This Drexel prof has the same tip for start-ups and new college grads: Get a brand!

ÒIf you donÕt have a personal brand, itÕs almost impossible to stand out in the job market,Ó says Orly Zeewy, a brand architect, at home in Wynnewood.

Orly Zeewy is an attention hog. Her goal is to make you one.

The Wynnewood resident is a brand architect who for years has helped big companies and institutions get products and services noticed. Among her clients over the years have been  Cigna, Kraft Foods, and the University of Pennsylvania.

As the economy has trended from industrial to entrepreneurial, Zeewy’s focus has followed the shift. A professor at the Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship at Drexel University, she lectures on the importance of brand identity to start-ups, and the need for founders of those new businesses to be sure of the answers to two questions: “Who are you?” and “Who are they?” They being the customers the businesses want to serve.

Among the start-ups she has helped is Boost Linguistics, Philadelphia-based platform developers using artificial intelligence to help marketers more effectively communicate with their target audiences.

“Her understanding that branding is something that needs to be created and cultivated with intention has had a lasting impact,” said Ethan Bresnahan, a cofounder of Boost who took one of Zeewy’s classes at Drexel.

Camera icon MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Ethan Bresnahan (left) and Jeff Nowak, two of the cofounders of Boost Linguistics, credit Zeewy with helping build their brand. Their software targets emotionally charged words and suggests more-effective alternatives for marketing materials.

Zeewy is also a consultant for those just out of college. Her reason is hard to blow off if you’re hoping to be employed: “If you don’t have a personal brand, it’s almost impossible to stand out in the job market.”

An observation Zeewy made in 20 years of working in the print industry – “the total lack of clarity” of many business brochures – influenced her migration to personal branding in 2002. By that time, websites had emerged as the new “brochure.”

“If you don’t have clarity on your website, it is much more damaging because people spend 10 seconds on the home page before they decide on a go/no-go,” Zeewy said. “It’s unforgiving.”

Following are excerpts from a recent question-and-answer session:

Why personal branding? Why now?

We are in this incredible time, which really has not happened since the advent of the printing press. The way that we communicate is completely, radically changed forever. We’re being messaged at 12,000 messages a day. In 1985, the number was 1,500. The only way you’re going to be able to cut through that noise is you have to have something worthwhile to say.

Why is personal branding important for new college graduates?

The future of work is changing. We’ve been becoming more entrepreneurial. Employers are looking for people who can be hybrid thinkers. The entrepreneur is not looking for a square peg that’s going to fit in a square spot. From a personal-branding standpoint, that is how you immediately establish how you’re different. It’s the only way to become competitive, and the only way you’re going to go from being invisible to what all recruiters will reach out to.

What are the top five things a new graduate should do to establish his or her personal brand?
  • Unless you’re sure there’s nothing on your Facebook page you’d be embarrassed to have your grandmother see, take it down. Seventy-nine percent of hiring managers and job recruiters go online and research job applicants. Of those, 70 percent have said they’ve rejected job candidates based on what they found there.
  • Instead of focusing on what you did in an internship or job, highlight who you worked for. If you developed a product that gets used by a global brand, you need to tell people. You want to try to get them to see you being identified with this global brand and having created something people used or that had some impact. That’s a big deal.
  • Establish a LinkedIn account, because 80 percent of companies use LinkedIn to find talent. If you’re not on LinkedIn, you don’t exist. Focus on trends, talk about things that will relate to a recruiter.
  • Write a cover letter that explains who you are and why you are writing, and includes a short work story that illustrates how your skills have helped an organization, company, or project and what the outcome was. Stay away from a list of computer skills. These days, it’s assumed that you have the skills needed, and often what students list is standard for your industry. Close with something that makes you different, such as if you’re bilingual or have experience with nonprofits.
  • Come in to an interview excited. You cannot show enough passion. Don’t leave that at the door. Having that kind of passion tells me you’re going to work really hard.
What do you see as the future of personal branding?

Personal branding is going to become even more important as the tools become more sophisticated. Imagine when we have robots and artificial intelligence picking up messages and giving it back to us. Stories are going to become more important because we’re still humans. The way we connect is through stories.