        Job hunting is very frustrating righyt now.

        1. It’s frustrating to be sure, but I still don’t buy into the “there’s nothing I can do to alter the outcome” mindset. It’s easy to look at the job search as “all games and a popularity contest” because as job seekers we don’t see what they see from the other side of the table. Usually that something is that someone else came along who was even better for the role than you. And yes, it could be based on personal preference. Or it could be based on hard skills. Or both.

          There will never, and should never, be a time where subjectivity is taken out of a hiring process. Otherwise why interview? Why not just hire based on a resume? I don’t think that’s a reasonable solution.

          When companies are hiring, they’ve generally put together a profile based on their ideal candidate. That profile includes skills, personality traits, and work history. If someone else fits that profile better than you do, they’re going to get hired. At some point though, you’ll find that one right match, where you’re the absolute best fit for the profile.

          Until then, all we can do is struggle on and as you said, be the best you you can be.

          When you’re in a job hunt, you’re being judged constantly. It’s someone’s job to judge you. To let that frustrate you more than a little is to hold onto something that may hold you back from your potential. Let it go. Negativity is tough to hide in an interview, and if you let it fester it could be holding you back.

          1. I guess the pool of applicants has to dry up to almost nothing for me to be the best candidate. If you have to beat over 1,000 applicants, your odds are extremely low. Quite frankly, it is not even worth applying right now unless you are some sort of God.

            1. Oh, and I don’t consider myself a loser. I think I have a great sense of humor and I am easy to get along with. And, I actually believe I am a lot smarter than the majority of my coworkers (that was true in my last job especially). It’s just that I don’t put little smiley faces on my desk and such. And I have a problem in that I have a hard time suppressing the truth about what I think (especially after two years of dealing with idiots).

  4. Dave- Having read your reply, you and I do agree on being a proactive job applicant. Any responsible job applicant with character will do as much as possible to be a competitive candidate, constantly seeking new ways to improve their game.

    But I agree to disagree about how much control a job applicant has on whether the HR dept/decision makers/etc likes or dislikes a candidate and extends the job offer.

    And I NEVER said (and don’t intend to imply) that job seekers should be passive bystanders!

    Bottom line: there are just too many factors that are unseen and untouchable on the job seeker’s side of the table.

    The best advice to give job seekers is to focus on what they CAN do, and to be aware of the myriad things they can’t control. That’s a much more realistic picture to paint.

    Your article does do a fabulous job on giving advice on what the job seekers can do, thank you!

    1. Kim – I think we’re basically saying the same thing here. Of course a job seeker can’t in the end determine whether s/he receives an offer. But that’s far from being powerless. If you’ve made it to an interview stage, you have to look at the job as yours to lose. Ask the right questions, dig into the business to get the knowledge and understanding that you need to really stand out with your thoughtful, engaging responses and observations.

      There’s always the chance that someone does it better, and you never have any control over that. Your advice is spot on – focus on what you can do and who you are. If that matches what the company needs and wants, you’ll get the job. If it doesn’t, you don’t want the job. Either way if you keep your eyes open and avoid approaching your job search from a place of desperation, you’ll probably end up in the right job.

      Thanks, Kim, for the great comments and insight!

      1. Oh my god… how come there’s such a career advice in world

        Hope those so called experts do not use wrongful metaphors , though job search in some content is self-marketing..

        The wording Brand is for the marketing departments of the enterprises like SONY, PANASONIC, HP, WHIRLPOOL, GM,
        COCA-COLA and are sustained by many projects

  5. Oh my goodness. I agree with you, but we are in an infinitesimal minority. The douchebags win every time. I truly believe you have to be a B.S.-ing backslapper to get a job nowadays. And getting older does not help.

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