Building Your Professional Image

Building Your Professional Image
Let’s face it. First impressions count. A lot. It might not be fair, but potential employers are judging you well before they ever even speak to you. So in order to ensure you get past their initial radar, you may need to adjust your image on a few important details:

1. Your voicemail or answering machine message. As a new college graduate, you want to portray an image of someone who is capable and organized. So, with this in mind, listen to your current greeting. Do you really sound like someone you’d want to hire? If you have “I’m Here for the Party” blaring in the background, your friends laughing in the distance, or your kids chirping “hello”, then you’ll want to change it right away, or at least while you are waiting for those first interview phone calls to come.

2. Your “message takers”. Speaking of friends and kids, will anyone else be in a position to take a phone message for you? If so, make sure you train them on how to answer the phone & take messages properly. It’s so important that they get the contact person’s name, company name, and phone number written down completely and correctly. In my work as a career counselor, unfortunately I’ve seen this happen time and time again. A student will come to me with a partial message and will be desperate in their attempt to figure out just which “Bob” called them about an accounting job interview. So, if you can’t trust your roommates or kids to take phone messages correctly, you might consider purchasing a special cell phone that only you have access to, and then only listing that particular number on your resume. The cost of the phone may even be tax deductible since it would be for job search purposes.

3. Your email address. Although this one seems like a “no-brainer”, make sure your email address sounds professional, too. Trust me, an employer will think twice about emailing “kegmaestro” about his or her credentials. (And “yes”, I’ve seen this and worse on college student resumes, believe it or not.). Even if your email address isn’t obviously unprofessional like this example, if you catch yourself thinking twice about whether or not yours is appropriate, I suggest that you go the safe route, and change it temporarily. NOTE: If you do opt to change your email address for the job search, remember to check it frequently! I have seen dozens of students change their email address, and then miss out on opportunities because they would only check the new account once a week or so. Better yet, set up your job-search account so that it forwards directly to your regular email account so you won’t miss a beat.

4. Your personal webpage. Many of my students opt to showcase their technical skills to an employer by providing the URL for their personal webpage on their resume. Great idea! Just be cautious about a few things. First, make sure that your personal webpage doesn’t give an employer a reason not to hire you. For instance, you might want to take down questionable photos from spring break, blogs that have you discussing how terribly the interview process is going for you, or anything else that might make you seem unreliable, unprofessional, or “difficult to work with”. The internet is an amazing tool, but it also provides job seekers with a disadvantage. Certain kinds of personal information are considered “protected information”, which means that employers can’t ask you for details about it. However, with the accessibility of personal webpages, it is extremely easy for an employer to learn all sorts of things about you that they really shouldn’t consider before they hire you.. So, if there is something you wouldn’t want to be judged on, make sure that information isn’t right there on your personal webpage. And finally, make sure that all of the “links” on your page actually work. It’s not that you won’t get a job because you have a broken link on your webpage...I’m just saying that you’ll look more professional when all of the details are taken care of.

5. Your new industry. Take care to reflect an appropriate image for the industry in which you want to work. Generally speaking, law, finance, accounting, and government tend to be more “formal” fields, so the way that you present yourself in both your dress and communications needs to be conservative, as well. Media, entertainment, teaching, fashion, and advertising will expect to see more of your personal, yet professional, flair.

Some final words. The switch from college student to “professional” can be quite difficult for some people. I know that “deleting” so much of your personality from your email address and your voicemail can seem hideously boring, and it can make the transition seem that much harder. I’m not asking you to lose yourself, though! It is important that employers see YOU and all of the magnificent things that you have to offer them. By following these simple guidelines, it will actually be easier for them to recognize your strengths, because they won’t get “hung up” on questioning whether or not you are ready for their “real world”. With the competitiveness of the job market, employers are looking for reasons “not” to call you…to put your application in the “rejection pile”. Most likely, you just spent several years and several thousand dollars on your college education. So if it takes a few minor adjustments to get your foot in the door, don’t you think it’s worth it?

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