When it comes to applying for a job, the professional world is very similar to the advertising world. The applicant is the product and they are selling their skills and brand.
By Caitlin Ayres
Employers see floods of résumés pour across their desks, but only a select few are chosen for consideration. It’s very easy for a résumé to get lost in all of the clutter when it doesn’t stand out. Even if an applicant is over-qualified, if they don’t have something that distinguishes them from the rest, they will be lost. One way an applicant can really stand out is through personal branding.
Branding tells a story. It creates a memorable image, hopefully in a positive light. A brand conveys the applicant’s personality, which reflects onto the employer. This ultimately allows one to begin establishing relationships, and everyone knows it’s all about the relationships. Mindy Berkowitz, Director of the Center for Portfolio Development & Internships at Webster University guides many students with their portfolios and résumés, and helps them obtain internships.
“When you’re applying for an internship or a job you need to be the one résumé that they pull out of the stack of hundreds and say ‘hmm, maybe we need to look at that,’” Berkowitz said.
Employers are not only looking for someone who is qualified, but also someone they can work with; someone who has desirable attributes and is personable. Therefore, there are certain steps one must follow to brand themselves and become that special résumé.
What’s The USP?
First, the applicant must figure out what their unique selling proposition (USP) is. One can do some soul searching and create a list of attributes, qualities and special skills they possess.
One should not just rant about being a good baseball player or how their mom thinks they have a beautiful smile. What makes the applicant a good baseball player? They’ve been playing for seven years so they’re committed and loyal. They’re a team player. They can manage their time well and they show great leadership.
The applicant must dig deep, and then dig deeper. Even when they think they’ve got it, they need to dig a little more until they find out what makes them better than the other Jimmy or Susan.
After creating this list, the applicant should cut it down to a few unique qualities or skills the applicant has that make them stand out or sizzle. These skills should help define exactly who the individual is, what they want to do and what they can do, which brings in the elevator pitch.
Hello, My Name Is
An elevator pitch is a short summary, about 30 seconds to two minutes long, which defines who and what the applicant’s values are.
An elevator pitch gives the individual the opportunity to discuss some of their unique qualities and tell a story. This doesn’t mean the applicant should tell the employer their life story and the journey they’ve had – save that for Grandma.
This is, however, an opportunity to discuss the skills they have learned and the attributes the applicant has obtained from certain instances; be it a school project, a problem handled at work, or coordinating an event. Sort of like a what’s-in-it-for-me explanation for the employer.
“It’s the context; it’s also a way to show some of your attributes, which are always hard to convey on a résumé,” Berkowitz said. “And so in that story, it begins to show some of your attributes which we all know are what employers are looking for.”
The next step is to create a logo or eye candy. Although, not everyone is an artist, and by no means should an applicant just slap some clip art on their résumé and call it a logo. A logo design takes a lot of teeth-grinding and hair-pulling time to produce, even for an artist.
One may have to go back to the drawing board many times, but the resulting recognition is worth it. A good approach is to come up with an image that best represents the applicant’s key attributes.
“Visual aesthetics are a really important part of your brand,” Berkowitz said. “Let’s face it, people read and remember by images.”
Any sort of pop of color, a distinct font, a particular layout or a shape will suffice if used consistently. The choice must reinforce the brand visually, so one should not illustrate a bull on Microsoft Paint because they like bulls. They should illustrate a bull on Paint because they’re in charge! But no, seriously, please don’t.
Once the applicant has created a visual representation that is justifiable and pleasing, they should use it everywhere. Be consistent with that visual masterpiece. The applicant should slap it on their résumé, on their cover letter, on their portfolio, on their website, on their blog, on their Linked-In account, on their emails, on their business cards, on their thank you cards, and if they’re really fancy and don’t mind dishing out a few extra dollars to get their point across, they should slap it on their packaging as well.
Go Digital or Go Home
An online presence is crucial because everything is digital. Having an online presence makes it easier for employers to learn more about the applicant and see what they have to offer, apart from what’s on their résumé.
“It’s kind of a silly saying, but you know Missouri, we’re the Show-Me-State, so instead of just telling them who you are on a piece of paper […] show them what you have to offer, and that’s where I like students to think about creating an online portfolio,” Berkowitz said.
The applicant should create an online portfolio that includes seven to eight pieces of their best current work. Don’t throw everything from freshman year to now on there because the employer doesn’t have time, and they may not view the most important ones. Make sure it’s quality, and make sure it’s current. That goes without saying, do not rely solely on an online portfolio. Often, Wi-Fi connections are not available, so applicants should have both a printed and digital portfolio.
In addition, write a blog. The best way to convey personality is to express it in a blog. One might show their sense of humor, or their poetic side or their unique perspective on hot dogs. Either way, writing a blog will allow personality to shine. Plus, it will help the applicant with their writing technique.
Another platform that is critical for students is Linked-In. Employers are constantly seeking talent through the professional network. It’s a resource to network and connect with professionals and keep up with industry news and trends. Remember to keep the content professional because anyone can view it. The applicant should remember to set up links from their Linked-In page to their blog, their website and all their other social media pages. This makes it that much easier for an employer to learn more about them and their personality.
“What employers are looking to do, as quickly as possible, is fill their need,” Berkowitz said.
Employers don’t have time to check out every single résumé that comes across their desk. It’s all about creating those first impressions quickly. Personal branding helps create an identity that employers can recognize. It distinguishes applicants, it grabs attention, and it engages employers to learn more. A personal brand should truly reflect and represent the applicant’s personality and if used consistently, it will strongly reinforce and convey the personality and attributes the applicant is trying to sell.
Be sure to check out the Center for Portfolio Development & Internships on the School of Communications webpage for internship advice and material tips.