Feb 232010
Authors: Holly Paul

While many college students are busy thinking about their upcoming spring break plans, there’s no doubt that another issue is prominent in their minds: Will I have a job or internship this summer?

Students have a right to be concerned. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, organizations expect to hire about seven percent fewer graduates this year than they did last year. However, while overall hiring is expected to be down, many top companies (including my firm) are still hiring on campus. This means the question students should be asking is: What is the secret to landing a job right now?

Today, landing a job requires a measure of uniqueness. Like companies in a competitive market, 21st century students need to focus on and promote their individual strengths. They need to stand out from their peers and tell a unique story. They need an “X” factor that makes them indispensible. In short, they need a personal brand.

What exactly does it mean to develop a personal brand, especially for a college student who still may be developing as a person? It means having a substantive and meaningful understanding of one’s distinctive strengths. It means knowing oneself and –– perhaps more importantly –– knowing how to communicate that to others. And it goes beyond GPA. Just as quality was once a differentiator for businesses but has become the price of entry into a market, academic accomplishment represents only a portion of a student’s overall job candidacy. Good grades matter, but they are not enough on their own.

To help students learn more about the right way to approach personal branding, this week PricewaterhouseCoopers is sponsoring a national initiative called Personal Brand Week. Each day of the week of February 22 will focus on one of the five elements we recommend that students master in order to develop personal brands that will help land them jobs and internships:

Elevator pitch. This is a basic introduction of who you are and what you’re looking for (that, theoretically, can be said in the short duration of an elevator ride). It can be a tough assignment for young people who may be more comfortable behind a computer screen than in front of a recruiter.

Passion. Authentic passion is attractive and demonstrates traits like commitment, well-roundedness and enthusiasm. Recruiters look for passion because it is the quality that drives people to arrive at work with energy and enthusiasm, take a positive approach to challenges and inspire their colleagues and the people they manage.

Authentic relationships. Many students think that “networking” doesn’t apply to them until they have been in the workforce for several years, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. The best professional networks begin with one’s friends and family and extend naturally from there. The people we know have a significant influence on who we are and how we behave.

Online presence. Hundreds of millions of people are on social networks; students should not forget that some of those people are potential employers and future colleagues. The best student personal brands include a professional and appropriate online presence.

Future goals. Finally, having a strong personal brand involves knowing where you’re going in life. There is a reason interviewers ask, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” We want to hire young people who have put serious thought into their futures and can define two or three aspirations they are excited to strive for.

While these five elements won’t guarantee a job interview at PricewaterhouseCoopers or elsewhere, they are important guidelines for any student who is eager to stand out from the crowd and find a job this spring. And here’s the beauty of developing a personal brand at a young age: Ultimately, it’s an exercise in becoming your best self.
Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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