Brand Manage You Inc.
Link & Learn
Like it or not, you have a personal brand.
When you roll out of bed in the morning and choose something to wear, you’re branding yourself. Your vocabulary, facial expressions, social media posts, and activities all contribute to that brand over time by communicating who you are and what you value. Since opting out isn’t possible, be sure to manage your brand and make it an asset for your future career.
Your college years are key in creating a positive professional brand. Sure, you’re busy with classes, a social life, and work, but these five steps will help you effectively promote yourself:
Section OneOnline Presence
The quality of your online presence has become a key factor for many hiring managers. Make sure your digital footprint is an asset and not a liability by following these steps to analyze and improve it.
Just searching your name from your own laptop on your favorite browser isn’t enough. Your laptop knows you too well and will return targeted results. Use a private or incognito window to make sure your search results are similar to what an employer will see when searching your name. Get a friend or mentor to look over the search results and let you know what makes a good impression and what raises a red flag.
Clean it Up
Get rid of embarrassing photos your friends tagged you in and scan your posts for tone and content. No one expects you to have been perfectly professional at age 15, but everything employers see will inevitably contribute to their impression of you.
Once your profile is clean, keep it that way. Privacy is largely an illusion on the internet. Your future employer may see anything you post. Avoid references to illegal or socially destructive behavior. Figure 11.1 shows the biggest recruiter turn-offs from candidates’ social media accounts, according to Jobvite’s 2021 Recruiter Nation Survey.
Check your social media privacy settings and browser filters a couple of times each year. Use daylight savings time as a trigger.
Do you have an evil twin? If your name is common, you might find some embarrassing search results you can’t control. If so, distinguish yourself. Try using a middle initial, name, or title on all your professional correspondence and profiles.
Crowd Out the Bad with the Good
If you’ve got dodgy content floating around out there, your best strategy for pushing it down the page in search returns is to crowd it out with good content over time. A single obsession can also leave a bad impression. If the only thing you ever post about is sports or anime, use the next year to round out your online impression by making regular, interesting, and useful posts on a variety of subjects on the most-used social media platforms, listed here in order of the percentage of recruiters who use the platform for recruiting:
How Recruiters Check You OutFacebook LinkedIn Twitter Instagram Youtube Tik Tok
Source: “Percent of Recruiters Who Use Different Social Media Platforms to Evaluate Candidates,” Jobvite 2021 Recruiter Nation Survey, p. 11.
Link to Your Industry
The functional equivalent of your internet resume, a LinkedIn profile will probably be the first stop for a hiring manager looking to see how you present yourself. A carefully crafted LinkedIn profile gives you a strong professional presence online.
Section TwoWork That Counts
Maybe your co-workers in the late-night cleaning crew at the Burger Barn are a lot of fun. The job is comfortable and it reliably earns you enough to pay tuition. Those are good reasons to keep working there, but they aren’t the right reasons.
Seek and select jobs, internships, and commitments that put you on the ladder toward your dream job. Deliberately choose work that will advance your career
Scan job boards like LinkedIn, Indeed, or Monster for entry-level opportunities associated with your industry. Ask successful people you know how they got their start. Create your own contract work, internship, or part-time job. Join a professional club and demonstrate leadership. Start a small business and attend an industry-related conference.
I have 800+ LinkedIn connection requests pending. I can’t possibly review them all. Only 23% of the requests are personalized, and most of those say the wrong things:
Request: I live here in your area and would like
to add you to my network.
AJ: Sorry, living in my area doesn't mean we should be connected.
Request: I am looking to connect with digital
AJ: Working in the same industry does not mean we should be connected.
Request: We have 13 common connections.
AJ: Common connections does not mean we should be connected.
My personal acceptance rules are simple. If I don't immediately recognize your name, I need a personalized message with a compelling reason to connect. If the connection request is general enough to be copied/pasted across multiple profiles, it's spam.
Be thoughtful in your connection requests and personalize! Don't allow your name to be thrown in the heap of outstanding requests on someone's profile.
AJ Wilcox, Founder, B2Linked.com
Section ThreeThe Hiring Landscape
Can you name the top employers in your industry? Do you understand the challenges and opportunities they face right now?
By understanding the industry outlook and hiring landscape you’ll soon face, you can position yourself to take advantage of opportunities and avoid threats. (And you’ll rock your interviews.) Use resources like the ones listed below to get the information you’ll need.
Explore these industry resources:
Occupational Outlook Handbook
Government projections for job growth and salary by industry
Reviews of employers and average salaries (take it with a grain of salt)
Career intelligence, rankings, ratings, and reviews
In-depth information on company management, structure, and outlook
Financial analyst reports
Overviews of industry segments, players, and trends
Using the tools above, explore your industry and write down the answers to these questions:
- What are the largest and fastest growing companies in this industry?
- What are the most influential associations in this industry and where do they publish? (Trade journals, websites, LinkedIn groups, association newsletters, etc.)
- What challenges are companies in this industry currently facing?
- Is the job market for this industry expanding, staying steady, or decreasing?
- What are common entry-level jobs and average salaries for the part of the country I’d like to work in?
People generally like to help other people. Social scientists call this tendency “generativity”—helping the next generation—and mentors have it. Find a mentor who is established in their career and willing to share information and practical advice.
Reciprocity is the key to successful mentoring relationships: you receive help, but you also provide value to the mentor. You offer a fresh perspective, the latest theories in your discipline, new contacts, and honest admiration. Think of yourself as your mentor’s unpaid research assistant. Your role is to communicate regularly, find interesting and relevant information for your mentor, and avoid being annoying.
The following three actions will help you find a mentor:
- Showing up
- Asking questions
- Following up
Attend club or industry events, openings of new businesses, lectures, and conferences. Participate actively and with a smile on your face. During the event, think of smart questions that show you’ve been paying attention and then ask your questions of key people. If someone responds warmly and seems to enjoy answering your questions, ask to schedule a 20-minute visit (sometimes called an informational interview) in person, on Zoom, or via phone.
Exchange contact information but don’t expect your would-be mentor to get in touch with you. That’s your job.
During an informational interview, ask industry-specific questions and then briefly ask for advice about career strategy. At this point, be sensitive to whether your potential mentor is enjoying the conversation and seems willing to help. If so, great! You’ve gained a valuable contact.
Remember to express gratitude, give sincere and specific compliments, and be very sensitive about not asking for too much time or effort. Keep your first informational interview short. Make a move to leave (or end the call) after about 15 minutes unless your interviewer invites you to stay longer.
Another strategy is to invite your intended mentor to lunch. Everyone needs to eat and conversing over food feels more natural. Offer to pay, but don’t be surprised if your “guest” insists on picking up the tab.
Going forward, keep in touch every few months by sharing quick updates, reposting something your mentor has written, asking a question, or sending congratulations on a promotion or award. (Hint: You should be connected on LinkedIn by now.)
Offer to help with a small project if you can. What are you good at that might help them? If they introduce you to someone, send an email telling them about the outcome and saying thanks. Don’t take any effort for granted.
When you finally get ready to search for your first professional job, you will already have someone to help you navigate the waters, make introductions, and recommend you. Remember that soon you’ll be in a position to be a mentor, so pay it forward!
Establishing your professional brand is a waste of time unless you share it and keep sharing it throughout your career. In other words, networking isn’t something you force yourself to do just for your job search. Networking is about forming long-lasting relationships of trust and service.
To some degree, you already network. You have “networked” with your friends for years: helped them out, shared ideas, made memories. Deliberate professional networking pays big dividends. Most jobs are secured through networks, and personal networks channel the flow of projects, clients, resources, and contracts worldwide.
Networking For People Who Hate Networking
If the thought of networking makes your stomach turn, you’re not alone. Learn from Wharton organizational psychologist Adam Grant how to conquer your fear and loathing of networking. Listen to this episode from his “Work Life” podcast series.
Get Off the Couch
Top networkers are out and about and talking to people. In college, think of attending class as a networking event: sit next to students who make interesting comments. When you are at a social event noshing on refreshments, introduce yourself to two new people. Join a club. Get your friends to bring along some new people when you go out for a meal. See who looks interesting and start talking.
Pay Attention to People and Ask Them Questions
Everyone is an expert at something, and everyone has a story. Find points of connection (and points of difference) to keep the conversation lively.
Widen your connections by including people from other fields and make quality introductions. “Mike, I’d like to introduce you to Sarah who is graduating with a degree in accounting this semester. Sarah and I go way back, and I think she’s someone you should get to know.”
Cultivate Your Connections
When you meet interesting people, offer a smile, a handshake (if appropriate in your culture) and your name. Connect soon afterward on LinkedIn. Keep notes on your contact about where you met, some details you learned, and how you might help each other in the future.
Make it a habit. Reach out regularly to your connections to keep them growing. Think of your network as a garden. Keep the soil rich with new ideas and experiences, plant new friendships, discourage aggressive weeds, fertilize regularly by staying in touch . . . then enjoy the harvest.
Schedule your networking. Set aside a regular half hour every month to send a quick email or message to people you’ve been impressed by. Give sincere compliments, ask questions, or find out what they’re working on.
Seek influencers. They’re not always in the corner office. Pay attention to people who understand power structures and procedures—those who know decision makers and know how resources are allocated. An executive’s assistant may be a more valuable contact than the busy executive.
Develop Your Elevator Pitch
An important networking tool is your personal “elevator pitch,” a succinct and persuasive description of yourself you can deliver flawlessly. Don’t procrastinate doing this. Should you find yourself in an elevator with a great contact—or more likely, when meeting people at a reception or professional mixer—you’ll be glad you can smoothly and succinctly present yourself.
Prepare a personal “elevator pitch” using these and other resources you find:
Spend time writing down, structuring, and practicing your pitch, but don’t memorize it word for word. Sounding like a human, not a robot, is essential for the success of your pitch.
Here are the characteristics of successful elevator pitches:
- Last 45 seconds or less
- Include your name
- Tell what you do well or what differentiates you
- Describe what you’d like to do
The time is always right to create and maintain a positive, professional brand. Pay attention to your online presence, look around for fulfilling, career-enhancing work, learn more about the hiring landscape you’ll be traversing, cultivate mentors, and network at every opportunity.
By doing these things now, you’ll avoid a desperate struggle to re-brand yourself after college when you are shopping for your first real job. You may even catch the attention of some great new friends!
To access the previous PDF version of the online textbook, click here. Note: The PDF version will not reflect any updates or changes.
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Bold citations are referenced in the chapter text.
Deehan, Jane. “20 steps to a better LinkedIn profile in 2022.” LinkedIn Sales Blog. (January 1, 2022). Accessed July 2022.
DePaul, Kristi. “What to Say When You’re Reaching Out to Someone on LinkedIn.” Harvard Business Review. (November 20, 2020). Accessed July 2022.
Gallo, Carmine. “The Art of the Elevator Pitch.” Harvard Business Review. (October 3, 2018). Accessed July 2022.
Jobvite. “2018 Recruiter Nation Survey.” Jobvite. Accessed July 2022.
LinkedIn. “How to Network on LinkedIn” (PDF File). Downloaded from LinkedIn. Accessed July 2022.
Raider, Holly. “How to Strengthen Your Network When You're Just Starting Out.” Harvard Business Review. (Nov. 2020). Accessed July 2022.
Tillman, Brynne “How to Create a LinkedIn Badge for Your Website.” LinkedIn(November 2, 2018). Accessed January 2022.
Videos and Podcasts
Brooks, Arthur C. "Why Giving Matters." BYU Speeches (February 24, 2009). Accessed July 2022.
Grant, Adam. "Work Life." podcast.
Heath Brothers. "Making You Stick." (Requires registration but is free.) Accessed July 2022.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Occupational Outlook Handbook.” Accessed February 2017.
Glassdoor. “Jobs.” Accessed February 2017.
IBIS World. “Home.” Accessed February 2017.
Mindtools. “Crafting an Elevator Pitch.” Accessed February 2017.
MorningStar. “Home.” Accessed February 2017.
Vault. “Home.” Accessed February 2017.