By Alexis Grant

Personal branding.

The term was used so much last year that it's almost become cliché, yet you can bet it's only going to become more ubiquitous in 2011.

But what does personal branding mean, exactly? And how can job seekers use it to their advantage?

U.S. News spoke with Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Millennial Branding, a personal branding company, and author of Me 2.0, Revised and Updated Edition: 4 Steps to Building Your Future about steps job seekers can take to build a quality presence online. Excerpts:

Can you start by explaining what personal branding is and how it applies to job seekers?

Personal branding is a process by which you uncover what makes you special, relative to everyone else who is competing for the same opportunities, and then communicate that to the right audience ... You need to take control of your brand, project the right image, and capitalize on your personality.

The Internet is the global talent pool, there's no doubt. That means you need to be in that pool. And the only way to get in that pool is to have a strong online personal brand. That can be composed of, at a minimum, your own website, so your full name dot com. That's the cost of entry to compete in the new marketplace.

[Your online brand should also include] your social network profiles on the top three social networks [meaning Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn], because people are searching for you on those networks--or people like you--and when they do, you need to come up ... In the current economic environment, you can't have anything against you. You have to use everything at your disposal [to get a job]. ... Your online presence becomes your chief career asset.

You say everyone should have their own website. Can you go over what should be on your website if you're looking for a job?

You can have a section for your resume. You can have a section for your different skills, and you can have a section for projects and results. You can have an introduction video or video resume of your stuff that's under two minutes, that shows who you are, what makes you unique, what value you contribute, and what type of job you're looking for. You can have links to LinkedIn and Twitter ... You can have a list of published works and the links to those [works]. You can have endorsements from people you've worked with in the past and key influencers in your world. You can have your portfolio of work if you're in a creative field ... And you can easily outsource the web design.

For a job seeker who's just beginning to think about personal branding, how should they get started? What should come first, the website or social networking?

The first thing is none of that. You need to discover your brand before you create it. Discovery is the most challenging but most important stage, because that's when you figure out what you're really passionate about, what career you want to pursue, and how you describe your brand.

If you put yourself out there in an authentic way, and you tell the world what you're good at and what kind of job you're interested in, you're going to attract only the right opportunities because you're telling people what you want. And that's the reason why social networking and blogging and getting yourself out there is so empowering. Because you're dictating what you're looking for. You're not just submitting your resume to random jobs ... You're telling the world how you want to be judged and what you're looking for.

Which social network do you think is most helpful for job seekers?

Twitter is extremely valuable ... It's effective because it's public networking, and people feel comfortable. It's like going on a first date at a restaurant instead of going to that person's house. That's why it's a good starting point. It helps build your brand in [other people's] eyes if you share good content, and if you connect with them and support them on Twitter. And once you have that, then you can take the relationship to LinkedIn or Facebook or e-mail. That's why I think Twitter's probably the best tool for starters.

How can job seekers utilize YouTube or other video-sharing platforms?

If you're introverted and not good on video, do not use video. It can really hurt you ... The reason why video is powerful is because it's the feeling of, I already know you ... For people looking for jobs, [the hiring manager has] such a better sense of the person's personality and who they are, before [they] make the hiring decision. If [you're] applying for [a] job [and you have] a video resume ... it's going to differentiate [you]. But it's got to be good, and it's got to be short, under two minutes.

The good thing is you can do 1,000 takes before you put [the video resume] online. You have a lot of chances to make it perfect.

Using social media to find a job was hot last year. What do you think will be hot this year?

I think soft skills are really becoming more valuable than technical skills. Because a lot of people can be good programmers or good accountants, so what's the differentiator? It might come back to personality and organizational skills and teamwork ... How well do you get along with people? Can you network well? How large is your network? That's another reason why if you're on social networks and you're blogging and you're building all these relationships, you become more valuable.

Should a freelancer or consultant approach personal branding differently than someone who's looking for full-time work?

For someone who's a freelancer or consultant, it's going to be even more valuable. For anyone in the service industry, [personal branding] is huge. Whether you're a plumber, a personal finance person, any type of consultant or entrepreneur, you're a business of one. So who else is going to sell you besides you?

[Consultants should start by] building their [web]site under their own name, definitely starting a blog, getting their ideas out there. Being specific [and] taking a niche [is] a good way to position yourself in a crowded marketplace and start getting more visibility. And have products. Create an e-book, maybe write a book, create a workbook. All that stuff is going to help you, going to make you look a bit more credible.

Start [public] speaking. Speak at the college you went to. And then use that as a case study, with an endorsement and a video, to get your next speaking gig. Starting small is the right way.

For job seekers who use Twitter, do you recommend they write in their bio that they're looking for a new job?

I think it is a good idea. Because if people don't know you're looking for a job, how can they help you?

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