As the job market becomes more and more competitive, students and recent grads need to do everything they can to stand out from their peers. One great way to do this is by building your professional reputation, also known as your "personal brand."
For advice on creating your personal brand -- and using it to help you land a great job -- I turned to Dan Schawbel, the leading personal branding expert for Generation Y.
Dan is the author of the brand new book, "Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success" (Kaplan, April 2009), as well as the publisher of the Personal Branding Blog and Personal Branding Magazine.
Here is an excerpt of my recent interview with Dan:
Lindsey: How do you define personal branding?
Dan: Personal branding is the process by which we market ourselves to other people. The process that I've developed in my new book, "Me 2.0," is to "discover, create, communicate and maintain (DCCM)."
The first step in this process is to discover what you're passionate about and your area of expertise, while establishing goals and forming both a development plan and a personal marketing plan.
The second step is to create marketing materials, which could include a business card, portfolio, Web site, blog, social network profiles, a podcast, a video resume, as well as traditional documents, like a resume and cover letter.
The third step is to become your own personal PR person and communicate your brand to others through speaking engagements, commenting on blogs, writing for magazines, pitching journalists and more.
The final step is to maintain your brand, which consists of online reputation management and keeping your profiles up-to-date and accurate with changes in your career.
Lindsey: Does personal branding change (in definition or activities) based on the stage of your career? In other words, should Gen Ys think of personal branding differently from more established professionals?
Dan: Personal branding is based on who you are as a person. Depending on your career status, your branding strategy will change. For instance, you would position yourself differently if you were a job seeker, instead of an entrepreneur trying to raise venture capital, or a marketing consultant. The personal branding process is still the same, but your marketing strategy will differ based on your audience and goals.
Start Process Before Graduation
For example, Gen Y college students should start this branding process freshman year and invest in networking, so when they graduate, they don't have to spend eight months applying for jobs and interviewing. Gen Y needs to understand that business is changing, but it's taking time, so I encourage them to use social media tools as a competitive advantage in the workplace and when applying for jobs. Gen Y's disadvantage is experience, not age, and their advantages are technology and hyper-connectivity.
Lindsey: Can you share three personal branding tips from your book that are most important for Gen Ys graduating from college this spring?
1. Have a targeted approach to applying for jobs. Most college graduates will furiously apply to hundreds of jobs online, praying that they might get a few interviews and hopefully a job. Regardless of what the economic situation is, a focused job search will always prevail. Instead of getting a job that will pay your bills, try your hardest to create your own job at a company that you'd love to work for. Write down the top five companies that you want to work for and the job description you would like to have.
2. Conduct a people search, not just a job search. Job boards are fading away and aren't as useful as they were a decade ago. Now, everyone is on social networks and can be contacted, without having to go through chains of command. The best way to navigate the recruitment process is to contact employers directly, instead of applying for a job that might not be available anyway.
Use search engines, including Twitter, Facebook, Technorati and Google to locate employees who work at companies you're interested in and reach out to them. By doing this, you'll appear genuine and have a better chance of getting the job you actually want.
3. Protect and promote your brand as much as possible. Protecting your personal brand is extremely important because there are other people in the world with your name. If you fail to register your domain name or your name on social networks, someone else will. Also, you'll want to command your Google results because employers will be searching for you.
Promoting your brand is required to gain the necessary visibility to be recruited based on your expertise. By using social media tools to get your name out there, you have a better chance at obtaining a great opportunity.