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Personal Branding & The Professional You

28 Jan

By Bethany Stafford

As thousands of resumes come in and go out of our office for resume critiques and improvement, pages and pages of professional experience begin to run together in my mind. Truly, one resume starts to look just like the rest: Objective? Check. Professional skills? Check. Education? Professional experience? Check, check. When it comes to getting noticed on the job search, however, it’s imperative that you and your resume don’t fall into that dangerous stack of “look-a-likes.” Rather, you want to do your best to stand out!personalbranding

If you’ve never considered your personal branding before now, it’s about time you got started. Your personal brand defines you as a professional and is a collection of your professional title, skills, knowledge, personality, values and image. Everything from a handshake to a business card helps define you as a professional and can make or break getting you a second look from an employer. In leaving an impression on a future employer, consider the following components of your personal brand.

Your professional title is the most concise and brief description of who you are as a professional and gives your employer an instant impression of what you are made of. For example, an administrative assistant is made up of a set of skills very different than that of an executive officer which is also very different than that of a graphic designer. Use this title to refer to yourself on your resume, business card, elevator pitch and first introductions to increase your chances of landing that job that is just right for you.

Next, consider your professional packaging on paper, including your personal business cards, cover letter, resume, letter head, etc. All of these items should include one consistent theme in colors, fonts, and wording. However, make sure that in choosing your image, it appropriately reflects the professionalism of your industry. For example, employers in the finance industry prefer black and white or grayscale branding while employers in the fashion industry might find a splash of color a little more interesting. The best way to dash your chances at getting noticed on this front is to use a template from the Microsoft Word library or an online resource. Templates are designed to help you get your information on a page, but they certainly don’t allow for any room to stand out among your peers.

Once you’ve nailed down your professional packaging on paper, it’s time to take a look at your professional packaging on the web. Remember, consistency is the key. LinkedIn can be a powerful tool when used correctly. Conversely, it can be detrimental to your image if not properly integrated into your personal branding. Be sure to fill out your profile completely with working links to your website and portfolio, if applicable. All wording should reflect your professional title, skills, and imagery. Finally, make sure to upload a photo and put a face to that name of yours.

Speaking of your image, this is the final component to your professional branding package. Your professional image consists of your physical presence. Good posture, professional dress, a firm handshake and a warm smile are all key ingredients to your recipe for success. And whether you like it or not, your image is often your first impression on an employer. Make sure this impression matches the professional image your relay both on paper and on the web. Again, it’s all about consistency!

The first step towards enhancing your personal brand is to analyze the information you currently have available for employers to see. Reel in key themes and words and work those into your personal branding, via the avenues discussed above: business cards, resumes, letter heads, personal website, portfolio and your elevator pitch. Colors and fonts should be used as tools but don’t let anything distract from you as a professional. Rather, they should be used for the enhancement of the professional you. Try to not let this be a daunting task. Developing your personal brand should be creative and fun since nobody knows the real you quite like yourself!

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Using RSS Feeds to Stay Current in Your Field

14 Jan

RSSfeedIf you’ve worked in a professional setting, or received any type of post-secondary education, the concept of staying professionally current is something you’re familiar with. However, for many budding professionals, staying current is an abstract concept that few people take the time to define or operationalize. Though there are many ways for you to remain updated on trends and news in your industry, I’ve chosen to focus on one that will bring content directly to your inbox (or favorite app).

One of the best ways to get the latest insight into an industry trend is to read blogs – tons and tons of blogs. It seems as though “experts” and “gurus” are as ubiquitous as the smartphones, tablets, and multimedia devices they use to create their content, leaving no shortage of free information to keep you current. After blog hunting for some time, you will have undoubtedly found so many great sources that you may find yourself jumping from site to site, only to realize that you’ve forfeited valuable time that could have been used getting things done. Thankfully, there is a way to synthesize your favorite blogs into one location without having your inbox flooded with new subscriptions.

RSS feeds, or Really Simple Syndication feeds, allow the content of multiple blogs to be automatically updated and aggregated into a central location. Instead of receiving separate email digests from the seven different blogs that you follow, you can visit your RSS stream to view them all in one place. A quick internet search will yield countless results for RSS readers and ways to keep track of your feeds. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll focus on the tool that I’m most familiar with.

As with seemingly most things around the World Wide Web, Google provides a free and simple solution, already accessible to anyone with a Google account. Simply go to www.google.com/reader to begin searching for and adding blogs to your feed. FingerReaderYou will see new articles automatically begin to populate as you add more blogs, bringing the most up-to-date content in your industry directly to your fingertips. Additionally, there are dozens of free (and paid) RSS reader apps for every smartphone/tablet platform, allowing you to catch up on the latest news on the go. So if you’re using blogs to keep tabs on your field, setting up an RSS feed is definitely worth your time. Your to-do list will thank you for it.

Share some of your favorite blogs with us in the comments section.

The Hunger Games and Your Career

8 May

College can be compared to the training period before The Hunger Games, as referenced in the novel. The contestants were well aware of what they were facing. They were given a brief, specific amount of time to select their strategy and to be intentional about gaining as many relevant skills as possible. At the end of the day, no single strategy could guarantee victory. They could only be diligent in seeking out as many skills and experiences as possible, to best position themselves for victory. Sounds a lot like life, right?

If life is like The Hunger Games, then college is the training ground where the choices you make, or don’t make, weigh heavily on your performance on the field. It is important to note that you have entered into a very open-ended training field, where you can find out what you need to learn, and then train to develop the necessary skills to increase the likelihood of your future success. Or, you can choose to view college as an extended vacation and a postponement of responsibility, only to experience a rude awakening upon graduation.

Working in a University setting, I’ve noticed that a staggering amount of students are expecting a collegiate diploma to be a cheat sheet to life. The reality of the situation is that 2.5 million people will graduate with Bachelors’ Degrees this year alone. Anyone living in our current economy would probably, and accurately assume that there will not be 2.5 million entry-level jobs opening alongside this year’s graduates.

Additionally, study after study lends evidence to the idea that, in the long run, a college degree typically ends up being worth the financial sacrifice incurred. Not to mention that the majority of jobs and careers that pay decently, provide a moderate level of security and satisfaction, and allow for responsibility and growth require at least an Associate’s degree. So, if degrees are beneficial, why are so many employers echoing the complaint of having job openings but being unable to fill them in the midst of a struggling economy? They are citing a lack of skilled applicants. In other words, employers do not have the time, resources, or personnel to train completely new, unskilled applicants. Hence, they are looking for individuals with the academic training and the practical experience to back it up.

Here are 6 things that you can do throughout your time in college to ensure that you are taking advantage of your education:

1. Visit the Career Center. In the Career Center, you’ll find free Career Counseling, resume and cover letter assistance, and mock interviewing, in addition to other career related resources and events. Come early, and come often.

2. Volunteer. Not many employers, agencies, and organizations are going to turn down free labor. Volunteering connects you to professionals in your field, gives you practical experience that you can include in your resume, and allows you to develop the skills that employers are looking for.

3. Intern. Internships give you practical experience in your field, allow you to learn and develop new skills, build your resume, and expand your connections. It doesn’t hurt that nearly 40% of employers hire directly from their internship programs.

4. Start stuff. Are you surprised or frustrated to see that there’s no student club for (insert your interests here)? Who’s stopping you from starting one? You’ll gain skills in leadership, organization, teamwork, branding, promotions and more.

5. Lead. If you’re involved in a club or organization, step it up and become a leader. In addition to leadership skills, you’ll gain additional skills as they pertain to your position.

6. Social media and blogging. Are you familiar with the term “SEO?” Have you ever developed a systematic social media strategy? What do you use to schedule tweets and track analytics for hits on your organization’s Facebook page? If any of that sounded like another language to you, it would be to your benefit to gain some skills in this area if you’re interested in working with Social Media or in a Communications related field. Additionally, blogging hones your writing skills and establishes you as a voice in your field.

Consider this your heads up. Imagine if the participants in the Hunger Games squandered their time of training, only to find themselves unprepared for the harsh realities which they would eventually face. College is not a vacation from responsibility. How you spend your time here will greatly influence what your life looks like when you enter “the real world.” The world is open ended. It becomes a lot less intimidating when you equip yourself with the necessary tools. We in the Career Center would love to help you along your journey.

Resume 101

1 May

Every college graduate no matter what major will need one universal thing to succeed, a resume. Many graduates however have horrible resumes. They’re stale, cluttered, and do little to reflect the skills of the individual described. This is an increasing problem because employers will only look at a resume for an average of six seconds. That means that you have six seconds to vouch for why you are the better candidate out of the dozens of others who have also applied. A cramped resume filled with stock words such as dependable, awesome, and reliable are over used and do not grab the attention of an employer who has already sifted through hundreds other just like yours. Now that your eyes are opened and an arrow of fear for unemployment has pierced your mind, let’s look at some tips and tricks to help you beat the masses.

Do not use Microsoft Word. Yes, I am currently using Word to write this but it’s a blog not a resume. Your resume is the key to obtaining a professional job. Kelly Donovan, a resume specialist, describes Word’s templates as “ugly and ubiquitous.”  Having a template puts creative restrictions on your document.  Think of your resume as a canvas and you are the painter. A painter has full creative control and does need margins or restrictions. That is how you create your masterpiece. Your resume should reflect these qualities as well.

Say no to paragraphs. Large blocks of text will never get read. Remember, six seconds. Break everything up into sections based on skills, education, and experience. Avoid packing the page with every desirable attribute you possess. A resume’s purpose is to make the employer want to contact you and learn more about the person behind the resume. You want the employer to pursue you. Look at it like a relationship. Leave just enough information to interest them. Never crowd them with all of your positive points and wonderful characteristics. They won’t read it all. I promise.

Implement visuals. That doesn’t mean that you should take good rhetoric out of your resume. Additional graphics would better help your resume stand out to an organization. There are many professional websites and programs that can help you out create one. Visualize.me.com and InfoResume.com are easy beginner tools when you are looking for great visuals. Still include word devices within your resume though. When typing up your resume try to stay clear of Times New Roman, Cambria and Arial font. Use Calibri or Garamond, they read well on screen. Avoid putting everything in bold. I know every little thing may seem important to you, but placing caps and bold points throughout diminishes those that are actually of importance. Insert bolded items only when it is necessary.

A resume is the first hurdle you have to jump to get to that initial interview. Don’t fear or panic. The Liberty University Career Center is available to help you with your resume and cover letter. We provide many resources that can guide you through this process. Go to www.liberty.edu/careers for links to resume assistance and for direct help from our well-equipped staff. Making one may seem like a daunting task, but our staff will help you organize your resume so that you can get the job, pursue your passion, and maybe even change the world.

Loving Your Job

16 Apr

Here’s a question right off the top: Have you ever been in a restaurant and seen a waitress wearing one of those shirts that read, “I love my job.” Inside, you probably laugh a little. She may like her job, or making good tips, but does she truly love her job?

Forbes.com released a list of the top 20 happiest jobs in America. Newsflash: Some people really do love their job. Here are some that caught my eye, and I’ll end with a challenge.

Topping the list was Software Quality Assurance Engineer. This is a well-paying job that is vital to the success of software manufacturers.  Tied for second were Executive Chef and Property Managers. Following these on the list were quite a few more involving software developers and technicians, while some were common jobs such as electrician and accountant.

Some on the list were management positions, which would make you think, “Of course they’re happy, they’re making good money.” But that might not be the whole story.

Consider this: “Many of the happiest jobs have some component with working with people,” Heidi Golledge, CareerBliss’ chief executive said. “Folks who work with others tend to rate their happiness higher on our site.”

While working with people, they likely possess certain gifts, traits and skills that made them a great fit. Essentially, they’re doing something that they were made to do. You can’t replace passion and genuine desire to do a job.

Can you say that about yourself? Maybe not yet, but what about your studies and degree plan? Are you studying something that you know you were meant to do?

If so, great. Continue to follow and pursue it so that you can hopefully make money doing what you enjoy. If not, what will you do about it? Changing careers is one possibility. First, do a self-examination to see if there are other things that could affect your happiness at work.  Then look at your job in a new light, and try to highlight the characteristics that attracted you to work there in the first place.

Not all of us will go around wearing t-shirts bragging on how much we love our job, but that doesn’t mean its not something to strive for.