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Campus to Career Blog Series: Developing Your Professional Brand

As a recent graduate, you are most likely confident that your secondary education prepared you well in your core skill set and your ability to perform the job for which you were trained. However, are you confident in the essential business skills that will help lay the groundwork for developing your overall professional brand?

What is a professional brand?

You are probably familiar with a product’s brand. It’s the way in which consumers view the overall attributes of a product. Your personal brand is a combination of the manner in which employers, coworkers and clients may view you. Encounters helping to shape these views may come in the form of personal and professional interaction or through your online presence.

Creating a professional brand as you enter the workforce is important to your long-term career success, and the foundation begins at your first real job. According to careermetis.com, personal branding offers numerous benefits to a person’s life and career, helping to build confidence while gaining trust, authenticity, and credibility.

Adapting to a Corporate Culture When Exiting College and Entering the Workforce

Coming in to work for your first professional job can be a bit overwhelming. Not only are you experiencing a different environment from the more relaxed feel of most college campuses, but each company has a different atmosphere and corporate culture depending upon your profession. Keep your eyes and ears open to adapt to your new work ecosystem.

“The realm of college and the professional world are very different as you will learn quickly,” says Owen Smith, interim dean and director of career services at Northshore Technical Community College. “One of the things new graduates need to adapt to is the way the new workplace communicates, which will be different than in school. Students in school may not be as used to working in groups and experiencing conflict. In the workplace, if things are said, you cannot have soft feelings and get hurt. New hires need to learn how to ask ‘why’ and have a dialogue. Good communication can alleviate any issues.” Smith says he always urges new workers to read company policies and procedures and ask questions because people don’t expect that you should know everything. “When you have an issue, understand what your recourse is and how conflict is supposed to be resolved.”

“One of the ways to make it easier to adapt to corporate culture with your first job is to make sure you find a job that fits you,” says René Cintrón, chief education and training officer for the Louisiana Community and Technical College System. “You also have to realize your job may not always be a perfect fit and there will be certain cultures and processes that are just the way they are. Don’t immediately come in trying to change things.”

Sandy Summers, technology recruiting manager within the Workforce Talent Initiative at Southeastern Louisiana University, says, “When you’re going from a university to a professional setting, it’s going to be a bit of a daunting situation. However, one thing to remember is that this company obviously liked you and hired you, so don’t stress. A lot of new employees feel pressured to overperform, which can actually be detrimental to your success. You were hired based on what you were able to present in your interview, so stay true to yourself and that person. Naturally insert yourself into situations and you will adapt to this new culture in no time.”

Having a professional presence

Developing and establishing a professional presence in the workplace is vital in creating your brand. At the office during work hours is where you will interact with co-workers and company leadership, and where their first impressions of you will be formed. Our experts reinforced the fact of watching, learning and adapting to the new work environment.

“One thing that you have to keep in mind is that when you start a new job you don’t yet know the culture,” Summers says. “My advice is to overdress until you figure it out. You may have a top-notch resume on paper, but in person you have to back it up and put your best foot forward with the way you look and speak along with the pride you show in your work and the confidence you exude.”

“In my experience, some of today’s professionalism in the workplace has become a little lax over the years, especially when it comes to dress codes. Jeans are more acceptable, casual Fridays are more common,” says Smith. “As you transition into the workforce, get into the job and learn the workplace culture and determine what is acceptable. There are some things that are non-negotiable: coming to work on time, making meetings on time, carrying yourself in a professional manner, dressing neatly, making sure your workspace is clean and not interrupting. These are all examples of basic workplace etiquette that new hires need to follow.”

Cintrón suggests, “Coming in to work on day one and being very cognizant of how others, especially more experienced employees, act around you is a good place to start in developing a professional presence. Showing that you can adapt to the office culture illustrates that you care about how you present yourself and the work you are doing. Though dressing the part is important, it’s also about learning how to communicate accurately.”

Online Presence: Do’s & Don’ts

Managing your online presence is of major importance in the current job market as a majority of employers log on to social media to learn more about job candidates and current employees. “With social media, blogs and emails, you have to be mindful that this is a global environment and when it’s typed, captured in an image or digitized in any way, it’s permanent,” says Cintrón. “One rule I use, if I wouldn’t say something to my grandmother, I’m not going to write it online or put it out there.”

Cintrón also reminded those looking for jobs, “With phones and cameras everywhere, it also gets more important to be aware of how you’re behaving in a public setting. Whether you want it or not, you are representing both yourself and your company. If you are doing something that is not in line with the values of the company, the company may have a problem with that.”

According to Summers, all students should do a thorough sweep of their pages and try to remove posts and pics that are not favorable. “These things don’t go away. Populate your social media with as much positive information as possible with the end goal of employment.” She emphasizes that employers are going to go to Facebook and Instagram to find out the real you. Try to populate your posts with possible projects you are working on, or if you are in a leadership role at school or in a community organization. If an employer has narrowed down a job search to you and one other person, you would hate to have a ‘dance club’ video or a negative statement exclude you from a position that you really want.

When preparing for the workforce, Smith adds, “the year prior to graduating, clean up your social media pages. Be mindful of your social presence and make sure you’re connecting with like-minded groups and associations. Get into a positive network around the school. Lastly, before you graduate, make sure you have a professional LinkedIn account that clearly represents your job aspirations.”

Louisiana Economic Development is working with colleges around the state to implement a Campus to Career program targeting the tech industry to help these students combine the proficiencies mastered in college with the essential business skills needed to navigate the workplace. This blog is being produced in conjunction with the debut of the Campus to Career program to share tips and insight from experts on ways to enhance soft skills before entering the workforce. Check out our first post here and follow along with us in this series for more tips.

Stay tuned for more tips! In the meantime, don’t forget to use Louisiana Job Connection to find that new career, whether you’re a recent college grad or seasoned professional. Apply for jobs today on Louisiana Job Connection!