Receiving a college education is beneficial, but your most valuable asset after college is your marketability. Unfortunately, colleges often fail to equip students with the skills and knowledge on how to brand, market and sell themselves after graduation. If you're educated, but have no understanding of how to find the right job and network with the right people, this will delay your job hunting process.
Despite being an honors student, I struggled through the process of launching my post-college career. But my senior year, one of my professors asked for my resume and emailed it to a contact at Verizon who was looking for interns. Soon after, I received my first IT-related internship, which later turned into a full-time job after I graduated. I resigned from my $30,000 Office Clerk job and transitioned into the IT field right out of college. Once I landed that job, I told myself that I wanted to make $100k a year or more by the age of 30 — a goal I was able to achieve at just 27.
Don't get me wrong, though — the process of building my brand while in college was no easy task. Over the last 13 years, I have learned a lot about career branding that will hopefully save college graduates a lot of pain.
1. Apply to Relevant Internships
You've probably already heard it before, but it bears repeating: the earlier you participate in internships, the sooner you can start building a solid career brand that will stand out to recruiters before graduation. Research which careers paths are available to those with your degree, and consider seeking internships in a variety of fields so you can discover what you do and don't like. College students often think of internships as being a summer-only gig, but there are also fall, winter and spring internships that you can pursue while working toward your degree. Always keep a copy of your official transcripts online or on hand in case you need to attach it to your internship application, and strive to maintain a 3.0 or higher GPA so you can highlight it on your resume.
2. Establish Your Brand Online
During the last six months of my senior year in college, I created a professional resume and posted it on the most popular job sites. Although I didn’t have a lot of IT experience, I worked with what I had as an Office Clerk and emphasized my IT-focused daily tasks when applying to entry-level jobs. I was rejected several times because of my lack of experience, but you have to start somewhere. The key to building your brand over time lies in not getting discouraged — rather, you need to keep putting yourself out there.
3. Stuff Your Resume With Relevant Keywords
If you want your resume to be noticed online, you need to ensure that it's filled with relevant keywords and skills. Many hiring managers and recruiters looking for entry-level employees want to see your hard skills, writing abilities and presentation abilities. As an entry-level IT professional, I made sure that every programming language and software application found in the job description that I had mastery of was listed in my skills section. Make sure to add these keywords and skills to your LinkedIn and job site profiles as well.
4. Make Recruiters Your Best Friends
I love connecting with recruiters at the companies I want to work for. I search on LinkedIn by people and look for recruiters in my local area. When you start your search, input the word recruiter + the company name, then filter by location (for example: recruiter + Microsoft, filtered by San Francisco, California). The next step is to add them as a connection — then, you can send them an introduction message expressing your interest in a career at their company. When you reach out to recruiters, you actually make their job a lot easier (assuming you're qualified, of course!). They love connecting with new talent, but don’t get discouraged if they don't have a role for you at the moment or if they don’t respond — after all, recruiters are busy people. Increase your odds of hearing back by connecting with at least 10 recruiters from different companies you would like to work for.
5. Perfect Your Introduction Message
Within the last five years of my career, I have learned to create short introduction messages that I can use when I'm emailing recruiters, hiring managers and professionals associated with the companies I am trying to get a job at. You always want to keep your message short, but still show strong interest in the company. Describe your college degree, and sell your GPA and other awards. If you found a job on the company site, provide the URL to the job or job vacancy number so they will know specifically what role you are interested in. This is a powerful technique — using it has helped me get interviews with companies like Capital One, Booz Allen Hamilton, Microsoft and Deloitte.
The job hunting process can be very frustrating for college students, but don’t give up. You have to keep applying to jobs, attending career fairs and networking with industry professionals. If you have a solid resume and online brand, it's only a matter of time before someone recruits you — so just remain positive and patient.
Kanika Tolver is a former highly-decorated government employee turned rebel entrepreneur and Certified Professional Coach. She is a serial innovator who’s fueled by an extraordinary commitment to social change and to helping others create their own “epic lives.” Tolver helps individuals establish themselves at the “architect of their own life” to realize career, business, life and spiritual success — all in a way that promotes restoration, balance and nurturing one’s authentic self. Her services include career coaching and technology coaching.