College students spend four years or more preparing for the so-called “real world” of work, and there’s never a guarantee that a degree will land them their desired job.
But now, given the profound impact of COVID-19, their employment challenges could be even greater.
That’s why, to separate themselves from the pack, students and recent graduates should know how to build their personal brand, says Vince Thompson (www.meltatl.com), founder and CEO of the marketing agency MELT and author of Building Brand You: How To Use Your College Experience To Find And Win Your First Job.
“If you’re in school right now or recently graduated, you’re facing the toughest job market in our lifetime,” Thompson says. “There are going to be more people in the pool – people with more experience – who are willing to work for less.
“With social media dominating the way we communicate, how you develop and control your personal brand can put you in that top 5 percent of applicants who rise above the rest.”
Thompson offers pointers college students should consider to start building their brand well before graduation:
- Find opportunities through your passion. College campuses provide vast environments of opportunities, which can begin the personal branding process. “Whatever your area of interest might be,” Thompson says, “your first goal should be to figure out where the opportunities are in that area. Whatever your passion is, put yourself in that environment. The key is to be a doer. The more you do while in college, the more your portfolio, of both tangible work and of life experience, grows.”
- Get noticed. This is the first step toward building a network and a brand. “People you know in college could be helping shape your career for years to come,” Thompson says. “When your job or extra activity in college starts, be sure to interact with the people who are part of that opportunity. You want to form relationships, and in the process you’re forming positive perceptions. Strive for excellence in whatever you do and show gratitude to everyone involved.”
- Create a brand board. Developing your brand, Thompson says, entails focusing on the qualities you want people to see. “A brand board is like a vision board,” he says, “where one puts images and words together to create a picture of what matters most to them. Search for words and images that resonate with your passion, values, ideas, goals, and experiences.”
- Tell your brand story. “Whatever you’ve done with your time in school,” Thompson says, “the way it will be perceived is all packaging and positioning. Focus on the story of the specifics of what you did in your various activities. Detail how you developed relationships with regular customers, became a problem-solver, juggled tasks. It’s about the effort you made, the effects it had – that’s what future employers will want to know.”.
- Manage your brand. College students should live by the values they chose to define their brand. That includes behaving on social media. “Your social media accounts are the first place potential employers are going to look for information about you,” Thompson says. “I see kids doing really stupid stuff on Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok. Whatever you post online, make sure it passes the ‘grandma test.’ If you wouldn’t feel comfortable showing it to your grandmother, don’t put it on social media.”
“Much of what you do in college can help shape your brand,” Thompson says. “From your interests to your relationships, be aware that you’re building a sense of who you are and how you want to be seen as you enter the working world.”
Vince Thompson (www.meltatl.com) is the founder, chairman and CEO of MELT, one of America’s most successful sports marketing and branding agencies, and author of Build Brand You.