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(CareerBuilder.com) -- Question: What do Coke, Reebok and Target all have in common with you? Answer: You are all brands.
Confused? Think about your favorite brand of tennis shoes. More than likely, you've developed a relationship with this shoe: You rely on it, it's never let you down, and you trust it to get you from point A to point B.
Like consumer products, you have a brand as well -- your reputation. Whether you know it or not, as a working professional, your rapport is your most vital asset, no matter what your career goals are.
William Arruda, founder of Reach Communications, a global personal branding organization, and co-author of "Career Distinction: Stand Out by Building Your Brand" (2007) sums up the basics of personal branding in the following question and answer.
Q: What is personal branding?
A: Personal branding is using what makes you unique and valuable to stand out from your peers and attract the attention of people who need to know about you.
Q: Why is it important to have a personal brand?
A: Because there are numerous others who want to achieve the same goals as you - numerous others with the same job title. What would make an employer choose you over someone else? What would help you get the promotion you seek? Personal branding enables you to uncover what is authentic to you, differentiating from your peers and relevant and compelling to hiring managers and executive recruiters. Professionals with strong brands are in control of their careers. They are hunted to fill vacancies rather than job hunters. They command greater compensation and have more job offers. If you aren't a brand, you are a commodity - meaning what you do and how you do it is not unique; it is available from many others.
Q: Are there different types of brands?
A: There are as many brands as there are people. Often, it is your unique combination of personality characteristics, your strengths and your passions which makes you successful.
Q: How you can tell what type of brand you are?
A: You need to do a lot of introspective work to determine your values, passions, goals, motivated skills and strengths. You also need to get input from those around you. Although your brand is based in authenticity (who you genuinely are), what others think counts. Your brand is held in the hearts and minds of those around you.
Q: How does what people think about you impact your success as a professional?
A: Another word for personal brand is reputation. In the new world of work, your reputation is the only accepted currency. When you have a clear and solid reputation, those around you use the same words to describe you and they spread your message for you. You become attractive to hiring managers who understand exactly what you have to offer. You start to build a 'personal fan club' of people who respect your brand. Just as people become devoted fans of Apple or Starbucks, you have your own brand ambassadors trumpeting your message to those around them.
Q: How can you maintain your brand?
A: Branding is all about maintenance. You need to put a little bit of who you are into everything you do so you are building your reputation as you go about your work. Think about how you can exude your brand during meetings, with every report you write and every phone call you make. The technique we use is called living in the inquiry. This means questioning everything you do to see if it is advancing your brand or detracting from it.
Q: What are some tips you offer to clients who are looking to create a brand for themselves?
A: 1. Know yourself. Before embarking on a personal branding plan, get to know who you are and what you want from your professional life. Knowing where you want to go will help you direct your brand.
2. Flaunt your quirks. It is what makes you stand out that gets you noticed. Conformity is the enemy of successful branding.
3. Note what makes you notable. At the end of each week, document your accomplishments. This exercise will ensure that you have an accurate record of the value you provide, making it easier to update your resume.
4. Egosurf. Conduct an online search of your name every Monday morning and ask yourself if the results truly reflect what makes you unique and compelling. Determine what you need to do to build a stellar on-line identity. People (your boss, hiring managers, clients, etc.) are searching for you and making decisions about you from what they learn.
5. Update your resume regularly. Every month, look at your accomplishments (from your list in No. 3 above) and make quick updates to your résumé.
6. Be current. Stay up on what's happening in your functional area and/or industry. What are the latest trends? What's hot? Always have a professional development plan that will keep you current in the skills necessary to succeed in your specific area of marketing.
7. Stay connected. Join career portals and browse job boards so you know what jobs are hot and what's happening with compensation.
8. Build career karma. Join and participate in professional associations and social networking sites. Connecting with peers is the best way to get a job. But remember, the most successful networkers approach networking with an attitude of generosity and not need. They know networking is a two-way street and work to build enduring relationships. E-mail to a friend
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