Dear College Student:
There you go … hurried off back to campus with your clean laundry, dorm-size fridge and eagerness to push through another year of studies in the hopes of landing that dream job upon graduation. As your parents, mentors, friends and professionals who have gone before you, let us remind you of a few important personal branding and reputation management tips to help you develop a career path for after graduation:
Be careful what you post online.
We know you’ve heard us say it before, but everything you type into a computer, tablet or smartphone is public. SnapChats, Instagram pics, and comments on Facebook are memorialized for everyone — including your professors, peers, parents and future employers — to see.
Be careful about the photos you’re tagged in, too. Just because you can wear a bikini, doesn’t mean you should… Just because you support a particular liquor brand doesn’t mean your future boss will love that you advertise it on your t-shirt.
Keep the comments and jokes you make among friends (which an employer might frown upon) in person and not online. What’s funny today could be offensive to someone important to you tomorrow.
You are building your brand, your reputation. What others see about you online — the passions, interests, causes and issues you take up — reflect on your values and morals. Don’t leave it up to interpretation what you stand for and believe in. Be consistent and intentional.
Remember, if you don’t want your mother to see it, don’t post it online.
Learn from adults.
You’ve been surrounded by adults your whole life. We’ve tried to show you, teach you (“the stovetop is HOT!”) and let you learn for yourself, too. As you go through these college years, you’re becoming an indication of the adult you will be for the rest of your life. Are you serving as a good role model for your peers and those coming behind you?
Many of you are engaging in internships and community service as you learn more about your talents, goals and interests. In these roles, you are interacting with older people who can teach you great things — about life, professionalism, vocation and work ethic. Watch them and learn what’s working for them: Are they acting a certain way that attracts opportunities and success to them? Do they repel people because they are perceived as hard to get along with? Are they experts at networking and relationship building? Learn from adults, and when you find ones that are doing things right, stay in contact with them.
Learn the art of networking.
Become the person other people look up to and admire and who people want to be around. When you can learn the art and skill of effective networking, you can create relationships that will provide you with many things you will need after graduation: You’ll have advocates who will advise, guide and coach you into your first, second and third job; you will have information sources who will give you resources and insight that give you a competitive advantage; and you’ll have a support network of cheerleaders and advisors who can give you a shoulder to lean on and a pep talk when you need it most.
Build a network of contacts around you who will endorse, refer and vouch for you, even when you question yourself (which you will). Those of us with big networks of contacts started small. We formed relationships with key people and made sure not to take more than we gave. Watch us and learn how networking can become an invaluable asset in your career toolkit.
Portray the image you want.
Dress, act and speak the way you want to be perceived. If you seek a reputation as someone who is credible, professional and trustworthy then choose clothes and behavior that support those qualities. If you want to be seen as a creative free spirit, then present yourself creatively in all situations. Others will learn to trust who you are, in part, by the image you portray. If you take care of your image, you show self-respect and confidence in your offer to the world.
If you want to be seen as an expert or a leader someday, then start acting that way right now, while you’re still in school. Leaders motivate and inspire others, they draw out the best from the people around them. Are you behaving that way? To be an expert, you need to learn everything you can in your field or area and be a valued resource in that area. If this is what you seek, then position yourself with your peers, professors, friends and community as the go-to resource.
Commit to lifelong learning.
Your years in college are about learning and exploring. That shouldn’t stop after school. The job market is competitive — in good economic times and in down markets. Keep learning and then learn some more. Learn all you can about your field, your customers and audiences and how you can apply all that knowledge to reinforce the values of your personal brand. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. As adults in the business community, we’re counting on you to bring new ideas, talents and ways of doing things to industry, science, art and media. We need you to be resourceful, independent, talented and confident. But you won’t always feel that way… and that’s ok. None of us did. We were all your age once — ready to take on the world but shaking inside at the mere thought. When those feelings hit, ask us for help, guidance and support. We know what that place looks like.
I remember a sign on the door of a facility that provided services to curb child abuse. It read, “Asking for help is a sign of strength”. The message was to those parents who felt overwhelmed and didn’t know where to turn… so they took it out on their kids instead of reaching out for help.
We’re asking you to let us help you. The bravest thing you can do is to identify your weaknesses and reach out for assistance to someone who is knowledgeable. This makes you stronger and more powerful than trying to go it alone.
In closing, kids, we trust you and we believe in you. Believe in yourself, too. Get clear on what makes you happy, what you’d fight for and what you enjoy. You will be viewed as credible when you can articulate your values and then demonstrate action that is consistent with those values. This will help guide your career choices after college and throughout your adult life.
And when in doubt… call your mom.