Home > Advice, college, Gen-Y, Journalism, Personal, Personal Branding > I Am Not A Lemon – Part Four: Building your Personal Brand and Portfolio

I Am Not A Lemon – Part Four: Building your Personal Brand and Portfolio

Editors Note: The following is the fourth installment in a five part series about what to do, what not to do, and how to make the most of your college experience. There are a lot of lists out there telling students how to succeed, but not too many of these lists have been written by recent graduates still living in the college mindset. Please read this series not as a “do as I say bible”, but rather one humble ex-student’s suggestions.

I made several mistakes in college, but the largest mistake, besides getting drunk and finding myself in the back of a cop car, was not understanding how to build a strong personal portfolio that bridged the gap between academic projects and the real world. I didn’t save all my work, I wrote papers tailored for professors and most importantly did my final projects to get an A and not a job. Big mistake.

Personal branding is hot right now. There are several blogs about the subject, and even a quarterly PDF magazine written by a recent college graduate. Technorati, flickr, Facebook, LinkedIn are just the tip of the social branding iceberg. This blog itself is a personal branding tool. I’m hoping to show potential employers that I have an unique voice in a very cluttered space. Essentially the blog is an evolving portfolio built on conversation, links, community and my ability to tie it all together.

If you’re in college right now, and I don’t care at what stage, sit back and think for a moment what you have produced that will interest a future employer. And this doesn’t mean the twenty-page research paper on media semiotics. Instead, what do you have that is tangible? What have you done that shows your ability to tie your education into your interests? If you can’t think of anything, then make this your semester goal. Grades are important, but a portfolio is what gets you the job.

Tips for personal branding and building your portfolio

Be smart and think about what your end goal is. – If you’re on the medical tract of course grades are important, but if you’re in a skill-based major it might be more important to have a solid portfolio showing your work. An architecture firm is not going to hire a new employee that has nothing to show. The same goes for a newspaper, TV station, or engineering firm. So think about where you want to go and determine what you need to get there. It might be overwhelming at first, but if you do this Freshman year then you have a minimum of four years to do it, which is more than enough time.
When doing a project think about what potential employers want to see. – This is hard mainly because professors are not employers and what they may want to see can be different than your future boss. When you start working on a project look for discrepancies and discuss them with your professor. Smart professors will see your enthusiasm and understand that you are working not only for an A, but a job. They will then hopefully accommodate your requests. The sad reality though is that many professors live in academia and forget what it is like to build a real-world portfolio. If you run up against them, it might be worth getting the B.
Talk to future employers about what they want to see. – One of the greatest things about being in college is that you can always ask questions. It is much easier to get a CEO to speak with you about his/her experiences when you’re eating Mac & Cheese and drinking Natural Ice. Don’t be shy to ask what they want to see when they hire new employees. Now the most important part…Take their advice and follow it! Talking with people does no good unless you act on it.
Keep a personal journal about what works and what doesn’t. – This doesn’t have to be a novel, it could just be a few notes about what you thought you were good at, and what you weren’t. If you start early it’s easier to know what works and what doesn’t. It is also a vital took for writing cover letters and describing your strengths.
Never stop moving forward – If you fail determine what you learned and move on. It’s hard to explain, but college is meant to test you, and sometimes this means failing at a project or experiment. If you do fail, look at it as a learning experience and not a failure. Those who can move on and maintain momentum are the successful ones.

Finally, and this may be the most important part of building your personal brand, expand your comfort zone. Never stop putting yourself in uneasy situations which require quick thinking and a high-level of skill. By forcing yourself to work under pressure, and in an unfamiliar environment, you will become comfortable with your skills and ability, thus branding yourself as a leader and not a follower.

Of course there are hundreds of other tidbits of advice that I could write down, but they are mostly things that will come to you during college. As always don’t EVER be afraid to ask questions or talk with people. College is the time to learn who you are, what you like and how you work. It’s not an end-all to life discovery, but a vital step in the path to success.

Good luck and please share you own experiences with me so I can continue to learn and build my personal brand.

  1. Dewey Bushaw
    August 21, 2007 at 4:42 pm

    A little tid bit on getting a job. A lot of the time you will see job descriptions that say they require you to know everything! This is crazy, you know how many people are out there that know everything about that one area and all the tools? Not many.

    One thing I have learned is that when the hiring manager writes the job description they are shooting for the stars. Of course they want to land that dream employee but odds are they will be happy settling for someone who knows some of the required information.

    One last note: Employers are more likely to hire someone who has great work ethics, social skills, and a business mind over someone who is really heavy on the skill tree for jobs that are not 100% technical. It is far easier to teach someone new skills than it is to modify their behavior. One thing I alway like to add when I am in an interview is that I am a fast learner. This shows to them that you are open to learning new things and that you will put in the time required to do so quickly.

  2. August 25, 2007 at 5:18 am

    Hey Tim! I am learning how to brand my name right now. It has taken me a few months to get everything going, but it is piecing together nicely. Thanks for the tips!

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