Some students, especially those with younger siblings, may know of VeggieTales, a children's animated video series featuring Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber. At the end of each video, Bob the Tomato addresses the viewers by saying: "Remember kids, God made you special and He loves you very much." In addition to being a healthy message for kids, we can use this sentiment to help us in our career planning efforts; indeed, God did make you special. Each person is a unique creation, and we each have special gifts and talents.
A month ago I was addressing a group of students and asked them what differentiated them from their peers. ND education? No, everyone in the room had that. Intelligence? No, everyone in the room was of above-average intelligence. Leadership/teamwork/active in clubs? No, no, and no ... everyone in the crowd could claim these attributes as well. I prompted the group by asking: "What makes YOU special? What are the gifts and talents that God has given you?"
This idea and subsequent questions shocked most of the audience. A Notre Dame degree did not separate the students from each other nor guarantee a job. When they looked around, students began to realize the room was full of individuals who had the same degree, grades and academic background - and who were applying for the same jobs. It dawned on them that each person had to discover the unique gifts and talents they could offer an employer, the unique gifts and talents that would make them memorable and valued to the hiring manager. They needed a personal brand.
Some readers may doubt the seriousness of personal branding. Is this is a new fad or buzzword in career management circles? No, it is a concept that has been around for years. Tom Peters wrote a provocative article for Fast Company magazine entitled "The Brand Called You" (8/31/97). Peters' message is timeless: you are the CEO of Me, Inc., and it is crucial to identify the attributes that differentiate you from the masses and identify the way you wish to communicate this message. No one else can or will market YOU as well as you can. You need to be in charge of promoting your skills and articulating the experience you seek.
The concept of personal branding is even more important today than it was fifteen years ago when the Peters' article was published. With massive job boards and online resume submissions, it is more difficult each day to get noticed. Recently, an HR manager from a large aerospace firm mentioned they had received over 1,000 applications for an engineering opening. Last year, a recruiter in the PR industry relayed that she received over 600 resumes from individuals vying for six spots. Job and internship seekers need to think about how they can stand out from the resume pile. This is accomplished by communicating one's brand: a clear message of who you are, what makes you unique and what you can offer. Personal branding is not relegated to the corporate world. Being unique in the eyes of hiring managers at non-profits, government agencies or Fortune 500 companies help you get noticed.
So, how does one identify and manage his/her personal brand and how can the Career Center help?
Firstly, identify your skills and passions: The Career Center offers assessments that can help you identify some of your gifts and talents. Talk to friends, family and mentors who can provide an external perspective on your unique attributes.
Hone your marketing materials: Refine your resume and cover letter to communicate a positive image of you, what type of opportunity you desire and what skills you can offer.
Craft an online presence: LinkedIn, blogs, Twitter and other social media sites can help craft an online image to support your unique brand.
Network: Many of the items we buy are ones that have been recommended to us by others. Reach out to your network and share your gifts, talents and dreams. These people can help communicate your brand to their circles of influence.
Thinking of one's career search through the lens of personal branding can give a sense of ownership and control to one's career path. You influence how you are perceived, what opportunities you decide to pursue and how you react to setbacks as well as the opportunities. In short, you are the CEO of Me, Inc. specializing in the brand called "YOU." Remember, God made you special. Celebrate the unique aspects of you.
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The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.