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As the job market becomes more and more competitive, students and recent grads need to do everything they can to stand out from their peers. One great way to do this is by building your professional reputation, also known as your "personal brand."

For advice on creating your personal brand – and using it to help you land a great job – I turned to Dan Schawbel, the leading personal branding expert for Generation Y. Dan is the author of the brand new book, Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success (Kaplan, April 09), as well as the publisher of the Personal Branding Blog and Personal Branding Magazine.

I recently had the opportunity to interview Dan. Here are some excerpts from the interview, including a shout-out to Fast Company!

Lindsey: How do you define personal branding?

Dan: Personal branding is the process by which we market ourselves to other people.  The process that I’ve developed in my new book, Me 2.0, is "discover, create, communicate and maintain (DCCM)."

The first step in this process is to discover what you’re passionate about and your area of expertise, while establishing goals and forming both a development plan and a personal marketing plan.

The second step is to create marketing materials, which could include a business card, portfolio, website, blog, social network profiles, a podcast, a video resume, as well as traditional documents like a resume and cover letter.

The third step is to become your own personal PR person and communicate your brand to others through speaking engagements, commenting on blogs, writing for magazines, pitching journalists and more.

The final step is to maintain your brand, which consists of online reputation management and keeping your profiles up-to-date and accurate with changes in your career.

Lindsey: You are in your 20s. How have you established yourself as a personal branding expert at such a young age?

Personal branding came naturally to me because I marketed myself extensively through college, including eight internships, seven leadership positions and straight A’s.  Instead of networking with other professionals, I applied and interviewed through job boards and corporate websites, which really forced me to differentiate myself.

I had never termed this to be personal branding until I read Tom Peter’s article in Fast Company magazine.  The second I read his article, I realized that personal branding was my passion and since I was blessed with entrepreneurship genes, and skills that I collected from middle school (graphic design and website development), I was able to execute on my dream and build a brand faster than most.

When I first branded myself, I considered myself a "personal branding spokesman," because my theories weren’t proven and I was a prolific writer on this topic.  As I started to see results from my brand building, including being recruited for a new social media position at EMC Corporation, and press mentions in BusinessWeek and The Wall Street Journal, I transitioned my brand to "personal branding expert." 

Instead of being this general with my title, I decided that my audience would be Gen Y, because that niche was wide open and because I felt that the millennial generation required extensive help to prepare them for the real world.  As a millennial myself, it was easy to connect to this generation and thus my personal brand statement (who you are and who you serve) became "the leading personal branding expert for Gen Y."

My genuine enthusiasm and knowledge in this field has allowed me to break through the clutter and establish myself as a top marketing blogger, magazine publisher, video producer, consultant, speaker and book author.  If I lost everything today, I’d still pursue my passion for personal branding.

Lindsey: Can you share 3 personal branding tips from your book that are most important for Gen Ys graduating from college this spring?

1.  Have a targeted approach to applying for jobs.  Most college graduates will furiously apply to hundreds of jobs online, praying that they might get a few interviews and hopefully a job.  Regardless of what the economic situation is, a focused job search will always prevail.  Instead of getting a job that will pay your bills, try your hardest to create your own job at a company that you’d love to work for.  Write down the top five companies that you want to work for and the job description you would like to have.

2.  Conduct a people search, not just a job search. Job boards are fading away and aren’t as useful as they were a decade ago.  Now, everyone is on social networks and can be contacted, without having to go through chains of command.  The best way to navigate the recruitment process is to contact employers directly, instead of applying for a job that might not be available anyway.  Use search engines, including Twitter, Facebook, Technorati and Google to locate employees who work at companies you’re interested in and reach out to them.  By doing this, you’ll appear genuine and have a better chance of getting the job you actually want.

3.  Protect and promote your brand as much as possible.  Protecting your personal brand is extremely important because there are other people in the world with your name and if you fail to register your name on social networks and your domain name, someone else will.  Also, you’ll want to command your Google results because employers will be searching for you.  Promoting your brand is required to gain the necessary visibility to be recruited based on your expertise.  By using social media tools to get your name out there, you have a better chance at obtaining a great opportunity.