A few months ago I was invited to speak at a conference geared towards graduating seniors in the communications department at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. The topic was how social networking had evolved and where it was going.
I struggled with it for a few days. I knew there would be other people at the conference giving statistics and quoting how fast Facebook and Twitter are growing, and I wanted to say something different. But I was stumped.
The night before my speech I went to sleep at 2 a.m., ill with the flu and sick with worry because I had nothing. Sure, I had a backup plan that would have me showing screenshots, graphs, and case studies, but I dreaded resorting to that. It would be so boring. I wanted to wow them, but I was having a hard time finding the "wow."
At 5 a.m. I awoke with a jolt. I had it! I knew what to do -- I would just tell them about myself.
And that's what I did. I kept my presentation to about seven slides and told the students the story of my life: what I did in college, how I got to where I am today, and what I've learned along the way. My speech went over great. It was one of the best I've ever given.
The key, I told them, was that they have opportunities today that didn't exist for me and that didn't even exist five years ago. They needed to seize these opportunities.
And that, I told them, is the optimistic part.
On the other hand, they were about to join the workforce at one of the worst times in recent history. Close to 10 percent of the country is out of work. The competition is fierce. They were going to lose. So I told them, if you are going to lose, lose big!
Ok, that's the setup, now here is the specific advice I gave to them and now bestow on you.
I boil this down to three main points:
- Lose big
It is all about creating your personal brand, the authentic you. Companies do it and so should you. Follow my advice and, while I can't guarantee that you will get the job that you are applying for, you will be at least 10 times farther ahead than the majority of graduates with whom you will be competing.
How long have resumes been around? I have no idea. My guess is that it has been common practice to deliver those one or two sheets of paper to potential employers for at least 100 years.
You still need to do it, so put in the effort, but don't stop there. LinkedIn should be your new best friend. It is the amped-up online version of your resume. It not only expands on your work history, it also allows you more room to emphasize your experience and make the words jump off the page.
Most of your contemporaries haven't embraced LinkedIn yet. For those of us who have been working for several years now, we have learned to make LinkedIn our go-to resource for sharing information about our careers. College students have typically been slow to board this train, so while your sorority sisters are busy checking out what photos have been uploaded to Facebook today, you can be leaping ahead of them by building out your LinkedIn profile.
When we post a job at Fanscape, we get hundreds of resumes within the first day of the post. Do you know how hard it is to go through that many resumes? It is a giant pain. So, we go through a weeding out process. If your resume pops and my hiring manager likes it, then it gets sent to me. My next step is to go to your LinkedIn profile. Your page better look great. A well-written page with no spelling errors and great insight into you is what I want to see.
You can drop widgets on your LinkedIn profile that point me to your blog posts, your Twitter feed, even the books you are reading.
And don't forget about recommendations. Have people recommend you. Haven't had that many jobs? Start with your teachers, your counselors, and the bosses where you did your internships. Ask them nicely if they will give you a recommendation on LinkedIn. I bet they use LinkedIn.
Another tip: recommend others. The best way to get people to recommend you is to recommend them first. Nothing makes me happier than to see that you've actually recommended more people than have recommended you. Yep, I can see all that when I look at your LinkedIn page.
Fill that profile up. You can't write too much. LinkedIn will stop you if you get too wordy and will force you to fine-tune your descriptions and make them pop.
Trust me on this. Your friends aren't doing any of this. Do this and you jump 10 steps ahead of them. LinkedIn is my favorite social media tool and it is the most important social network for the business world. You need to get a handle on this now!
Want to know where I go after I've read your LinkedIn profile? Your blog. What? You don't have one? You really should.
See, your resume and your LinkedIn profile give me insight into your professional capabilities, but what about your personality? How can I see where your passions lie? What do you do when you aren't working? What movies have you seen? What do you collect? What is important to you in this world besides your career?
You are probably asking, "Why do you care?" You are wondering what your personal life has to do with your work life.
Look, like I said, I'm trying to make a decision on hiring a new employee. I want someone who is not only a professional fit, but someone who is also a cultural fit. My company is filled with people who love reality television, play video games, and check in on Foursquare. I've hired some who looked good on paper, but turned out to be loners who'd prefer to code in a dark room over participating in a brainstorm about a new client. Those employees never worked out.
I need to know upfront whether or not you'd be a good fit and whether or not to interview you. Your blog helps me make that determination.
If you are not blogging, start now. Set yourself up on Blogger, Wordpress or Tumblr. It doesn't cost a thing, so start writing or posting photos. Maybe video is more your thing, start a YouTube channel. Just do something that shows your personality.
Try to post something every few days. It might take you a couple of months to find your voice, the thing you want to share with the world, but it will come, you just have to start.
Again, want an edge over the competition? Blog. And let me know it.
Here is the brutal reality. You are not going to get most of the jobs you apply for. You are not even going to get an interview. When you send in your resume, understand that hundreds of others did the very same thing.
But when you get the interview, and you will get a few, know that you will most likely lose. So lose big.
I have interviewed over 500 people since I started Fanscape 12 years ago. Of those, 95 percent were nervous and told me what they thought I wanted to hear. Only a couple of them stood out and only one ever looked me in the eye, stood up, and told me I needed them. That person told me I was missing out on huge opportunities and that they would make those happen for me. That person told me that I didn't have to pay them much, that they would prove their value immediately, and that soon I would be paying them much more.
I hired that person. That person won more business for me than anyone ever had before. I've never forgotten that first meeting and everyone I've met since has been compared to that person in my mind.
Now a different boss might have been turned off by that approach. They might have thrown that person out of the office, but that's the risk you take. Remember, the odds are you are not going to get the job. So if you are going to lose, lose big.
In conclusion, what I've explained here is not difficult. It doesn't cost any money and it doesn't require any technical experience or training. Everyone can do it, but they don't.
It's up to you. You are setting out on the next great adventure in your life. Have fun with it. You are great and you know that, but you are about to meet a lot of people who don't know that yet. Follow my thoughts, create your personal brand, and you will, in fact, graduate with an edge.
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