By Dr. Wallace E. Boston
President, American Public University System
Note: This article was originally published on Wally Boston.
In a recent article published by the James G. Martin Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chloe Anagnos writes about the difficulties students have finding their dream job after graduation because they don’t understand the job market or they think they have all the skills needed to be an attractive candidate. Anagnos recommends that students learn how to market themselves in order to stand out in their field. It’s sound advice, but perhaps a bit more complicated than just marketing yourself.
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Building a personal brand is her first recommended step in the process, and she accurately states that it’s important that students understand what a personal brand is and isn’t. Personal branding is “the practice of marketing yourself and your career as a brand. It involves an ongoing process of developing and maintaining your image.” Great advice, but it’s not easy to do for someone starting out who went to college after high school and did not have any major jobs during that period.
However, Anagnos provides a few helpful tips by asking the following questions:
- What are the skills you have acquired through life that makes you stand out?
- Do you have any certifications or credentials that prepare you for your future?
- Have you explored anything outside the academic world that helped you uncover hidden talents?
- Is there something you know that would be a game-changer in your field? If so, does it provide a solution to potential employers or clients?
While all these questions are great, providing a few sample responses might help someone with resume writer’s block. I remember writing my first resume in college and finding it difficult to build it in a way that best represented me and that, hopefully, would stand out to employers. I had mentioned my athletics participation as some of my extracurricular activities, but was debating its relevance. Then, I realized that since my sophomore year in high school, I had been a captain in at least one sport annually through college. I edited it accordingly and, at every interview thereafter, my interviewers asked me about my related experiences. Leadership on the field translated to “knows how to be a valuable member of the team,” and I believe led to my post-graduate job offers.
Showcasing your activities online enhances your competitiveness as a candidate. For example, Anagnos recommends that artists create portfolios to showcase their work, writers should have a blog or Medium account, and musicians should feature their best work on SoundCloud. What is the alternative for everyone who is not an artist, writer, or musician? Your resume.
While good grades are important, I agree with the author that what you put on your resume is more so. Keep it updated with volunteer, part-time, seasonal or temporary work. One of my daughters earned an internship over her holiday break from college and promptly added it to her resume. Keep building it. Your resume should not be a single fixed document; it should be tailored for the specific job you seek. This may not be easy, particularly if you’re leaving college with only a few internships or part-time jobs, but you can always revise the order or emphasize slightly different wording to make it more attractive to a recruiter or interviewer. If you’re still in college and you have few activities outside the classroom, volunteer or join extracurricular activities.
Anagnos states that everyone needs a digital resume that can be printed, along with an online version which includes a LinkedIn profile for networking purposes. She adds that college students and recent graduates miss an opportunity when they assume that LinkedIn works like other social media platforms, noting that having the right photo is as important as the other items in your online profile. If the job you’re seeking is in an industry where formal business attire is required, wear a suit for your photo. If you’re looking for a tech job, business casual attire may be more appropriate.
“Take special care with your introduction” is her next piece of advice. I agree that the right introduction will prompt the reader to scroll down and read other relevant information or, alternatively, proceed to the next candidate discovered in their search. Write your intro in the first person, keep it short, include keywords relevant to your industry, and ensure it’s accurate. Many companies search LinkedIn for recruiting and you want your intro to be a great first impression. For example, Apple recently recruited a friend of mine via his LinkedIn profile. Anagnos shares her own LinkedIn introduction to demonstrate how she has made a difference at work and brought value to her employer.
After you have built your LinkedIn profile, it’s time to add your connections from your email and phone contacts. Adding colleagues is important so that you can recommend their skills if they ask and they can do likewise for you. For college athletes, I’d recommend adding teammates and coaches. As you add connections, you will find that some of their own connections will reach out to you. This is the power of the LinkedIn network. If you’re contacting industry professionals for a job, check the “how you’re connected” feature to see if you share a connection in common. Getting such a familiar introduction is always better than a cold call or connection request. Adding alumni of your college to your group is something that Anagnos also recommends. Join your local alumni association to participate in a networking activity, and be sure to behave professionally at those events. You never know who you might see in the lobby when you’re arriving for a job interview.
Lastly, Anagnos recommends that you follow up with each new person you meet at a networking event within 24 hours with a connection request and short note acknowledging your related conversation. You might also add a line about seeing them at the next such event or at another event to show your interest in the field you discussed. While I began my career without LinkedIn, I have found networking to be the best source for my job opportunities over the years. People seeking candidates often mention their search to their friends or connections and those who hear about an opening enjoy providing a referral. Having a current and relevant electronic profile makes such an introduction much easier than simply emailing a resume in response to a job board posting.