Personal Branding for Recent Graduates Personal Branding for Recent Graduates
Edgar Buberwa

Edgar Buberwa

25 Aug 2020

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We’ve been hearing about branding more often when it comes to products and services - quite seldom to persons; however, in the recent trends, branding is increasingly more common to persons as well. Personal branding is not very different from corporate branding, it is in the same lines of who a person is, what they stand for, values they embrace, and the unique ways in which they express those values. The same way corporate branding helps communicate its value to prospective clients and shine against the competition, personal branding adds value to individuals by communicating a unique identity and clear value proposition to the target audience (you name them). Personal branding could be implemented and twisted anyhow depending on the person’s stage of life, profession, skills, and much more –this piece of writing will focus more on personal branding for new and recent graduates.

Implementing a personal branding strategy gives university students and new graduates a significant edge against stiff competition from peers in the job market and professional marketplace. Through personal branding, a graduate stays ahead of thousands of peers and stands out by making a unique impression, and this has nothing to do with their age, or education level, or even experience. It is all about who they are, as persons. Perhaps one may still be asking themselves what exactly personal branding entails, and when they should think of working on their brands as new graduates. Speaking of “when’ - there is not a specific answer to this question, but in short, a brand takes a while to build, therefore the earlier the better (in this context, earlier means right now). Coming to what exactly personal branding entails, let’s use an example to understand the concept better. Suppose you are a recent graduate with no work experience, applying to a global consulting firm, competing against fellow graduates with better GPAs, and others with some work experience. Then you ask yourself, “How do I stand out when I am an average student (GPA <3.5), and not from top universities?”. This is the point where an individual needs to strategize and implement principles of personal branding to outshine the competition. Most of us must have realized that we may have applied personal branding intuitively, and the good thing is that it must have done magic. (No?)

The most usual and immediate outcome expected in personal branding for a new graduate could be a job offer, however, other rewards are equally essential and could come in many forms. It is true, not every graduate’s dream is being employed, some would want to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors while others proceed further in the world of academia, or any other paths. Regardless of the chosen track, personal branding still applies, and the rewards would come in diverse forms including better contacts and networks and overall industry recognition. Therefore, whether a recent graduate opts to look for a job or pursue entrepreneurial initiatives, personal branding can still work for them. Every individual in their own space, career, level of education, or work experience can implement a personal branding strategy and reap numerous benefits not limited to those listed here within. This reminds us that the overall aim of personal branding is attracting new opportunities and retaining the current ones as well as sharpening reputation and establishing credibility.

So how should recent graduates go about building a personal brand that will maximize their opportunities? First and foremost, a graduate needs to understand who they are and their key competences. This should be thought just like unique selling points – who are you? What do you do/ look to be doing? Why does it matter? What are your core competencies? These aren't necessarily interview questions, but basic questions every graduate needs to have answers for – regardless of the path they would want to pursue afterward. Compelling answers to these questions can help overshadow flaws in focus, outsider perceptions, and self-image. One thing to avoid is the temptation to exaggerate or make up selling points – your personal brand represents one’s true self that will always find means to be unveiled, be sure to be true to yourself and those offering you audience. Speaking of audience, the graduate needs to take time to figure out their target market or who they want their brand to resonate with. Is it employers and recruiters? Is it industry peers and professionals? Potential customers of your business? Mapping out these details will ease out the further process of implementing the personal branding strategy.

Brands do not develop in silence or isolation, there is a vital need to market the brand because developing the brand and identifying the market is just a small part of it all and it does not convey a message if not marketed. Strong brands including personal brands, are a result of interactions because for it to become strong enough, it must have been exposed to contributions from an entire community. There are numerous avenues to promote a personal brand for recognition – could be online or through the conventional channels that are more physical. The immediate community for a recent graduate should at least be the university, therefore initial implementations of personal branding efforts are more likely to be conducted in college at university career services, career fairs, or reaching out to industry professionals. Regardless of the channel, while marketing their brands, recent graduates should think of the scenario more like a sales pitch where they have 30 seconds to convince a seed funder. The key is being concise and straight to the point while leaving the audience with a thing or two to remember about you. When connecting with professionals, especially in channels like LinkedIn, graduates need to be quite eloquent, concise, and straight to the point. Strangers on professional networks would like to know why you are looking to interact with them, therefore it is not advised to send messages such as "Hi" or "Hi, How are you?" as your first message. Good practices advise you to specify your reason upfront, and it could be kept as simple as “I went through your profile and found it very interesting. Would you please guide me to maintain a LinkedIn profile like that?” or “I found your recent post very insightful. It would be great to be in your network to continue that learning”. Good practices also discourage asking for favors right away, it is important to add value first if one wishes to ask for a favor, e,g: “Hi Sophia, How are you? I liked your last post. Thought to appreciate your insights through a message. BTW, I'm looking for a job as a graphic designer. Do you have any references?”. Some of these best practices are important to consider when engaging with the target audience as a part of implementing personal branding for recent graduates.

While marketing a personal brand, it is vital for recent graduates to manage well their online persona. In the digital world, there is the ease of accessing information and consequently, your audience (be it, recruiters, industry professionals, prospective customers) would have unlimited access to your online persona through posts, tweets, activities (unless you set it all private) and draw insights to the kind of brand you portray. Overall, recent graduates should make good use of social media, mainly LinkedIn to position themselves in a spotlight to the eyes of the potential audience. It won’t hurt any graduate to have a professional head-shot, an-always updated profile indicating what you’re open for, as well as posts relevant to what they want to achieve or what they want their brand to speak on the professional sites.

Self-praising and showcasing the desperate side of the coin are among common mistakes in implementing a personal branding strategy especially for recent graduates. Earlier, it was cautioned not to sell a fake personal brand, more to that is staying away from self-praising. Self-praising is usually associated with low self-esteem where an individual worries that the audience won't think they are awesome if they are not actually told. In most cases, the goal of personal branding is getting to unveil the person behind degree and resumes – a graduate needs to be real and as natural as possible. In line with self-praising, is the use of robotic terms that really have a limited value-added when it comes to personal branding. For example, the use of headlines such as “hardworking graduate looking for a challenge” or “Results-oriented professional with a bottom-line orientation” and the likes, are very much discouraged but rather simple lines such as “recent business graduate with a focus in banking and financial services”. Recent graduates can widely market their brand without looking desperate, therefore LinkedIn phrases such as “actively seeking” and “open to start immediately” are usually discouraged, other forms of desperate phrases could look like “looking for a job in marketing, admin, social care, IT or construction; I’d be great at anything though, to be honest”. A great LinkedIn headline for job seekers and recent graduates showcases skills/expertise, value proposition, and keyword/phrase of the type of job they are looking for; here is an example: “Aspiring Java Software Developer | Seeking Entry-Level Programming Position | Experience with JavaScript and Python”. Something as simple and straight to the point as this.

Finally, it is important to embrace activeness – successful graduates have a history of strengthening their online and offline presence, engaging and seeking expert support as well as continuously networking with their intended audience. In the end, as highlighted before, the rewards may come in numerous ways, not necessarily/immediately as a job offer – industry recognition, professional network, and many more benefits are equally important and will open doors that would have still been shut if it weren’t for personal branding. 

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Edgar Buberwa
Written by

Edgar Buberwa

Currently studying for an MSc. in Applied Development Economics at The London School of Economics and Political Science. Previous experiences in development consulting for sectors e.g., agriculture and food security, financial inclusion, climate change

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