The endless struggle, or at least my endless struggle, in day-to-day college life is trying to schedule an hour or two to simply get something done. For me, the past two weeks have been an internal battle with myself to sit down and dedicate just one single hour to editing and revising my résumé.
In college, you start preparing for each “season” at least eight-or-so months ahead of time. You’ve begun searching for the housing you will live in about eight months in advance. You register for the classes you’ll take next semester before mid-term exams even roll around in the existing one. Internships (and their seemingly never-ending application processes) are no different.
With summer internship application season rolling around quicker than you can say “Thank God it’s finally fall,” I was in desperate need of a résumé makeover, among other improvements to my personal brand, before having to submit it all for review by a few internship prospects. So I sat down last week, called my résumé advisor, and began the process of adapting my personal branding message to meet the moment.
In this spirit, I want to spend a few minutes on today’s blog talking about that very idea: how we as college students adapt our personal brands to “meet the moment.” In other words, how we give our personal brand the appropriate makeover for a specific job to which we are applying or season of life through which we are traveling. For me, this boils down to a few easy-to-follow tips:
1. Your résumé and other personal branding materials deserve more sets of eyes than just your own.
This is probably the most important point I would like to make in this entire post. The readership of this post will largely be made up of communications professionals and pre-professionals, many of whom (like myself pretty often) believe they have the sharpest eyes for things such as written clarity, messaging, branding and more. Of course, this is true! But it’s indescribably valuable to seek out the advice of at least one other person. This could simply be a colleague or friend, or someone more official like a professional résumé builder.
I mentioned earlier that I have hired and frequently utilize a professional who only deals with personal branding. By no means is this the only way to have a great personal brand, but it certainly helps and might really be worth it if you’re trying to land a prestigious internship or a coveted corporate position.
2. Prospective employers and recruiters read thousands of résumés and cover letters over the course of their careers. Never hesitate to do some research and make a strong impression.
There is a long-debated conflict in the personal branding sphere over whether résumés should be conservative in their approach (written in black, 12 pt. Times New Roman font and lacking in color) or have more personality (what some might refer to as a “bubbly” résumé.) I completely understand why this debate has happened for decades and will continue to drag on for years to come, but I think the confines of this debate are sadly misguided.
We’ve all heard the horror stories, but in reality, very few actual employers or recruiters are going to reject a prospect or applicant based on the color or design of their résumé or the header on their cover letter. With this in mind, I think the much more valuable debate we should be having is over the words that go on that piece of résumé paper.
It’s important to be detailed and precise when describing professional experience, but I believe that the real job-winning additions (things like action verbs, percentages, figures showing success, etc.) can get lost in this shuffle. I believe that the traditional “skills” section has become a low-rate adjective party when it should really be a section that advertises what you can actually add to a company: certifications, software abilities, program capabilities and more. Recruiters will get a million applications from various folks advertising themselves as “hard-working” and “tactful.” Instead, they’ll go with the people that advertise themselves as having “advanced skills and experience in MailChimp” every single time.
Another important part of making sure your personal brand meets the moment is doing very specific background research about the company or corporation to which you are applying. Some simple Googling can tell you where the company has been and where it wants to go in the future. A great example of this is the airline industry, which along with the United States Congress and used car salesmen, has some of the most negative public perception ratings in the country. If you know anything about airplanes and the kind of problems that can arise with them, you would know that some experience in crisis management would be ideal for a PR professional applying to work for an airline. Certifications in crisis management from various government agencies (such as FEMA’s Disaster Preparedness certification) would be a great asset in the hiring process.
3. Never place personal branding in a small, limited box. It means so much more than just a couple pieces of paper and your personal website.
This is the piece of advice I like to give out most often within the personal branding space because it’s the advice prospective employees hear the least often. Personal branding is so much more than just your résumé, cover letter and portfolio. Personal branding, at its core, is all about the impression that someone makes on someone else. Personal branding is created by the impression one makes on their friends just as much as it’s created by the words within a detailed professional history. The non-physical portion of personal branding is made of three components: body language, apparel and the words we choose.
Body language is a pretty simple concept. I won’t bore you with advice such as “make sure you sit up straight in your interview!” That would be a waste of your reading time. Body language is so much more than how you sit or whether you cross your arms. It’s what the British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein called “the best picture of the human soul.” It’s the warmth of your handshake, the breadth of your smile, perhaps most importantly a visual presentation that says “I really want to be here!” This means different things for different people, but the common theme of positive body language is to act physically as you would when meeting the most interesting person in the world (whoever this might be for you).
Apparel is self-explanatory, at least to a point. You all know not to wear jeans to the interview, to ensure your belt matches your shoes, to not over adorn the pieces of jewelry. Those have been drilled into our head since high school. But it gets more complicated than that. Yes, for some industries, it is possible to overdress for your interview, and this includes some specific PR agencies that come to mind. A three-piece suit might not make the best possible impression when you’re interviewing for a company that has corporate-enforced “exercise time” in the middle of the day. Likewise, a “business casual” get-up will not make a good impression when interviewing for a job at the Office of the Governor. This, like so much else, comes down to doing your research prior to the interview.
Lastly, the words you choose in an interview can make all the difference between being hired and being denied. For me, word choice comes down to finding the (very large) gray area between being overly boastful about my accomplishments and being overly morose and humble in a way that communicates that I really haven’t actually accomplished anything of consequence. My personal preference is to pre-plan some areas of the interview where I will tout my accomplishments, but also talk about how time working for the potential employer might make me even more accomplished or might give me ample room to improve in the one or two areas in which I could improve.
All in all, the great thing about personal branding is that your success is entirely up to you! I encourage you to take the points I listed above to heart, but even if you don’t believe they’ll work exactly for you, you can still plot out ways to make the brand “You” have a successful track record everywhere you go.
By Will Bradley, Publications Committee Member