Personal Branding for Interior Design Students

Here is a resource that I wish I had known about earlier, while I was still in school. The website is plinth and chintz and as wacky as the name sounds they have some very helpful articles.
For example the article on personal branding that I am about to post.

contributed by Terri L. Maurer, FASID [President - Maurer Design Group and Maurer Consulting Group / keynote speaker / trainer / author / supporter of the interior design community]

If you happen to be a college student, you likely fall within the demographics of two market segments known as Generation X and the Millennials, sometimes referred to as Generation Y. This means that you were born between 1965 and 1980 (Gen Xers) or 1981 and 1999 (Millennials). This places you between 20 years of age if you are a traditional post-high school student, or up to 40 years old if you are a non-traditional student returning to school to pursue a second career. Falling within these demographic groups, you are members of the most brand conscious generations ever. But do you know your own brand? You should.

Brand Conscious Or Brand Unconscious?

For those in the earlier Baby Boomer generation, born shortly after the end of World War II, television was a relatively new thing. What commercials there were on our black and white sets were aimed at selling things like soap products, bread, toothpaste and cars to our parents. The Boomers had not yet been identified as a significant market for serious advertising, and were not bombarded from all sides on a daily basis with brands and commercials targeted directly at our age group.

Things certainly changed over the past few decades. Today’s students have grown up in a world surrounded by branded products: athletic shoes, jeans, t-shirts, backpacks; you name it, and today’s student can name half a dozen specific brand names for each category. Advertisers realized the buying power of your groups and invested heavily in branding and selling products directly to you.

Plan On A Personal Brand

Have you ever thought of yourself as a brand? If not, you should. Every individual has a personal brand. Yours can be a positive brand or a negative brand, but it exists all the same. It is yours and it is very definitely personal in nature. Those of you nearing graduation will find that your brand can help you, or hinder you, in your search for gainful employment in the field of interior design.

If you have a positive personal brand, you are in good shape and just need to identify it and learn how to use it to your advantage. If yours is a less than glowing personal brand, you definitely need to come to grips with it and figure out how to minimize the negative aspects and maximize the positive aspects before beginning your job search.

The Brand Is You

So, what is a personal brand? There are a number of definitions floating around that define this marketing tool. According to Peter Montoya, in his book, The Brand Called You:

Your Personal Brand is the powerful, clear, positive idea that comes to mind whenever other people think of you. It’s what you stand for—the values, abilities and actions that others associate with you. It’s a professional alter ego designed for the purpose of influencing how others perceive you, and turning that perception into opportunity.

Notice the key word in the second sentence of Montoya’s definition: “It’s what YOU stand for…” You are the essence of your personal brand. A personal brand is totally based on things related to you: your personal characteristics, your attributes, your skills, and your personal style. By assessing these key elements, you can easily determine what your personal brand is and use it to your advantage.

Build A Believable Brand

You need to approach your branding exercise from two directions. First you need to determine your own perception of what your personal brand is. This represents your perception set. You also need to do a reality check by finding out what others who know you and have worked with you think of you in terms of the elements that make up your brand. Their points of view represent your existing effect on those around you. Your personal brand is the sum total of those two view points added together: your own perception set plus the existing effect you have had on those who know you.

This is a relatively easy process to take on. Simply jot down what you feel are your three key personal characteristics, attributes, skills and personal style. Characteristics are things like your personality, interests, lifestyle, or accomplishments that are top of mind for you. Attributes come from the business side in terms of things of value that come to mind that relate the values you bring to a work situation. Being self-motivated, dedicated, detail-oriented, trustworthy, and a team player are all examples of business attributes.

Your skill set can begin with your design education, but can go beyond that basic four- or five-year college degree. Remember that you will be one of many entry-level interior designers entering the job market at the same time with the same level of education. What skills have you acquired along the way that you can add to this basic education? Did you work in a position where you were in charge of training other workers? Did you work your way up to a supervisor position at a job that put you through school? Did you take any seminars or programs that were over and above your basic college work? All of these extra skills will help you to rise above others in terms of value to an employer.

Your personal style is the way you work and deliver your services to others. Are you a highly creative person or a more quiet, reserved, detail person? How do you define the way you do things? It’s that simple.

Once you have arrived at your list of key characteristics, attributes, skills, and your personal style, try to write a sentence or two that combines all of those elements just to clarify your own perception set in your own mind. Then, to get the other half of the equation, your existing effect, just ask a number of family members, close friends and those who have worked with you to provide you with the same information. In the end, you will have two lists of characteristics, attributes, skills, and personal style, and two statements that sum up each half of the equation. Once you have completed both parts and compared the lists, write one or two sentences that combine the two statements. This last version will define for you what your personal brand statement is.

Take A Stand On Your Brand

So, now that you’ve got your personal brand statement, how do you put it to work for you? This statement represents who you are, what you do and what value you bring to clients or employers. Another way to put the value proposition is that it basically tells people why they should hire you over someone else.

ASID’s The Interior Design Profession: Facts and Figures revealed that as of December 2003, there were over sixteen thousand students enrolled in FIDER-accredited [now CIDA-accredited] interior design programs in the United States. Imagine all of those students graduating at the same time and entering the job market. Even if that number divides equally over a four-year program, and only one quarter of those students enter the job market at the same time, you would still be one of four thousand graduates looking for a limited number of jobs.

Branding Is Beautiful

By utilizing these exercises and determining what your personal brand is, you can place yourself ahead of other job applicants by focusing potential employers clearly on who you are, what you do, and what value you can bring to their firms. You can recreate yourself in this personal brand image so that your manner, your dress, your resume, your portfolio, and everything else you put before future employers will all reflect your personal brand.

As you put together your resume, the information you include, the paper stock, and font style you select should all reflect your personal brand. Likewise, your portfolio should reflect your personal brand elements. Use your personal brand statements as a prism through which you look at everything that you put out in the market place. Does each thing represent Brand You? Use your personal brand to show employers that you are different, you are superior and you are authentic. This brand is all about you!

Note: A version of this article first appeared in the Fall 2005 issue of ASID Access magazine.