Your personal brand is more than just your resume or portfolio. It’s how people perceive you wherever they interact with you or when you are not around — There are impressions you can control and the ones you can't. Having a digital presence can not only increase your opportunities in landing a new gig in a leadership role, but it can also work to strengthen your brand by building up your credibility.
Today’s guest for Story Series is Marisa Chentakul, Product Designer at TikTok. Marisa’s story is in particular unique since she displays a strong ability to lead change in uncertain times. After plateauing in her job search last year, Marisa paused and reflected on what could be done differently. She started a TikTok channel during the pandemic to share her skills and educate the product design community about design interview resources and how to use transferable skills from prior career to leverage them to your advantage.
After launching her channel, she not only got a job as a Product Designer at TikTok but also she has been communicating impact through her story and building a strong online presence. Today, with nearly 127.1K followers and 2.2M likes on her posts, Marisa uses TikTok to educate the product design community advance their career and develop a personal brand as a designer.
In this interview, Julie Stanescu - Founder at RETHINK talks with Marisa about her story, strategies to build an authentic personal brand, career pivots, identifying personal values and understanding your audience and their needs when developing your online presence.
Marisa Welcome! Tell us a bit about your story. How did you get to where you are?
I'm currently a Product Designer at TikTok working on consumer-facing features and AR. Previously, I led design at an early stage startup through an acquisition. In my spare time, I create short-form content about design, tech, and lifestyle on Tiktok.
I grew up in a pretty design-y household with a fashion designer mom. With that upbringing, I had a good understanding of the entire design life cycle from material sourcing, production, and QA. I went to an art boarding high school at Idyllwild Arts Academy followed by a degree in Human-Computer Interaction Design at University of Washington. I was doing both Product Design & Apparel at the same time.
My pivotal moment was when I started a Kickstarter project called Mesh. It is a modular piece of fabric to allow people to invent their own fashion items. Mesh is not just a regular fashion artifact but an item that grows with people's needs. Here, I learned how to transport user's needs into a product. From that point on, I shifted my focus to Product Design entirely. I started a podcast, "Design Picnic" with a friend from middle school. Through countless recording sessions, I was able to meet so many design experts whom I called friends and mentors today.
You've leveraged your past experience to your advantage as a strength that helped you differentiate yourself and get the outcomes you wanted.
How did you use your previous experience to transition to product design?
Never downplay your past experience or accomplishments that are not related to your current profession. I believe that many soft and hard skills are transferrable.
For example, I adapted and grew my online profile to show my skills in contrast with the requirements of a role I was interested in. For example, I include "stretch skills" on my LinkedIn profile or resumes based on the industry I'm going into. If I want to go into Crypto, then I would include the NFTs project that I made. If I'm trying to go into Wearable Tech, then I would include Mesh - a project that I started.
Soft skills can also be transferrable skills whether that is hosting a workshop, mentoring an intern, building a community, or recruiting.
How did you build an authentic personal brand? How do you stay true to yourself with your online brand?
I started by mapping out what makes you, you and things I want to be remembered for after I retire. My authentic personal brand is almost a reflection of my motivations, career goals, and values. Think about the time you are mentoring younger designers, interviewing designers for the team, or performance reviews and how you carry yourself.
Know what makes you unique
It's hard to give yourself a "brand" unless you know what sets you apart as a professional. One of the most challenging things people face is how to amplify your voice in a way that makes it easy for your audience/ industry to understand and appreciate.
In order to work and live purposefully and make sure you are "on brand," you need to find time to pause and reflect. I scheduled a lot of self-reflection time at work to make sure that I'm staying true to myself. For instance, after a feature is shipped, I would ask myself:
- How did I feel about my contribution to this project?
- Is there anything I would do differently?
- What are my current goals, and how am I approaching getting there?
How did you identify your personal values?
Here are my top three strategies on how I identify my personal value:
Find your role models
Think of a designer or content creator you most admire. Why do you admire them? If we find value in others, it's also something we value ourselves. This is because values are most often personified in people we look up to.
Ask yourself why you value those things in your role model?
Determine your top values based on your goals
I used an example of this list to help get started and aim for 5-10 values. While doing this exercise I cross-checked with your professional goals and what kind of content creator I want to become.
Think about the times when you were happiest
This doesn't have to be just career moments, it can also be personal life! For example, were you the happiest when you were surrounded by people? Were you most happiest when you found zen? This will later help you think about which platform stays true to your brand. For example, someone who's more extrovert may enjoy being in a panel or video content vs. someone's who more introvert may enjoy writing online courses.
In what ways did you use your personal values to build your authentic brand?
This is the value compass that helped me from a workshop I attended.
Often I am looking at the list of my values, brainstorm the voice and impact I want to make. Think about it as my persona. My brand is the "face" that interacts with the industry. Whatever I produce or create should align with my true self.
For example, if one of my personal values is to help senior designers become managers, but I'm more of an introvert then I would consider publishing an online article instead of hosting a room on clubhouse.
Why is it important to brand yourself? What is at stake for designers not building a personal brand?
Most designers are too heads down adding another item on their resume and portfolio, but forget to think about who they are and what they stand for as a designer outside of their 9-5 job.
Having a digital presence can not only increase our opportunities in landing a new gig in a leadership role, but it can also work to strengthen your brand by building up your credibility. Your online brand presence can communicate the right professionalism. It can not only make you stand out from other candidates/ competitors but also let you prove your expertise to the industry as well. It is also a great networking tool to meet more like-minded people in your industry.
I like to think of my personal brand as my digital footprint and it's something that grows with me every time I publish a video, tweet, or speak at a conference.
What are your brand pillars?
My brand pillars are very connected to my personal values.
- Light-hearted — I want every conversation I start to be genuine, open and a safe place for people to voice their ideas and opinions.
- Imaginative — I want my content to spark curiosity and the conversation to continue beyond the screen.
- Consistent — I want my online presence to be consistent in terms of branding, voice, and mission.
- Open-ness — simply put, no gatekeeping to product design!
How did you understand what is the key audience you want to speak with online?
Your audience is the target group of people you want to reach with your content. Most likely, they have common goals, behaviors, and interest in product design like you do.
Understand what type of content and platform your ideal target audience consumes. Here are a few things I considered:
- Interests: what type of content do they interact with, who do they follow, what they spend money on
- Stage of career: early in career, in college, mid-level, senior, or executive
- Challenges: what are some pain points they are facing? Is it interviews, promotions, or management?
What are your principles for how did you decide which content to share online?
Content can come in many forms: tweeting about topics you’re interested in, replying, commenting on other people’s post
The most important thing when deciding which content to share is whether it aligns with your personal value or not. Think about what sets you apart, what makes you a unique designer since there's a lot of content out there, you will want to stand out.
This is my Content Board and the things I care about that I like to share online.
Another tactic is to ask your audience what do they want to learn from you.
Create a poll on Twitter or Instagram and simply ask "what content do you want to see from me?" You can also make this open-ended replies by creating a thread on social media or conducting a survey.
How did you decide which channel to build your brand on?
In the beginning of the pandemic, my friend told me to download TikTok and grab the @productdesign handle. I was bored out of my mind back in March 2020 so I just went for it without thinking twice. After going on the platform, I realized there's an opportunity for product design content.
Through talking to Gen Zs who want to break into design and tech, I found out that Twitter can be quite an intimidating place for someone with no experience. While you can find a lot of educational design threads on Twitter, most designers on the platform are at senior, lead, executive levels making it hard for Gen Zs to connect with them.
I saw an opportunity in a short-form content platform like Tiktok and took a stab at it. The results after one year has been very rewarding. I have helped over 2K high school students break into design early and people from other professions transitioned into design.
How did you navigate challenges to deal with the feeling of being uncomfortable when sharing things online? What helped you overcome those feelings?
I used to be camera shy and recording myself never crossed my mind. I used to avoid listening to myself in my friend's Instagram stories. To overcome discomfort and take on new challenges I decided to do it in smaller doses.
Start off with an easier task
If your end goal is to create a Youtube channel, practice by talking in a shorter video format on channels like Tikok or Instagram TV.
Start with what is feasible to you. Grow from there.
You don't need to go all out and create content every other day. Start with something that is feasible to you. If once a week is a lot, just start with once a month.
Embrace discomfort. Reflect
Watch the discomfort and smile! Don't take yourself too seriously, share it with your friends and family. Just have fun with it.
It may feel uncomfortable at first, but if you can, try to put your face on the content you’re creating. For example, if you write an article, embed a photo of yourself somewhere in the article.
Allow yourself to be vulnerable. Be kind to yourself. Good things take time :)
- Carve out some time for yourself and reflection
- Celebrate small wins and past accomplishment
- Forgive yourself and take care of yourself
People who support Leadership Circle
Deepest thanks to the following people who graciously offered feedback
and support while beta testing Leadership Circle.