Congratulations, college graduates. Whether you’re a prepared overachiever and already have a job lined up after graduation or a spontaneous adventurer off to chart your own path in the world, indulge me by taking some unsolicited advice: Build your brand.
What do I mean by that? I mean, be like Ajay.
Ajay was a summer intern with Zillow about seven years ago. He supported our business development and social media teams, which meant he spent a decent amount of his time responding to praise or complaints (mostly the latter) from users of the Zillow website and app. For anyone who’s ever tackled customer care as part of your job, you know it’s tough stuff. Ajay did it eagerly and with a smile; he worked incredibly hard and, because of that, built a reputation for himself as someone who would pitch in to help with anything you asked and give it his best effort. People liked that.
Ajay was also a serial networker, even all the way up to me, the CEO. He found a way to connect with people across the organization at all different levels, and people would give him the time because he was Ajay, the helpful, hard-working intern and because he was a selfless networker. Ajay asked, “What do you do, and how can I help you?” People liked that, too.
When Ajay left to finish school and go on to various startups, he continued to build upon his brand and kept in touch – essentially marketing himself through his networks. Because Ajay was deliberate about his brand, people at Zillow Group still remember him – an intern with just 6 weeks’ experience at our shop seven years ago.
You want to be remembered, whether you’re joining a company of five or 500 because remembered people get opportunities; anonymous ones don’t. But the natural next question is, how do you effectively brand yourself without being a peacock or a sycophant? Two ways: intention and time.
You want to be remembered, whether you’re joining a company of five or 500 because remembered people get opportunities.
Brands encapsulate how companies want to be described among people: “Drink Coke – it’s refreshing and classic and delicious.” The same should be true for you: “Work with Sophia – she has a great attitude, big ideas and is really hard-working.” Intentionally determine how you want people to describe you – you don’t want people shrugging their shoulders when asked about you. Curate your brand so people know what you stand for.
Next, intentionally construct your “reason to believe” – another key component of a brand. Your reason to believe is your set of proof points that make your brand trusted. It’s the projects you take on, the things you say (or don’t say) in meetings, the extent to which you seek out opportunities, the way you treat everyone around you and the connections you make beyond your immediate team. Your college degree is a fantastic start, but even if you graduated from the best school at the top of your class, you still need to round out your reasons to believe to be truly memorable, valued and respected.
Intention is essential, but ultimately you must remember that brands are earned, not granted. Your brand is based on results, on actions and on others’ experiences with you. Great restaurants are known as great because they have great food, decor, and service; very few overnight sensations become lasting brands.
If you don’t know what your brand is yet, don’t panic. Figuring out your brand and positioning takes time.
About the Author: Spencer Rascoff is the CEO of Zillow Group. Spencer helped start Zillow in 2005 and served various roles including chief operating officer, until his appointment to CEO in 2010.