When it comes to putting yourself out there to schools, internships, and employers, it’s vital that students have a strong personal brand in order to be competitive. The problem is branding isn’t something taught in most college classrooms, if at all.
A strong brand relies on its ability to tell a story. In this case, the story you are telling is your own. This doesn’t have to stray too far into the realm of the personal (and in most cases it shouldn’t!). Your audience could be anyone, but hiring managers are the ones to whom you are primarily speaking. When working on branding, it does well to remember that the story students need to tell is one about their budding professional selves. That’s your message, so stick to it!
The concepts of establishing, building upon, and maintaining a personal brand can and has spanned many books. The good news for you is we’ve distilled them into 9 easy (but no less essential) tips everyone can use, whether you're a student looking to get started, or you’re in need of a complete overhaul (and fast). Most of these don’t take more than a couple of minutes each, and they definitely get the ball rolling. Better yet, a majority don’t take any investment at all, and can be accomplished using only a cellphone.
Tip I | The Story of You
This is just what it sounds like. If a hiring manager asks you to sum up your experience in a couple of sentences, this is what they are looking for. It may not always feel this way, but you are the author of your own story. What you choose to share about yourself with the world is largely in your hands. This doesn’t just happen in person; it happens online as well. When hiring managers search for you online, what comes up? Think big picture here. Your story encompasses everything from your social media page to academics, volunteer experience to life experience, and everything in between.
Tip II | Generate Original Content
Almost by definition, being considered a thought leader in your field gets you noticed. So start writing about your experiences in your industry. Share with hiring managers your take on current developments and future implications. Perhaps most of all, address perceptions (and misconceptions!) hiring managers may have about your generation. This doesn’t have to just be writing either. If you’re studying art, paint. If you’re in graphic design, considering making an infographic. Maybe you have a semester-long project that you presented and of which you’re particularly proud. These are the things you should be focused on. Hiring managers don’t just want to take your word for things, they want to see the results.
Tip III | Set Up A Contact address
This one is easy! For those just starting out, you need a professional email address by which employers and schools can contact you. This should be separate from a school (.edu) address. If you want people to think of you as a professional, then you don’t want them to be sending emails to an address that includes ‘collegebae’ or ‘partymaster’. Keep it professional, using some derivative of your full name. We recommend using Gmail. It’s quick and easy to set up an account, and it’s totally free. And no, they aren’t paying us to say that (though we wish they would).
Tip IV | Use a professional image
It never hurts to have these professionally done, but a decent cell phone camera can and will do the trick. Wear your best professional attire, something that fits well and makes you feel confident. Keep the background fairly plain if possible. Think blues or grays, or even brick. Aim for chest and shoulders up, and avoid using graduation pictures where you’re wearing robes. The point is to create an image of yourself as a professional, not a student. And don’t use a selfie! Grab a friend, explain what you’re doing, and have them help. Better yet, offer to take their photo in return.
Tip V | Create an awesome LinkedIn profile
This is an absolute must! It may seem like a predominately older crowd, but that’s not a bad thing when your goal is to network with established professionals. LinkedIn is a lot of things, much more than the resume and portfolio most people use it for. It’s also a powerful job search engine, place to blog and share content, keep in touch with classmates, research specific companies, read up on current news and industry trends, and more. Best yet, it’s a favorite haunt for recruiters. Job searching gets a whole lot easier when your brand starts attracting interested parties.
Tip vi | Have a solid communication process
This is a relatively simple one, but it bares figuring out ahead of time and keeping consistent. How you communicate with other professionals can make or break you. This covers everything from an email signature to how you plan to reach out to experts you want to learn more about.
Tip VII | Use Career-Focused documents
The obvious ones are a general resume and cover letter (both of which should be fine-tuned as you apply to specific jobs). We’re also big fans of discovery documents, which you share with professionals you get to know over time. This also includes any content you’ve created over time that can be included in a portfolio.
Tip VIII | Consider a personal blog
Ready to take things up a level? Once you get established writing content on LinkedIn and have together material for a portfolio, it’s a good idea to create your own blog. This is another platform you can use to market (and even sell) yourself, and these can be registered and set up for just a couple dollars a month. You also don’t need to be a wizard at coding, as there’s a plethora of websites that will help you design yours for free.
Tip IX | Stand Out with Professional Cards
Last but certainly not least, every student should have a professional card. Notice we didn’t use the term ‘business card’. That’s because it doesn’t matter what your major it - you still need a card. Most students today don’t have them, but pull one out to give to a professional and they can’t help but be impressed.
That should be more than enough to get started if you haven’t yet already. Some take longer than others, so start with whatever is easiest for you before branching out to the others. There’s also plenty more to cover on the topic of creating a personal brand, so if you haven’t yet heard our ‘Creating the Brand of You’ podcast episode, we suggest you give it a listen. For more information, check out the show notes and summary.
Alex is Director of Content at Student Success University. When not drinking tea, discussing the finer points of English cheese, or being accused of general ‘snobbery’, he can be found in the library or on the archery range, recounting charming tales from his youth to anyone who will listen. Generally a bit of a jokester, he is quite serious about commas.