Why Millennials Need a Professional Brand

Do you have a brand?

I’ve asked some of my clients this question, and they usually end up telling me about their company’s brand.

“No, I mean you as an individual,” I say. “Do you have a personal brand?”

They look at me blank-faced. What’s a personal brand, and why would anyone need one?

Millennials are well acquainted with the concept of a personal brand, in no small part because they grew up in an online culture. If you want a group of people to follow your blog, your Twitter feed, your Tumblr or your Instagram, you’re going to need to be able to tell them why they should.

You’re the lady who cooks while drinking. You’re the guy who writes a blog about how to write a better a blog. You’re the person who showcases examples of people of color in European art history.

Millennials know all about the personal brand. Most of them have one.

What they don’t have is a professional brand – or an understanding of why one is necessary.

What’s Difficult About a Professional Brand?

In many ways, a professional brand ought to be easy to create. All of us were taught in college that we should wear certain clothes to a job interview, that we should comport ourselves in certain ways and never do certain things.

Millennials struggle with this universal workplace brand for a very good reason: it’s not authentic.

Very few people in the world have always been “the guy in the suit.” Some have! There are certainly people in the world for whom the sleek, professional business aesthetic has always been comfortable and desirable, who enjoy wearing a tailored suit and a well-polished pair of business shoes.

For your average person, however, business attire is far removed from their personal brand.

If you’ve always cultivated a punk rock look, or a jeans-and-a-tee look, or a quirky and playful look, you’re going to feel very strange going to the office every day in pressed slacks.

And since Millennials have been told – by Boomers, even! – that to be untrue to yourself is the worst choice you can make, many of them simply wear their off-hours clothes to work.

Which, as you might imagine, does not always work for their employers.

The Happy Medium

Both Boomers and Millennials alike have broached the problem of a professional brand by looking at the issue in very black-and-white terms. Either you can be a mindless corporate drone or you can be an individual. Either you can be professional or you can be sloppy.

Neither Boomers or Millennials seem to recognize that – as with communication - there’s an in-between compromise on matters of personal style.

There’s a way to be yourself, but an office-appropriate version of yourself.

Millennials don’t generally have a hard time with the idea that they can take their style from lounging around the house to a dinner party. They don’t have trouble with the idea that a wedding is dressier than an evening at home, and they are able to bring their individual brand to those events.

All they need is one more facet to their sense of style: an office look.

How can Millennials learn what an office-appropriate variant of their brand looks like? Well, that’s where Boomers are going to need to help out.

Tune in for the next post on How Boomers Can Set the Workplace Tone.

Paige Cornetet