Every college student knows that, once they graduate, landing the job of their dreams isn’t going to just happen. Yet, students still downplay the difficulties they will face, either because they don’t understand the job market or because they put too much stock in their skills, thinking that the competition won’t stand a chance.
The reality is that in a world shaped by the internet, students must learn some basic self-marketing skills to stand out in their field. Ignoring the need to have a strong professional presence—on- and offline—won’t do you any favors.
So, the job for you, the enterprising student preparing for life after college, is to develop some job skills that colleges won’t give you.
Building a Personal Brand
Creating a lasting first impression is essential in any line of business. To do that online, you must develop and establish your personal brand. But first, you have to know what a personal brand is and what it 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. Personal branding isn’t about creating a version of yourself, but about exploring your best qualities, passions, and work experience to develop your own unforgettable online image.
What are the skills you have acquired through life that make 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?
And ask yourself what you stand for. By knowing your values, you will be able to use those as career-guiding principles. You might even build a following by talking about how these principles help you be a better professional.
For example, artists should create portfolios to show off their work, writers should have an online blog or Medium account, and aspiring musicians should feature their best work on SoundCloud. No matter the field, there are creative ways to make it easy for potential employers to view your best work online.
Your Resume Matters More Than Your Grades
You did the hard work and got the praise you deserved, but are grades all that important once you’ve graduated?
What you put on your resume will be more important for landing an internship or a job rather than being an A+ student. The best way to craft a resume that will catch a recruiter’s eye is to get work experience as early as possible. By the time you and your classmates are competing for internships, you need to be confident that you’ve worked and reworked your resume before submitting it. That means updating it with volunteer, part-time, seasonal, or temporary work.
While irrelevant details should be left out, employers want to know if you have experience as an employee—no matter the industry. Whatever you do, don’t draft one general resume for different positions. Tweak your resume by listing the experience that is relevant for a particular job first.
Base your resume content on what the employer wants. It might be hard to create a new resume every time a new opportunity arises, but the hard work will pay off. Although there are a ton of free templates online, no one likes reading a boring resume based on a bland template. Check out sites like Etsy for sleek, modern templates that can be customized. Resume templates are usually no more than $10, but they take the guesswork out of what information you should include.
You need two versions of your resume. The first, to share with recruiters and potential employers, should include your name, email address, phone number, work experience, and education. For privacy reasons, list your city and state but leave out your address. This resume should have the contact information for a handful of references. Be sure your references know that they may be contacted so they aren’t surprised.
The second version of your resume should be on your LinkedIn profile and online portfolio. include everything listed above except for your phone number and references; note that your references are available upon request. It’s important to keep your and your references’ personal information, personal.
Networking the Right Way on LinkedIn
Professionals know LinkedIn is an essential tool for networking. Unfortunately, many college students and graduates miss an opportunity to build their network by assuming that LinkedIn works like other social media platforms.
First, think of how your LinkedIn profile looks to a recruiter. Does your picture set the right tone? Does it build trust? Is it flattering without looking airbrushed?
Before getting a photo taken, keep in mind that you want to look like the dream candidate. Pick the appropriate attire and figure out how formal you should dress depending on the industry. If banking is your field, you might want to dress up, while if you’re in tech, a business-casual look may be best.
Once you have the killer image for your profile, take special care with your introduction. On LinkedIn, the intro is where someone gets a good idea of what you do without seeing all the specifics. Think of it as your full profile at a glance: Write it in the first person, keep it short, include keywords that are connected to your industry, and make sure it’s accurate. Adding any relevant accomplishments to this section is also important.
In the intro, focus on how you’ve made a difference at work and can bring value to your employer. For example, my LinkedIn introduction is:
I am the publications manager for the American Institute for Economic Research, a professional writer, digital marketer, and consultant. I’m also the founder of Argo Strategy, a marketing and public relations consultancy.
My research has been published by The Advocates for Self-Government, America’s Future Foundation, the American Institute for Economic Research, the Foundation for Economic Education and has also appeared in The Epoch Times, National Review, ZeroHedge, Evie Magazine, Entrepreneur, and more.
I’ve worked with teams to develop winning digital campaigns for clients ranging from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies and presidential campaigns.
I’m available to speak to groups and organizations about my work and a variety of topics including free-market principles, the sharing economy, women in technology, women in business, and the liberty movement.
Then, it’s time to add your connections. Add as many people from your email and phone contacts as possible. On LinkedIn, you want to add people you know first so you can write a couple of lines about their skills if they ask you. This strategy also helps you in the long run because they can later return the favor for your profile.
With a solid network of former colleagues, classmates, teachers, and others who can vouch for you, growing your network with people who might be interested in your skills will be an easier task. If you’re reaching out to industry professionals for an internship or job, check the “How You’re Connected” tool to see if you are connected to members of the industry first. Getting an introduction from your network generally goes better than a note and connection request.
Another area you might want to explore is your alumni community. The “alumni” tool shows where fellow alums live and work. Or, join your university’s alumni group once you graduate. That is easy to do because colleges usually have active groups in many cities. If your school has multiple groups, join the ones relevant to your location. Be sure to introduce yourself to the group manager.
Most of the time, alumni group administrators are representatives of the Alumni Association and well-connected. When interacting online or at an in-person event, make sure you behave professionally: People are watching and your potential employer might not like what he or she sees.
Take It a Step Further
Remember: Alumni love meeting current students and recent graduates. Don’t be afraid to be proactive. It shows potential employers traits that are useful in the workplace.
As an undergrad, check with your alumni center to see if there are any networking events on campus that are open for students. Homecoming is the perfect opportunity to meet alumni from all over the country.
As you approach graduation, connect with the alumni chapters in the cities where you’re job hunting. Scouting out local networking events for young professionals on Eventbrite or in the “Events” section of Facebook—and attending them—show potential employers that you’re willing to put yourself out there.
Follow up with each person you meet within 24 hours with 1) a connection request on LinkedIn and 2) a short email thanking each new acquaintance for the conversation.
Taking your personal branding into the real world will show potential employers and colleagues that you have the skills outside of a four-year degree to be a stellar employee.
Chloe Anagnos is the publications manager for the American Institute for Economic Research, a professional writer, and digital marketer.