By, Pat Sitkins

Whether you are a Millennial nearing graduation and looking to enter the workforce, or a seasoned professional looking to up your game, personal branding has to be a part of your arsenal. While determining your current brand, developing a clear & powerful message and then maintaining it is hard work, you can dramatically improve what people think about you before they ever meet you.

Below are the 10 free ways to improve your personal brand in less than 24 hours. The examples and lessons come from recent interactions with professionals, as well as some more humorous stories from hiring rounds I’ve attempted in the past.

1. AVOID EMBELLISHMENT

There is a BIG difference between personal branding and embellishment. Your personal brand must be authentic and real. A personal brand is not about creating something out of nothing. Instead it is about accurately differentiating yourself and articulating a compelling story.

As an example, most college grads don’t have deep expertise or experience, and potential employers aren’t necessarily looking for that. So don’t make stuff up! For example, don’t list your headline on twitter as ‘twitter business guru’ if you have an incomplete profile, 7 total tweets, and 34 followers. Yes, there is a disconnect there. Make sure that your description and headlines are accurate but compelling.

2. GET A PROFESSIONAL EMAIL ADDRESS

If you don’t have a corporate email address, then take the 5 minutes and set up a clear and professional address. Please, please, please get rid of your @gmail.com email for business.

I have seen several embarrassing (at least they should have been) email addresses from applicants and salespeople. My ‘favorite’ was from an applicant for an internship. Her email address was partygurl420@(domain).com. Seriously.

Your reputation certainly precedes you in our digital world and your email address is a small but important item to get right.

3. PROFILE PICTURE

I addressed LinkedIn profile images in one of my most popular posts ever. Simply existing online doesn’t help you stand out anymore. You have to make sure that you are active and optimized. Make sure that you a) have a profile picture b) that it’s professional. Not much else says “I don’t care” like having the generic shadowy figure or egg.

4. APPROPRIATE LANGUAGE

If you curse like a sailor, I’m actually ok with it. Do I need to know that before ever meeting you? Probably not.

It amazes me how many people use profanity regularly on social media and in email. Trust me, it’s not going to impress any potential employers or clients.

5. EXPAND YOUR NETWORK

Having a solid network and platform is expected these days. Having low to no connections on social media gives the impression that you are either not a real person, or someone you are someone who doesn’t care to understand networking (both on and offline).

6. FOLLOW DIRECTIONS

If you are filling out a job application, an RFP, or do anything that is important pay attention to the little details.

Last summer, we were looking to hire some interns. We stated clearly in our LinkedIn job post, “please reply with a cover letter and CV”. The number of people who took the time to apply but failed to send a cover letter or CV amazed me. I am certain that we passed up on some very qualified individuals simply because of this fact.

If you can’t follow instructions or pay attention to details upfront, that gives us no confidence that you can do so if we hire you.

7. CUSTOMIZE COMMUNICATIONS

Ditch the generic cover letters and proposals. Again with our intern search, we received a lot of overly generic cover letters which showed us that the applicants were blasting out their resume. Some letters even had the wrong job listed.

How many times (today) have you received a generic email that didn’t event address you directly? These types of generic communications are a waste of time to create and are a waste of time for the recipients. Take the time to be sincere.

8. DON’T WRITE LIKE AN INTERNATIONAL SPAMMER

If you’ve ever received a SPAM email asking you to wire money for a small piece of a large inheritance, with then you know what I’m talking about here. Make sure that your grammar and style are an indication that you are a) educated b) have a proficiency in English.

9. DIFFERENTIATE BUT DON’T BE TOO QUIRKY

Yes, differentiation is great, and doing something to grab your audience’s attention is encouraged. I once had a salesperson write me a poem!

While differentiation is essential in personal branding, there is a line that can be crossed which classifies you as too quirky or odd.

I once had someone say this is a cover letter “My name is ‘Alex’, but I also go by the alias Moon Stalker 81”. Yeah, that was enough for me…

10. BE ON TIME

I once had two qualified applicants that I reached out to in order to set an initial interview that self-selected out. These two agreed to the initial time and both ‘had something come up last minute, and needed to reschedule’ twice! Needless to say, we did not extend the 3rd invitation to come in. This told us that these individuals could not manage their schedules and certainly weren’t going to be dependable.

Whether you are trying to climb the corporate ladder or just starting your career, personal branding needs to be an essential strategy for your success.