“Brand yourself” sounds intimidating. Two recruiting experts discuss how and why job seekers should care.

Posted August 21, 2017 by


For students and grads looking for a job, we cannot underestimate the importance of networking. You’ve heard that advice before. However, if you don’t build your personal brand before or as you build your network, you could meet with a million people and still get nowhere in your job search.

I caught up with two recruiting experts on our Panel of Experts who offered their advice for entry level job seekers. Toni Newborn, J.D., the Diversity and Consulting Services Manager at the City of Saint Paul; and Jeff Dunn, the Campus Relations Manager at Intel, weighed in on how to “brand yourself.”

Watch part 1 of our discussion here, or read the takeaways in the blog post below. In part 2, we discuss the best elevator pitch and how much time to spend per week job searching.

“Networking” and “personal branding” can be intimidating. Think of it in these terms instead.

Branding is a marketing term, and I wouldn’t blame any student or recent graduate for feeling put off by the idea that they have to brand themselves. Don’t pressure yourself too much or misinterpret what networking and personal branding really are.

Newborn suggests that students just think of networking as “relationship building.” And we actually do this all the time, she says. We just don’t label it as such.

Networking is “expanding the people that you know”, says Dunn, and it “should not be scary.” It’s socializing, making new friends and getting more people to know who you are. “Branding yourself” doesn’t mean you have to be out there smiling all the time, shaking hands, giving out business cards or pushing your resume. Your brand is simply “what you’re known for”, says Dunn, so if you want to be known for certain things, it’s up to you to speak about those things with people you spend time with.

Grow your network to find a jobAnother part of networking is getting tuned into opportunities when they come up. So when friends talk about their jobs, or your parents talk about their own friends’ jobs, or as you meet recruiters on campus, start keeping track of what opportunities come up and what interests you.

Another way to think of it, says Newborn, is by seeing your brand as building the plan, and networking as “the execution of the plan.”

To figure our what your brand is, think about who you want to be, says Newborn. How do you want other people to perceive you? You are the best person to control how people perceive you, so start getting comfortable with the idea of telling people—friends, family, professors, supervisors, recruiters—who you are.

Where should students and grads start to build their brand and network?

Newborn says the first place to start is in your classes. Other great places are “at home, with your professors, and volunteer coordinators” of any projects you’re involved in.

TIP: Make sure to supplement your online job search with networking. Once you get guidance from your network, target your online search to the right job titles and companies. After you apply, follow up with someone who works there. College Recruiter lists thousands of entry-level job opportunities. Would it make sense to start searching?

Figure out what you’re looking for first, says Dunn, to start building your personal brand. “You may not know exactly what you want to be when you grow up but have some idea.” If your future goals are too broad, people won’t know how to help you. So find some focus “at least to start off with,” he says. Then, when you’re in a networking situation—whether it’s social media, a social event or a meeting—you’ll be able to say “this is who I am and this is what I’m looking for.” That way, people can direct you to certain companies, certain departments or certain jobs they know about via their own network. “The more targeted you, are the easier it is for people to help you,” says Dunn. He adds–and this is important–“Make sure you offer to help them as well.” Human beings are reciprocal, so if you see your networking as a one-way street, sooner or later your street will dead end.

But if you’re like many students and grads, the future is more fuzzy than focused. To get some kind of focus, Newborn encourages students to start with “a bucket list.” This isn’t a list of things you want to do in the next 30 years, but instead, she says, “create categories of what you’re interested in.”

This takes time and effort. But it should help to break down branding and networking into these two steps:

  1. Reflect on who you are and who you want to be. Write down your strengths, weaknesses and interests.
  2. Put yourself in places where you’re with people who have similar interests.

A formula for an informational interview

What questions to ask in an informational job interviewDefinitely prepare a list of questions, says Dunn. He advises students to start with the question, “How did you get started in the field?”

This question should put at ease any concern that you don’t have enough experience. Everyone starts somewhere, and you’ll find out what other people’s paths looked like.

Other questions to ask include:

“What is the typical week like in the entry level job here?”

“What is the work culture is like?”

“What does success look like if you come into the job and you dazzle everyone?”

“What outcomes have you achieved in your career?”

“What are the key skills, knowledge and interests that this employer looks for on a resume?”

Dunn says it’s okay to ask for salary ranges. During the informational interview, “you’re not hitting them up for a job.” Think of it as gathering data. “You’re doing research and you may come back to them a month later and knock on their door. But you get to ask the questions.”

It can be a challenge to go into an informational interview just to gather information, when what you really want, Newborn admits, is a job. Even if you’re at “a point of desperation,” she says, “you don’t want to put the employer in a position where they feel you’re here to get a job.” You want to just engage in a conversation—that makes it easy for them to help you.

“The difference between an informational interview and an actual interview,” says Newborn, is that “you’re asking the questions instead of the employer asking you questions about yourself.”

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