Your brand, your difference

This topic was recently presented at the WICPA conference and the audience was asked: "What bands have stood the test of time?" Answers included: the Beatles, the Doors, and U2. Lady Gaga did not make the cut. All great answers, but they overlooked one significant one: KISS!

Of course that was greeted with some chuckles. However, they were huge in the 1970s and early 1980s, were on the brink of extinction, went back to managing their core brand, and now are as big as ever. The master of brand management, and a surprisingly successful businessman, is KISS icon Gene Simmons. His branding includes the band, his own reality show, books, a "Celebrity Apprentice" appearance and an entire Diet Dr. Pepper™ campaign. More than any other band, KISS has consciously managed their brand and now are familiar to a second generation of fans!

Managing your brand

The job market has been tough and, although in recovery, it is critical you think about your brand, manage it, and differentiate yourself. I am not recommending wearing makeup, platform shoes, and sticking your tongue out at employers. You should think in terms of your resume and scrutinize it, not just for errors but for holes. Key areas still include your grade point average, work experience, and other activities. You also need to think in terms of what others think about your entire personal brand.

Your brand really is what others view it to be. What do your professors say about you? Your peers? Those who graduated ahead of you?

Grades

Unless it is your last semester, it is never too late to impact your grades. Even if your freshman year was a little too fun, you can recover. Your standard test scores as well as your major grade point average (GPA) often are looked at to tell the story of your ability to grasp issues that are more technical. Academics are often a knockout criteria. If your grades are not high enough, some employers automatically pass on you, especially if they have not met you or know little else about your brand.

Work experience

Work experience is critical — you may need to get one internship that leads to another internship, and then into the full-time opportunity. Having work experience of any kind sends a message about your work ethic, gives you experiences to draw from to answer interview questions later, and ultimately helps you land a relevant internship. If you are still early in your college career, be sure you know the details of how your school handles internships. For example, some programs channel all internships through their five-year programs, and if that isn’t your plan, you need to address that now.

Internships

Internships are no longer simply a way to get experience. Many organizations are filling all of their full-time needs through their intern programs, so missing that process often means missing out on a full-time opportunity. In discussing the availability of internships in a recovering economy, Lois Flad, senior associate director of placement at University of Wisconsin—Madison School of Business said, "Internships are there, but the competition for getting internships is tremendous. Full-time candidates are willing to take internships to gain a foot in the door. So the interns are not only competing with other interns, they are also competing with the rest of the labor market seeking a position. It is crucial the interns bring their ‘A’ game!"

Bring your ‘A’ game so you earn a full-time offer. You may look at other opportunities, but it is nice to know you have one offer in the bag! If you miss the internship process or attend a school that does not have one, do not give up on the dream job. You just have to work harder to sell your brand.

Other activities

Your other activities also say a lot about you. Don’t just sign up to put things on your resume, get involved. Whether it’s a social group or a business club, actively participate.

Perception

Your brand really is what others view it to be. What do your professors say about you? Your peers? Those who graduated ahead of you? Are you the student who sleeps in class, or are you the student who elevates others and shows leadership? If you go to a company sponsored event, take advantage of it. Do not use it as a time to text your buddies about your weekend plans. Recruiters use input from a variety of sources, so interviews become a formality. Additional input comes from career fairs, presentations at student organizations, and even greeters sitting in the interviewing waiting room.

Social media

Social media’s impact on your brand is tremendous. Employers not only build their brand online, but use social media as another source of information about you. I recently found someone on Facebook whose only "interest" was "to party like a rock star." I love the honesty, but probably not the ideal first impression. Other social media tools, such as LinkedIn, are extremely important as a part of promoting your brand.

Whether or not you think about your brand, you have one. Consciously think about it, understand it, and build on its strengths to differentiate yourself.