How Personal Branding Guru Dan Schawbel Found His Passion & 99,000+ Followers

According to Dan Schawbel (a recent guest on Making a Living), the rise of the internet as a connector is enabling a new breed of worker, one who creates opportunity for him/herself by becoming known for authentic passions, interests and talents.  (I couldn’t agree more!)

If you’ve never thought about managing your career as a personal brand, Dan (who has over 99,000 followers on Twitter and over 5000 on Facebook) says you’re missing out.

On my radio show, Dan shared key concepts from his best-selling book Me 2.0 including his four-step process for job seekers and experienced professionals to discover, create, communicate and maintain a powerful personal brand.        

Dan walks to talk and has lived his own advice.  I asked him to share his career story and best advice for you to create your own powerful brand…

Q: What makes you passionate about branding?

A: The term “branding” has always been used when talking about marketing products and services, yet it has a major impact on how we manage our careers and personal lives. Branding is mysterious since we’re not always positive about how we’re portraying ourselves and how people perceive us. The internet has created a world in which our first impression is no longer a handshake, since our pictures and backgrounds are easily viewable after a single Google search. Branding is empowering and forces us to be our natural selves. We can all cultivate our own following and connections based upon our passions and expertise. I’m most passionate about branding because of the impact it’s had on my own life, giving me direction, and a sense of purpose, that I couldn’t have gotten any other way.

Q: Did you always know this was the path for you?  If not, how did you find it?

A: During my senior year of high school, I had my first internship cold calling companies, and after over one thousand calls without any success, I realized that I wasn’t meant to do sales. When I started college, I took it incredibly seriously, and got straight A’s my first semester, which was a major accomplishment since I never believed I could do it before. This achievement gave me great confidence for the next four years.

After deciding that marketing was my major, I realized that I needed internships if I was going to get a job after graduation in this competitive field. I created a set of materials, including a CD portfolio of my graphic design and website work, a business card, a website, resume, cover letter, and references document. I ended up with eight internships during college, including Reebok, Lycos, and LoJack. It took me over a year to get an internship at Reebok because those internships typically went to the sons and daughters of Vice Presidents. I never gave up though, and it became one of my greatest accomplishments of college, yet it wasn’t a very fulfilling work experience. I had also started a consulting business during my junior and senior year, working on websites and marketing plans for small businesses.

At the beginning of senior year, I applied for jobs and decided that I wanted a product marketing position at EMC Corporation. It took me eight months, meeting fifteen people, and getting rejected twice, to land the job I wanted because I was too afraid to network back then. During my last set of interviews, I noticed one very interesting thing. Out of everything on my resume, the interviewers were most fascinated about my Reebok internship, even though I got almost nothing out of that experience. This was the first time that I truly realized the importance of branding.

After a few months working at EMC, I started a blog called “Driven to Succeed,” which gave advice to students on how to get internships and jobs. This later turned into “Personal Branding Blog” after I read Tom Peter’s “Brand Called You” article in Fast Company, which was written in 1997. After reading Tom’s article, I realized immediately that personal branding was my passion, my career, and my future. I had never been so confident in anything in my life. The second after reading his article, I was researching to see who the voices were in this space and I couldn’t find anyone from my generation. I decided to brand myself as the “Gen-Y personal branding spokesman.” After blogging ten to twelve times a day, writing for sources such as and Brandweek Magazine, starting Personal Branding TV, the Personal Brand Awards, and Personal Branding Magazine, Fast Company profiled me. The profile was published exactly ten years after Tom’s article came out, so I knew it was fate. The article led to Google asking me to speak on campus and to EMC hiring me internally as their first social media specialist. As Tom highlighted in his article, the most creative and smart employees will establish their own unique role at their organization. Once I was recruited for this new job based on my online brand, I wrote a book proposal and eventually published Me 2.0, and that has led to my own company called Millennial Branding.

Q: Is social media a fad or do you feel it’s here to stay?

A: Social media will be an integrated part of our lives forever. Here are some important facts and figures that prove the importance and acceptance of social media:

–Facebook is worth 50 billion dollars and has 600 million users.

–The average web user spends .2 hours more on social media than email (TNS, 11/2010).

–By 2012, 88% of companies will be using social media tools for marketing purposes (eMarketer, 12/2010).

Social media has permeated all areas of our society, including politics and pop culture. I care more about what social media means for our careers. 80% of companies are using social networks and search engines for candidate background checks. The internet has flattened hierarchies and allowed for connectivity so you can contact hiring managers directly instead of applying to jobs aimlessly.

Q: For people who are just getting started thinking of themselves/their careers as brands, what’s the easiest first step?

A: The first step is by far the most challenging Maggie. Professionals need to figure out how they fit into the world, what they’re passionate about, what their true talents are, and then commit to short-term and long-term goals. Sometimes you have to experiment until you find something you like, and other times it comes directly to you. Either way, you have to be the commander of your career if you want to be successful in this ever changing job landscape. (I have found it’s not as hard to figure out what you want with the right Soul Search, Research and Job Search support.)

Many thanks to Dan!  For more of his advice visit Dan’s award-winning Personal Branding Blog. Get help with your elevator speech, a key part of any well-managed personal brand with my latest post on Whole Living.  

“[When it comes to your personal brand] be real.  Because everyone else is taken and replicas don’t sell for as much.” -Dan Schawbel

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