Building a brand with summer job
As university and college students head out to their summer jobs, their primary concern is usually to make some money to pay tuition next fall, but experts say it’s also one of the best opportunities to start building a “personal brand” that could pay off when students graduate.
The message seems to be getting through.
“What you’re seeing now . . . is students are being a lot more thoughtful about the positions they’re taking on,” says Colleen Bangs, manager of career services at the University of Calgary.
“Even if it’s not the same area of expertise as the education they’re taking, at least they’re looking for something that will afford them the opportunities to develop transferable skills,” she adds.
Students who do their research ahead of time on the companies they’re going to work for will realize the value of networking — in any job.
“It’s not always the most obvious person that opens the door for you later on,” Bangs says.
Part of creating a personal brand is developing a strong work ethic. In Calgary, which is known as being a highly networked city, it often comes down to the people you know when trying to get ahead.
“When you start getting yourself a good reputation (and) show that you can work hard and work smart, people take notice of that,” she says.
For the tech-savvy millennial generation, it’s also a matter of managing your personal brand online and going beyond the technol- ogy to make it a point of meeting people face to face.
About 41 per cent of millennials prefer to communicate electronically at work than face-to-face, according to a report by PWC Canada.
James Davidson, a talent acquisition manager with PWC in Calgary, says students should research networking events before attending to meet people online first, but that face-to-face meetings are vital to networking and building a personal brand.
“That will then lead to that faceto-face networking, which is as important if not more important and that’s where you start cementing and confirming those relationships,” Davidson says.
A personal brand is the “x-factor” that differentiates a person from other job candidates and includes both online and in-person impressions, Davidson says.
“It’s important for students to accurately portray themselves online as they would in person,” Davidson says.
Pwc’s millennial report shows that 88 per cent of respondents also said they were looking for an employer with values that reflected their own. Brands that resonate with millennials as consumers tend to stress environment and social record, which are the same brands that appeal to them as employers.
By establishing a personal brand that employers see as aligning with the fit or culture of the organization, they’ll be ahead of the pack when it comes to landing a job, he says.
“Graduates will learn that they may not land their ideal job right away, but networking and building relationships with key contacts helps students get closer to their dream job,” Davidson says.
Bangs also says it’s important not to write any summer job or internship off as unimportant.
“You have to really remind yourself not to burn those bridges,” she says. “Even if someone has made you angry and you only think of it as being four months, don’t slam the door on your way out . . . because it will lend to your personal brand, but not in a good way.”
It’s all about creating opportunities for yourself.
“There are always opportunities to meet people if you position yourself,” Bangs says.
It’s also important to learn how to network effectively.
“People often think about networking if they need something — a job, a reference, some advice — but they don’t think about how their relationships directly shape them as a professional,” Davidson says.
There are numerous ways to begin building your personal brand early in your career or studies. At the U of C, they have a “co-curricular record” — a non-academic transcript that records volunteer experience students put in over 20 hours that can then be presented to an employer.
Reaching out to strangers can be uncomfortable, but Bangs says asking questions is a key element to building your own brand and finding your career path.
“Pick up the phone and see if they can get in and do an information interview,” Bangs says. “Sometimes we’re so afraid that the answer will be no that we forget that’s also the worst that can happen.”