I have the privilege of teaching an MBA course on social media and, out of 12 sessions total in the spring semester, I’m dedicating three to the topic of personal branding.

Why would I devote a full quarter of the class to one subject when there are so many other “cool” things like Twitter and video resumes to cover? The answer is simple.

Aside from a few – ahem – Facebook photos and incomplete LinkedIn profiles, most of my students don’t have a strong online presence yet.

In other words, they are blank slates…..bare billboards…….TV static.

While social media sites can give them a potentially powerful microphone, here’s the problem with just diving in and uploading content on day one.

Bare billboard + powerful microphone = more white noise on the web.

I don’t know about you, but I think the Internet has more than enough white noise as it is. Moreover, these students are in the process of looking for employment … and with sites like CAREEREALISM stating that there are now six job seekers for every one job available, I owe it to them to do what I can to prevent a “Fire, Ready, Aim” approach.

Step one – discovery

So here we are in Step One of the personal branding process, otherwise known as the discovery phase. It’s fitting to invoke the billboard reference above because my marketing background tells me that, like brands, billboards should state a clear message in six words or less.

Therefore, my challenge to students, and to you, is this: What is your message?

Creating a vision board

If you’re having a hard time figuring that out, creating a “vision board” will help. Here’s how it works:

1.) You purchase a piece of poster board or foamcore.
2.) You cut out words or images from magazines, websites, etc. that reflect something you want for yourself in the future
3.) You glue or spray mount the clippings together on the poster board

At the end of this process, you’ll have a visual representation of where you want to go in the next year or beyond. And while you should always put your goals on paper and reflect on them often, there’s just something different and uniquely motivating about coming face-to-face with them on your wall every day.

So if you’re a blank slate currently and you’d like to hone in on your brand or discover your message, try crafting a vision board. Worst case scenario is that you’ll have a neat piece of quasi-art to impress your friends. Ideally, though, you’ll discover what truly inspires you along the path to career success. Good luck!


Emily Bennington is the author of Effective Immediately: How to Fit In, Stand Out, and Move Up at Your First Real Job. She hosts a popular blog for career newbies at www.professionalstudio365.com and can be found on Twitter @EmilyBennington or via email at ebennington @ msn.com.