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4 Ways to Shape Up Your Image in the New Year!

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Today, crafting your image in cyberspace is just as important as establishing your credibility within your local community once was. As a representative of the Fashion Institute (FIDM) and a designer, I'm often asked advice on both personal and professional image management. So whether you are looking to snag a new job or a new flame this coming year, here are some helpful tips on personal branding.

1. Self-Promo Stigma Obsolete

Thanks to social media venues such as Linked-In, Twitter and even Facebook, self-promotion does not have the stigma it once did. Today, creating your personal brand identity is crucial to career advancement. In fact, I encourage students to starting branding themselves via social media in high school.

Here's why the norms have shifted. Gone are the days when people remained loyal to a single firm for 20 years or more. In fact, employees in today's job market tend to move jobs every two to five years on average, which means your professional identity can't be tied to a specific company or job title; it has to be as transferable as your skills. Your professional image and credibility, therefore, must be established in a way that is both easily accessible and verifiable, in other words, public. This means establishing yourself as an expert and having the corresponding online references and social networks to back up your experience, skills, and education.

2. Know Thyself

In order to brand yourself, you must first know who you are: not only what you're good at but what you want. Without this initial, essential self-evaluation, you can't possibly begin to attract either a potential employer or a potential mate, because the onus is on you to convey the best qualities and characteristics you have to offer. First, focus on the one or two things you do best, and remember: "You're probably not very good at most things." Generally, this is not something most of us want to hear. The same way we don't want to admit, "[s]he's just not that into me," we also don't want to acknowledge that while we may be good at a lot of things, we are only very good at a few. Find your fabulous few and focus on developing those skills and branding yourself based on that unique expertise.

Once you've thoughtfully and honestly considered both your long-term goals and innate strengths, boil them down to a single sentence or phrase that defines the very essence of you. Think of this as your "headline" for either your online dating or professional profile. (For example, "I'm a small-town girl looking for old-fashioned romance in the big city," or "I am a creative entrepreneur communicating complex ideas visually and verbally.") For a challenge, take this exercise a step further and start the new year by writing both a personal and professional mission statement. This statement will become the bedrock upon which you build your image or personal brand identity.

3. Tooting vs. Blowing

In her book Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It Peggy Klaus expounds the merits of the "bragalogue." This personal narrative, ranging from a 30-second elevator pitch to a three-minute monologue, is a summary of your greatest talents, achievements and goals in a succinct, story-like sound bite. Both polished and personal, this verbal teaser must be interesting and exciting enough to whet the listener's curiosity and incite further inquiry. I tell students to think of it as their "highlights" reel. Your bragalogue can become a pitch to a potential employer, a professional summary or your online dating profile. The most important thing to remember about any bragalogue, however, is it's not about you, it's about them. Know your audience and be prepared to explain how your unique experience, abilities and characteristics can benefit the reader or listener. (For example, explain why years of reviewing marriage-based visa applications and interviewing thousands of couples makes you an expert on dating and relationships, or why growing up with three sisters makes you a great guy to date.)

Klaus gives some excellent examples of bragalogues in her book, but if you've done your homework (see number two above) writing your own bragalogue should be easy, because you already know your best assets and long-term goals. Now sprinkle in your greatest, most interesting accomplishments, and tell it like the fascinating tale your personal journey is.

4. Picture Perfect

In a world of vastly decreasing face-to-face communication and rapidly increasing virtual communication, it stands to reason you should invest an equally proportionate amount of time and money in your online appearance as you do your real-time appearance. You would dress up for that important job interview or client meeting, right? Guys, maybe buy a new suit, new shoes or tie? Ladies, you might even get your hair and nails done for just a single interview. Why, then, would you post a profile photo that may be viewed by hundreds, potentially thousands, of people around the globe that is blurry, dated or has your best bud obviously lopped off the side? This is one of my biggest pet peeves in online image management. Typically men are the most susceptible to bad photos (perhaps because they are generally not as vain as we women who incessantly photograph ourselves when out with friends). Gentlemen, photos of you when you are drunk, holding an alcoholic beverage and/or pictures taken with your mobile device while standing in front of the bathroom mirror with your shirt off are unacceptable in both the personal and professional branding space. If you are serious about attracting a potential employer or a potential mate using an online venue, I highly recommend investing the time and money in a professional headshot for your profile picture.

Finally, remember that image management is designed to help you achieve your goals by presenting your best self. An online profile is an opportunity, not something to shy away from. Remember, when it comes to your image, you decide what message to send. Rather than be intimidated by these powerful online tools, we must learn to harness them so they work for us, not against us. As I often tell my students, you know how to use social media -- now starting using it to your advantage!

Brand yourself early. Identify and reevaluate your strengths often. And, if needed, hire a professional to help you spruce up your profile. Get an experienced writer to help you with the copy or a professional photographer to keep bathroom-mirror photos at bay. Make a conscious decision to put your best online foot forward in 2013, and you just might be surprised what opportunities come your way!

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