Personal branding is a buzz word that is generally misunderstood. Every pundit tells you to have a personal brand, but what, exactly, does that mean? The simplest answer is: Your personal brand is how you want to be known in the market (including by your current manager) for the work you do.

You Already Have A Personal Brand

You know what your personal brand is now? It is the current perception of your work by your manager and co-workers. Are you a go-to person on the thorniest issues on technical architecture? That's a personal brand. Are you a slouch that only gets things done when hounded by your manager? That's a personal brand as well. The only thing a "personal brand" does is give you the ability to consciously start defining how you want to be perceived and not leave your reputation to chance. So, how do you build it?

1. Define the work that you love to do

The hardest part of defining a personal brand is knowing your best work. What we're really good at is easy for us. I can do process falling off a log -- and be called a "process savant" -- but other people consider what I have as a supreme gift. To me, process is just easy. That's the tough part -- understanding that what is easy for us is our strength, and that strength is what starts off our brand. Once you can name that strength and are comfortable with what it is, you can start doing some things to help define your brand.

2. Define a marketing mantra

State your brand as a "mantra" as part of your resume or online profiles. One that I like (and stole) for project managers as part of my consulting work: "Every manager's favorite project manager." One little sentence that defines marketability. That is what you need to get to based on the strengths you bring to the job.

3. Have your behavior and results match your personal brand

In your resume, you show through your points and business results why that mantra is true. What would be true about a Project Manager's performance that would help prove you're "every manager's favorite project manager"? Maybe you discover problems early. You prevent small issues from becoming big ones. You stay on budget. You over-communicate. You get results. Another way to show off your personal brand is to use stories that not only answer an interviewer's questions, but also demonstrate the brand through your strengths. If your strength as a programmer is clean code ("the programmer with the cleanest code"), you could use a story about how you were under a deadline and your skills as a programmer produced the code with the fewest unit test errors in the group. Plus your coding had the lowest loading time on the staff. That's clean code showing results, but also promoting your personal brand. Or, on the job, you can show your brand through how you communicate through e-mail, how you handle group discussions in meetings, and what you say around the virtual water cooler. When pundits talk about "building" a personal brand, they mean making sure your behavior and performance match your work strengths. Once you define your strengths and get them into a one-sentence mantra, you build your brand by following through and doing what you say you'll do.