Build a Better Online Brand in 4 Easy Steps

Your personal online brand is a fundamental part of any job hunt.

Understandably, many people don’t like the idea of reducing themselves to a “brand.”

Academics and PhDs seem particularly averse to this way of thinking. Which is ironic, considering how much personal branding goes into academic job searches these days.

The truth is that a strong online brand is essential for both academic and non-academic job searches.

An academic online brand includes things like your research specialization, teaching philosophy, and as many publications as you can churn out while still making rent.

A non-academic online brand includes things like your personality, passions and interests, skills and experiences, and goals for the future. It’s much less formulaic, and much more subjective and personalized.

So, how do you create an online brand? Why is online branding important? This article will go over 4 steps for online branding, focusing on the non-academic side of things.

In a nutshell, your personal online brand must be three “c’s”: clear, concise, and compelling.

Our goal with these 4 steps of brand building is to help you put forth a clear, consistent, and compelling online brand that will stand out from the crowd.

1. Reflect on Your Personal Myth

The first of our online branding techniques is to think long and hard about who you are and who you want to become.

This will sound a little cheesy, but hear us out:

Have you ever heard the term “personal mythology”? This concept in psychology refers to how people subconsciously construct narratives about their lives.

The principle is simple: people like to think in terms of stories. Questions like “who am I?”, “where did I come from?”, and “what is my purpose?” make a lot more sense when framed within an overarching personal myth.

People might see themselves as adventurers. Tragic heroes. Faith-driven. Family-driven. To all the academics reading this, you might picture yourself as an intellectual kind of hero who overcomes great odds through smarts, resourcefulness, and dedication.

(Incidentally, this partly explains why making the decision to leave academia is so damn hard for many of us. No matter how much we say “it’s not you, it’s math,” that doesn’t square with a personal myth in which intelligence and hard work always pay off in the end.) 

Whether this propensity for thinking in stories is hardwired into human psychology or imbued by culture is beside the point. Reflecting on your personal myth will tell you a lot about what kind of online brand you should put forth. It is, in fact, the first step to formulating your PhD career transition story.

You may find that your personal myth is a lot more open to interpretation than you initially thought. There are many paths beyond academia that will fit the narrative you’ve woven for yourself. The trick is to find one.

2. Make a Spreadsheet

Here’s a concrete way to convert your personal myth into a personal brand: make a spreadsheet.

Include tabs for things like skills, experience, accomplishments, interests, and so forth. Use it to take notes on what jobs you’ve applied to and what your next targets will be.

This ‘me sheet’ is a great first step in building your online brand.

Sift through the messy details of your life, filter out the skills, achievements, and experiences you’ve accumulated, polish them into glistening chunks of information, and arrange them in your spreadsheet.

In particular, keep your eyes peeled for ‘story nuggets.’ By this we mean concise accounts of a situation, task, action, and result you achieved. If you’re not familiar with the STAR interview method, learn it now.

This will also help you write a catchy personal blurb for yourself (see below).

Your spreadsheet will help you consolidate all the little facts and details of your life and use them to build a personal online brand. Add these info chunks and story nuggets to your resume, cover letters, and social media profiles.

Speaking of which…

3. Build Your Online Brand Through Social Media

Social media is integral to any online branding strategy.

As far as 99% of employers are concerned, you are your online brand. Pre-interview, everything a hiring manager knows about you comes from two sources:

  1. The application materials you submitted
  2. What they found by googling your name.

In an ocean of applicants, a compelling personal brand is the best way to catch an employer’s attention.

To this end, social media is indispensable. To ignore it is to let Google be your public relations manager.

Social media here means, at minimum, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Statistically, you probably have a Facebook profile. Even if you’re one of those cool people who claims to “almost never use it,” you do have one, right?

If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, make one! The great thing about LinkedIn is that it focuses all your career-related social media materials in one place. If you have a thorough account of past work experience on LinkedIn, just summarize the basics on your other social profiles.

Finally, synchronize all your profiles. They don’t all need to be packed with content, but they need to convey the same message. Your online brand must be unified and coherent.

4. Write an “About Me” Personal Blurb

This is that little personal blurb that goes atop your resume and in the “About” section of your LinkedIn profile.

It’s a 3–5-sentence description of who you are as a person and potential employee. It’s the first thing hiring managers see when they glance at your resume or find you on LinkedIn.

Writing this “About me” blurb requires that rarest of all academic writing skills: brevity.

Remember, hiring managers spend, what is it, seven seconds per resume before tossing it aside and moving to the next one?

Your blurb has to get the point across. Fast. It should say who you are, what you do, what you’re good at, and (optionally) what job you’re aiming for.

This personal blurb in your own branding is somewhat analogous to a slogan in corporate branding. It must catch people’s attention, stick in their minds, and get the point across all in one fell swoop.


These 4 steps of brand building have focused chiefly on crafting a strong personal online brand with clear focus and deliberate intent.

Consciously or unconsciously, you probably have a brand for yourself already. You probably have a sweet personal blurb somewhere in the back of your mind. The trick is to deploy them intelligently and effectively in your job search, using every online branding tool at your disposal.

Online brand building is definitely a ‘long game’ strategy. It won’t pull in job offers overnight. But it will help you reassess your career goals, recalibrate your strategy, and present the best image of yourself to the world.

For more on the importance of online branding and social media, check out these social media tips for your post-academic job search.

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