• Learn How to Build a Powerful Personal Brand That Will Differentiate You and Allow You To Compete in the Global Marketplace.
  • Being Yourself vs Being Professional

    One questions that I keep hearing again and again is how to brand yourself, while maintaining a professional image. You want to brand yourself based on who you are inside – an authentic you – but depending on your circumstances, you may have to hold back some of your clothing choices and language. You aren’t Lady Gaga, so you can’t wear her coat of frogs to work and get away with it, without embarrassing yourself. You aren’t Ozzy Osbourne, so eating a bat before you give a presentation to your colleagues would be deemed inappropriate!  What I’m trying to get at is that you really have to know your place in the world, as well as your audience and the type of setting you’re in.

    Celebrities can push the limits

    Most celebrities can get away with almost anything, except the occasional sex addition, in Tiger Woods’ case. They can be themselves completely because their audience is different than most of yours. While you try and appeal to management, they are thinking about putting on an entertaining show for their fans. As mentioned in the two examples above (Ozzy and Gaga), they may stir things up to get publicity, but, at the end of the day, it’s their own creativity that prevails. You’ll never see either of them as CEO’s for a major company because employees and customers couldn’t take them seriously.

    • Lady Gaga: Imagine Gaga as the CEO of Microsoft.  The company would lose millions of dollars, a lot of credibility, and she would be asked to resign quickly, due to stockholder anger. The Gaga brand can’t succeed in those conditions, but it can succeed in Hollywood because that kind of differentiation is accepted.
    • Ozzy Osbourne: If you showed up for work today and you were greeted by your new manager, Ozzy, would you honestly be able to keep a straight face during your first meeting with him? No. Ozzy can’t succeed or be respected as that kind of businessman in that setting. He can sell clothing, albums, tickets for his tour and action figures, but if you put his name on a business proposal, your coworkers would think it’s fake.

    The workplace has limits

    You can bring your dog to work at Google and most startups and marketing firms allow you to wear jeans and sometimes a t-shirt. If you’re in sales, then you almost have to wear a suit and if you have a different corporate job, business casual is expected. For the most part, it’s hard to have a memorable appearance when everyone wears the same white dress shirt and dress pants each day. Similar to how some private schools have uniforms, the workplace creates a feeling of balance, yet lacks individuality.

    If your brand is about wearing shorts and a hat all the time, then you can’t carry that into the workforce. You would have to find some other way to make money, while maintaining that appearance. For instance, you could start your own clothing line or do stand-up comedy, but if the income from either can’t support you, then you still have to suffer in your dress pants at work.

    In the corporate world it’s all about “acting the part.” This means that you can’t dress and behave like a CEO if you still have the “associate mindset” and presence.

    How to be yourself without losing everything

    The object of this post is to help you identify where you can be yourself, while making money, and how to avoid hurting your brand in the wrong situations. Life can be complicated if you don’t put yourself in a situation where you can be yourself! Joining a company that makes you dress like someone you aren’t, isn’t acceptable in a world filled with an endless pit of choices.

    1. Understand who you are and be honest with yourself. Take into account how you want to dress and behave, the people you want to surround yourself with and the types of work environments where you can be yourself (and succeed).
    2. Identify your strengths, your current marketplace value, as well as your financial situation and family responsibilities. By doing this step, you’ll know if you can afford to be yourself 24/7. If you can’t, then you might have to have more than one job, until you’re financially stable.
    3. Examine the audience (the companies) that would best reflect your authentic brand. The best way to do this is to ask peers what their experiences are like in their companies. You may also decide to start your own company so you can have more control over your brand, appearance wise.
    4. Create and communicate the brand that aligns your passion, expertise and allows you to make money. Money matters when it comes to being yourself, while maintaining a financial status that can support your lifestyle. Passion will force you to work hard enough to succeed in being an expert in a subject.

    Your turn

    Are you having issues branding yourself, while maintaining a professional image?


    Dan Schawbel is the Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm. He is the New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success (St. Martin’s Press) and the #1 international bestselling book, Me 2.0: 4 Steps to Building Your Future (Kaplan Publishing), which combined have been translated into 15 languages.

    Posted in Career Development, Personal Branding, Reputation Management, Success Strategies
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    6 comments on “Being Yourself vs Being Professional
    1. avatar


      Great topic. I consult with job seekers and try to get them to think differently about who they are and what they offer. Most often, I am faced with the “it’s not professional to be myself” rebutal. It’s both sad and interesting to see how many people are afraid to reveal their true personality in fear of being rejected. what kind of society have we created? I just wrote a similar blog about this topic last week…I’d love to have you check it out!

    2. avatar
      Paul Mullan says:


      Nice post on a very interesting topic.

      There where many occasions in my early career when I was like Jim Carey and wore a “professional mask”. When I use the term “professional mask” I don’t so much mean the uniform but more the person beneath the uniform. Some of the motivation to wear this “professional mask” was need (desperate times). More often though it was fear of being me or acting out how I was told I should behave/thought was appropriate to behave. Fortunately I have long snapped out of this.

      I will use the example of job interviews to get my point across. During my interview coaching sessions I met some really friendly, passionate and warm people with great skills and qualifications. I think to myself – how do they not get hired? When we start role playing mock interviews it becomes very clear. These people transform into serious, poker faced ice pillars. This is not nerves but rather individuals putting into action how they were told/thought they should act at interview – aka “professional”. For me these individuals are holding themselves back because they show little evidence of their real personality or passion for their profession. My advice to them is “be yourself at interview!!!”

      My advice is similar for building your brand in general. For authenticity and longevity of your brand I am in the “Be Yourself” camp. Employers will hire the real you and they will get what it says on the tin. Clients/Customers who choose to work with you will have the very same experience. When you are true to yourself and following your passion you will be successful (I don’t want to over simplifying this and make it sound easy – with this in mind there is one other very important ingredient – hard work :-))

      Keep up the good work.


    3. avatar

      It’s a fine line isn’t it? Sometime “just being yourself” isn’t the kind of brand image you want to display.

      I think it helps to know what it is you’re branding – are you branding your product, your business, or your person? Each can be represented by you, but will have different parameters between what is considered being yoruself and being professional.

      If you are purely branding yourself, that crazy night you had in Cabo that ends up on Youtube may only help strengthen your brand and image, but if you are trying to build your business brand by being the face of the company you probably hope the crazy Cabo night never sees the light of day.

      I guess my point is that you are not always representing yourself, and what you are representing will dictate the line between being yourself and professionalism.


    4. avatar
      Maren Kate says:

      Great post, really helpful 🙂 I focused on branding early, at the very beginning of my start up, so now me and my company are kind of one… but I like it that way. I get a lot of business via the social media streams I use & my blog which documents my entrepreneurial journey etc.

      So for me its not hard but I do see how it has to be kept at a certain level 🙂

    5. avatar

      Great topic, Dan! I’m in some sort of dilemma, too, so this blog is very enlightening. I have two blogs that I’m doing. My first one is my alter-ego blog (since 2007) who’s funny and multi-personality, and my new career blog on personal branding which has more of a professional and passionate tone. I may have to tone down my alter ego. As you said, my audience perception of me is their reality. Thanks for the great tip!

    6. avatar
      Dcherry says:

      Hello i am 16 years old and a teen marketer and trendsetter with http://www.radicalprenting.com and this is a very good article topic and quite true to the fact, even though i’d prefer if it wasn’t.
      The line between being you and being professional though is drawn by the person who hires you. Some people will let you were a tattoo out if it’s small, but some might make you cover it up. If you express individuality in your hair, such as colors or even an Afro, people may tell you you have to change that because, the lines of conformity in the workplace are ever changing and it’s hard to know where the limit is. i liked the topic, because i’m going on a job hunt soon which will lead to interviews and i don’t know how well they’ll take to my personal appearance, rather if they think i’m professional enough or not.
      If you want to check out some of the articles written by other teens on subjects that affect teens even some like these, just go to http://WWW.RadicalParenting.com

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