The 5-Step Graduate’s Guide to Shaping Your Personal Brand
It’s college graduation season! Soon, the bright, young minds of tomorrow will be tumbling into the workforce like a flock of lost ducklings. If you’re reading this as a seasoned ‘grown-up’—don’t stop now! The tips below can help you market yourself at any stage in your career, especially if you’ve blocked out what it’s like to be the low (wo)man on the totem pole. But for all the recent grads—congratulations! The tips below will help you navigate your new personal and professional independence by building a solid base for marketing your personal brand.
The transition from college to full-time worker bee or full-time job hunter can be overwhelming. Suddenly there aren’t tests to measure success, all of your friends aren’t a dorm hall away, and there are no guaranteed three-month vacations. It’s easy to feel like everything is beyond your control. That said, while you don’t control the job market, the size of your first paycheck, or your boss’s moods, there is one thing of which you are the sole proprietor: your personal brand.
When it comes to branding, there’s a lot that a new grad can learn from marketers: no matter what the shifting factors are around you, YOU, and only you, are the owner of what messages you release into the world about yourself. And how do marketers make sure these messages resonate? They listen and engage! Whether you’re beginning work days after graduation or starting out funemployed like I was, read on for how to best market your number one asset: YOU.
Step 1: Know Your Audience…and Act Accordingly
There is a time and a place for Grumpy Cat memes, and while my dream is that everyone’s workplace will accept them with open arms (and use them in marketing collateral), that is likely not the case. Get a feel for your environment and your coworkers and respond accordingly. You’ll find that the “professional” world is less buttoned up than you’ve been made to believe, but take your cues from those around you before you come to work in your jammies.
The same goes for social media (though you have more flexibility to wear PJs while posting). Checking your messaging across LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram and adjusting privacy settings accordingly is especially important during the job search. Think of LinkedIn as an ongoing interview with every possible employer, so make sure the image you’re putting out there is a professional one. It’s OK to use Facebook as a personal platform, but within the context that potential employers will likely check you out there as well, now may be the time to untag those misguided freshman year adventures. Twitter makes it easy to keep your posts private, but tweets can also be a great tool for networking and commenting on trends in the industry, which will market you as someone with smarts. Marketers will tell you that nowadays with the strong digital climate, personal branding and social media go hand-in-hand, so make sure to put your best foot forward on every channel.
Step 2: Know What You Don’t Know—Yes, Exactly
“We did no industry research and asked no questions—we just jumped in and started doing things,” said no marketer EVER.
Keep this in mind during your first job: no matter if you double, triple, or quadruple majored, you’re going to encounter things in a corporate setting that you just didn’t learn in school. It might be practical, like your company’s expense system, or it might be political, like an unspoken rule that you’re not supposed to eat any of the food provided during the first 15 minutes of a business presentation. Whatever it is, it’s OK that you don’t know it…yet.
So ask the question, even if you think it’ll give away how green you are. Better to ask and come off as a newb than to make a misstep that makes you look incompetent. Brand marketers know to ask questions and do their research, and you should, too!
Bonus tip: Before you ask, see if Google knows the answer. Google often does.
Step 3: Make Personal (and Professional) Connections
The term “networking” makes me think of awkward corporate speed dating, so I prefer “schmooze”. Schmoozing implies mixing and mingling, witty banter, and the occasional cocktail or canapé (sample networking script: “Why yes, I LOVE duck paté—almost as much as I love working overtime and exceeding expectations”)! It means say ‘yes’ to your local alumni club football tailgate and ‘yes’ to volunteering for a friend-of-a-friend’s charity. And it means ‘yes’ to grabbing a drink with coworkers and ‘yes’ to picking the brains of other professionals from inside and outside of your industry. Most importantly, schmoozing is essential for relationship building and marketing yourself; you’re listening for common interests, points of connection, and professional wisdom. How can the big boss promote you if he or she doesn’t know who you are or that you both share a passion for jazz flute? How can your friend-of-a-friend pass along a potential job opportunity if they’ve never met you and don’t know what an all-star you are? Brand marketing leads to brand recognition, and positive brand recognition leads to positive results.
Step 4: Own It (You)
From applying to jobs to your first major error at work, your personal brand marketing strategy should be built on honesty and ownership. Think of all the companies whose brand crises could have been avoided had they just been transparent about internal practices or apologized for a slip up in a timely fashion.
Imagine yourself as a mini version of the marketing departments at these big brands. No lying on résumés! No making excuses! These sound like no-brainers, but you’d be amazed at how often these simple principles are ignored. In one of my past jobs, I witnessed an exec-level candidate have an offer rescinded because of fabricated credentials, and I also saw an entry-level co-worker admit to having lied about her skill set while interviewing (she was let go a few months later).
Key take-away here: Keep and maintain control of your personal marketing messages by owning your narrative.
Step 5: Ask for Feedback
What do good brand marketers do? They listen to their customers’ wants and needs and adjust accordingly. In the absence of tests or end-of-term projects, it can be hard to measure how you’re doing professionally. For those of you still looking for a job, pass along your résumé to a friend, sibling, or former professor to get honest feedback on how you’re presenting yourself. If you’re employed, ask for general feedback on a regular basis outside of your company’s standard review process. You’ll not only be able to track your progress, but you’ll also come off as proactive and eager to learn. Double win! Goal setting and measuring growth are also two handy things to carry in your toolbox as you work toward one of the magic words of employment: PROMOTION. Other magic words include: Pay Day, Bagel Day, and Work-Sponsored Happy Hour.
So, What Did We Learn?
- Understand your audience.
- Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know.
- Connect and engage people every chance you get.
- Don’t sit on a throne of lies.
- Proactively track your progress.
And if I can leave you with one more lesson, know that it’s all going to be OK. There aren’t really any wrong answers to your early career decisions; whatever choices you make will have upsides and downsides and a ton of valuable life learnings. Just know that no matter what you choose, you’re still in control of marketing YOU.
What’s your strategy for branding yourself in the business world? Let me know in the comments below!