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Top Things Every College Student Needs to Do Before Graduation

college graduation

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of working with some Penn State undergrads to mentor them on the steps they should take right now to better position themselves for a career in the field of communications.

I will tell you that the post-graduation job hunt was rough when I was in school, and it’s just as challenging, if not more so, now. Especially for students who dream of moving to a big city and working for a big name brand, the competition is fierce! I was encouraged to see how seriously these college students were taking their studies and internships and how eager they were to learn more about polishing up their personal brand to make them a desirable hire.

Whether I was talking to a freshman or fifth year senior, studying public relations or film and video, I found myself repeating the same core piece of advice. Here’s what I told my mentees, and here’s what I want to tell you to. Building your personal brand, at every stage of your career, is highly important. It’s one of the few things you can control and actively improve each and every day.

So while you furiously continue to send out those resumes and cover letters, scour the internet and refresh your inbox – here’s what you can be doing to make the most of your time spent waiting for a call-back.

Polish Your Resume

Just about every college or university has a dedicated “career services” office that offers some great advice to get you started in the right direction with building a professional resume. That being said, many of my colleagues and I have run into the issue of career services’ advice being slightly different than what we know to be current best practices.

The bottom line here is to first seek initial help from career services, but don’t stop there! Do your own research for resume advice from respected online sources. Also ask alumni or family friends who work in your field (and who will know what information and formatting the industry wants to see on your resume right now) to review your resume. You are likely to encounter differing opinions, and will need to seek balance, but use your best judgement as to who best understands your industry.

Create a Linkedin Profile

Most college students are on Linkedin. If you’re not, well start there. If you are on Linkedin already, how polished is your profile? There are countless articles on best practices for creating a professional Linkedin profile, so again, do your research!

If I had to quickly prioritize the main areas that can make or break a good Linkedin profile, they would be having a professional-looking profile picture, using your personal summary to really “tell your story,” fully and accurately listing your education and job history and prioritizing your list of skills to increase your SEO.

Treat it like any of your other college projects, giving it your attention to detail, creativity and technical know-how. After all, building your personal brand is likely the most important project you’ll ever work on!

Build (and Organize) Your Contact List

Growing your personal brand is similar to growing a business’s brand in that you need to establish a quality list of contacts (potential leads, referrals or employers). Throughout your high school and college career you have made quite a few professional contacts, whether you realize it or not.

It’s important to take the time to capture these contacts and organize them in an excel spreadsheet. Take an afternoon and list out anyone of influence that you know, or know through someone else. These could be local business owners in your hometown, contacts from a past job or internship, your professors and faculty, or friends’ parents. Don’t discount anyone! Even if they do not work in your career field, think of how many people they know. A contact two or three degrees removed from someone you know personally, just might help you land your dream job.

How you choose to use this list of contacts is up to you, but I suggest sending them a professional email, preferably through Constant Contact or Mail Chimp, announcing your upcoming graduation and highlighting your skills and education. Make a direct ask for these contacts to pass on your resume to anyone they know who may be hiring in your field. Be sure to attach your resume! By making it easy for your contacts to forward this email, you have the potential of reaching hundreds of people who just might be looking to hire someone like you!

Create a Portfolio of Your Work

Now more than ever, college students have all the tools they need to quickly and easily create an online portfolio of work. Especially if your major is one that has great visual components (graphic design, landscape architecture, art, etc.), you simply must have a professional online portfolio of work to be a top competitor in your field.

Wix, Squarespace and WordPress (and many, many more) offer free websites that you can customize and launch in a few, easy steps. Sure, it’s not going to look like a $50k+ website, but that’s not necessary! What’s necessary is showing a potential employer that you are a professional go-getter who is tech savvy and who goes the extra mile. Be sure to link out to this online portfolio from your resume and in email emails you send to potential employers/contacts.

Hone in On Your Career Objective

Does your resume include a clear objective for what you’re looking to get out of your career? If you want to stand out, it’s so important to clearly communicate your “why.” Work to define your career objective, or you can call it your professional mission statement. In about two sentences you should be able to describe your drive to work in the industry and the unique skills you bring to the table.

Best of all, with a clear objective, you will have a strong and polished answer to provide to any potential employer who asks you the common, but often challenging question of “So what do you want this job?”

Scrub Your Social Media

This is a hot topic for our current generation of college graduates. You’ve likely built a robust collection of social media posts and pictures throughout your college career. While the archive of memories are ones you don’t want to forget, they’re better saved offline. You’ll want to dedicate quite a bit of time to carefully “stalking” yourself on social media to remove anything that could even remotely be a red flag for a future employer. Look at your profile through eyes. How do you want to be represented?

Do keep in mind that simply deleting posts and images is by no means a guaranteed they won’t appear elsewhere. You’ll want to also search for your name and any other distinguishing characteristics (such as your college’s name, hometown or major) and see what comes up. If you need help scrubbing some less than desirable search results, or you simply want to move favorable search results (such as awards or honors) up in ranking, I highly recommend Brand Yourself. Seriously, check it out!

Network with Your Professors

This final piece of advice is what I feel is most overlooked by college students and that’s utilizing the network (and knowledge) of your professors. They’re the ones teaching you everything you need to know about your industry, certainly they have a highly influential network. Schedule time to really talk with them about your career goals, ask questions and express and uncertainty or frustration. Office hours are not limited to reviewing class materials.

You will never regret building a personal relationship with your professors who can continue to support you after graduation. On a similar note, be sure to utilize your alumni network. We truly care about you guys and want to see you thrive in the same industry we dedicated our college career to studying. I speak from personal experience when I say it brings us alums great joy to see the next generation succeed!

Do you have other advice to share with college students preparing for life after graduation? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below!

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Posted by on April 16, 2018 in Career, Education, Life

 

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When Should You Outsource a Task?

when to outsource

As a PR consultant, I am most often the one helping businesses outsource their PR and communication strategies to lessen their workload. For a lot of reasons, I love the concept of outsourcing and believe that in specific scenarios it works beautifully! Business owners have more time to devote on business development and operations, while they know that their PR efforts are being consistently and professionally executed, sometimes even as they sleep!

I acknowledge that there are some scenarios where outsourcing isn’t the best option and can cause a disconnection and dysfunction in a business. Often this is the result of a lack of communication and leadership. What I’ve discovered through my experience with outsourcing is that there are three simple questions I must ask myself to determine if I should complete a task in-house, or seek the help of a contractor to outsource the task.

The following three questions will help change your life – both personally and professionally. Think of some of the tasks you are procrastinating from accomplishing right now. How would you answer these three questions about those tasks?

  1. Does it bring me joy or fulfillment?

Does the act of accomplishing a certain task bring you joy or fulfillment? Don’t focus on the end result here. Usually we are all happy to knock a task off our to-do list. What this question is asking is do you enjoy the actual act or process that leads to the accomplishment?

For example, I love having a clean home, but the act of cleaning my house, especially those nitty gritty corners, does not bring me joy or fulfillment. I drudge through this task, often doing less than a stellar job just to get mediocre results. I know people who absolutely love cleaning, it’s like a religious experience for them. For this very reason, I acknowledge that cleaning is a task I may choose to outsource. And I’ll reinforce this further with my next point.

  1. Is it the best use of my time?

Expanding upon the house cleaning example, I choose to outsource this task to a phenomenal cleaning lady who comes once a month, works for 3-4 hours tackling every room in the house, and provides all her own cleaning products. Her flat rate equals one hour of my billable time. Plus I don’t have to buy virtually any cleaning supplies! For me, cleaning my home is not the best use of my time, especially because it doesn’t bring my joy or fulfillment.

You may be able to think of a variety of other examples in your own personal or professional life that would yield a similar answer. It has nothing to do with feeling you are “above” a certain task. Again, refer to question number 1. If a task doesn’t bring you fulfillment and you can earn more money in the same time it takes to outsource it, don’t guilt trip yourself. Now consider this final question carefully.

  1. Does it help others?

I strongly believe everyone should use some of their time, each and every day, to help others. This can and will look very different for each of us. For some, it’s volunteer work for a cause you care about, for others it’s offering free professional advice with no intention of trying to profit from it. For others still, it’s providing someone else with the opportunity to do better in life. This can be through charitable donations, but also by creating opportunities for people to earn a good living using their God-given skills.

To draw a final parallel to my house cleaning example, I could certainly make time to accomplish this task myself. But it would mean one less client for a fellow small business owner. Rather, I enjoy compensating someone else, a fair and competitive rate, for the skills they are using to earn a living.

Years ago, as I was working hard to incubate my business and save every penny I could, I didn’t dare dream of outsourcing anything. Even after the business was producing stable profits, I struggled to break free from this mindset. Instead, I spent years doing everything I could to keep low overhead, both personally and professionally. Only in recent years, have I learned to enjoy the fruits of my labor and create a life that is far more enjoyable with outsourcing certain tasks. I urge you to thoughtfully consider the same.

Your answers to these three questions may surprise you, and as you run the numbers, you will find that outsourcing things you do not enjoy, that are not the best use of your time and that could help someone else instead, is a viable and valuable opportunity to spend more time doing what you love!

What tasks do you outsource in your life? What are your standards to determine if you should outsource? Join in the conversation by leaving a comment below!

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2018 in Business & Success, Life

 

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How to Win Over a Client in the First Meeting

Concept shot of exchange business card between man and womanThe initial consultation with a client can be awkward and uncomfortable, especially if you feel like the two of you aren’t quite clicking. It’s essentially an interview – for both of you. Each person needs to decide whether they want to work with the other. And much like a first date, it can be hard to read the cues to know if the other person is “into you.”

There is no surefire way to make a client want to hire you, but there are a few best practices that can greatly increase your chances. This first meeting is the time to present yourself as professional and likeable. Here are some tips for making a good first impression at your initial client consultation.

Make them feel comfortable

First, establish your expectations for the meeting. I like to begin my first client meetings by letting them know this is a casual conversation simply for us to each learn about each other. I purposely don’t take out a pen and paper, until the conversation has reached that point. Rather, I’ve found it puts the other person at ease to feel like they’re talking to a friend and not being interviewed. This is an important step toward developing a meaningful relationship with a client.

Prove you’ve done your research

I know I said you should set the expectation of the first meeting to be a casual conversation, but that’s not a free pass to come completely unprepared. Make sure you do your research ahead of time so that you can ask targeted questions that will help you get to the point of the matter. If you leave a meeting with more questions than when you arrived, you didn’t do enough research to ask the right questions – and you’ve just made more work for yourself!

Share relevant experiences

If the opportunity naturally arises, you should reference other clients you’ve worked with that had similar challenges, and how you successfully overcame them. Clients like to know that you have experience related to their industry. You don’t need to be an expert, but having a few case studies to share can really earn you some bonus points.

Be humble

Coming in with too much confidence can push you over the edge – and not in a good way. Clients want to feel like they are in capable hands, but too much confidence can make it seem like you’re downplaying their challenges. It can even make them feel self-conscious that they aren’t able to solve the same problems you’re claiming to be “common” or “easy.” Be humble, genuinely listen to what they have to say, and throw in a little humor at your own expense!

Give them something of value…at no cost

I get it. You don’t think you can afford to offer free advice to a potential client for fear they could walk off with it and never call you again. And that may very well happen. However, in my experience, offering some minimal free advice almost always returns more business than what I would have gained by trying to charge for it in the beginning. Free advice earns you trust, wins you respect and shows the client you aren’t out to try and nickel and dime them. When they see that you really know what you’re talking about, they’re likely to carve out a budget and come back to you for more work.

Leave with a game plan

Finally and most importantly, leave the initial meeting with a game plan. This next move may be on you – to create a proposal or follow-up in some other way. Or it may be on the client to determine their budget or talk with their business partner. Either way, be sure to leave the meeting knowing who is expected to do what and by when. This allows you to follow-up should that deadline pass and it also prevents things from going stale after the progress you made in the meeting.

Do you have another valuable tip to share for how to win over a new client? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!

 

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2017 in Business & Success, Life

 

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How to Job Hunt While Working Your Current Job

how-to-job-hunt-while-working-your-current-jobJust because you’re currently employed doesn’t mean you’re done looking for your next opportunity or career move. In fact, it’s smart to begin planning your next steps before you quit your current job to avoid a lapse in pay or a gap in your resume. The downside is it can be challenging to find enough hours in the day to fulfill the responsibilities of your current job while putting forth your best effort to find a new one.

From our first-hand experience with this very scenario, we have four helpful tips to make your “working” job search just a little bit easier. Take a look!

Block schedule time for job hunting

Just like you schedule your current work tasks and appointments, you need to also schedule the daily tasks and milestones you need to accomplish to keep your job hunting on track. Treat it like any other commitment on your calendar and make a dedicated space for it. On what day and what time will you check for job listings? When will you update your resume and send to potential employers? When will you schedule interviews? Allow margin in your daily work schedule to accommodate these extra tasks.

Update your Resume

Before you start diving into the application process of your job search, dust off that resume! Take the opportunity to first update your most current employer, if you plan to use them as a reference. Next, research the latest resume template trends and update your formatting, as necessary. Carefully review your content and adjust any areas that may or may not be relevant for the new job you’re seeking. Lastly, add any marketable skills and attributes that would make you more valuable and appealing to your prospective employer.

Take advantage of online resources

With today’s technology, we are fortunate to have instant access to countless resources that can make job hunting easier. First, make sure your Linkedin profile is up to date and professional looking. Next, create a profile on popular job seeker websites. Also browse these same sites for potential job opportunities. Finally, familiarize yourself with your ideal employers’ websites to see if they have listed any job openings or career opportunities – and check back often!

Schedule time outside of work

Working a fulltime job while looking for a new fulltime job is essentially working two jobs. It will require a lot of time and dedication, but the reward is a new career that you love! It’s important to not use hours of your current job to look for a new job. Not only could this get you fired, it can also jeopardize this employer as a future reference on your resume. Basically, this requires you to use your personal time to job hunt, which is fair and reasonable. You will need to sacrifice social time and maybe even a little sleep and relaxation to put in the hours to find your new dream job. If this hard work seems intimidating, you should carefully consider your motivation to get a new job. No matter what, a career change requires a lot of work as well as stepping outside your comfort zone. If you’re committed to making a change, these (temporarily) long hours should seem manageable, given the potential reward at the end!

Are you currently looking for a new job while simultaneously working a fulltime job? Let us know how you balance both responsibilities or ask us a question related to this topic!

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2016 in Business & Success, Life

 

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Every Day Is An Interview

interview, hiring, pitchFor most people, a job interview is something you have to do only periodically throughout your career. It’s that nerve wracking moment where you’re sized up, asked ambiguous questions about your teamwork and professional skills and then ultimately judged as to whether what you’re offering is worth hiring. Even if you’re fortunate enough to snag the job, there’s yet another challenge of settling in to a new environment, building a relationship with your boss and being seen as the “new guy” on the team for quite a while. This whole experience is not something most people would willingly choose to do every month and certainly not every day.

But entrepreneurs do.

I often joke that as an entrepreneur, every day I wake up unemployed. Obviously this isn’t entirely true as commonly my clients are not just day to day, but at the start of any month they make the choice to hire me by continuing their services. Imagine how different a job would be if every month your boss had the opportunity to re-hire you, pause your work or end it all together. It’s a different career experience for sure – but hey, that’s what I’m after. It keeps me on my toes, always wanting to do my best and prove my worth. This, along with pitching to new clients, has also helped me become more comfortable and confident with interviews.

When I pitch to prospective clients, it’s usually a one-on-one meeting where I talk about my career experiences, my strengths and most importantly try to form a deeper connection with them and their business. For all intents and purposes—this is an interview. They need to see if my skills align with their needs, if I’ll be a good fit for their company culture and if they generally like and trust me. And similar to an interview, the fear of rejection will never fully go away because my desire for acceptance and validation is inherent. The pitching/interviewing part of my job is not the easiest but it’s one of the most necessary for growth.

Being an entrepreneur technically makes me self-employed (at least that’s how I fill out my taxes), but I’ve found that while this does make me my own boss, it makes each of my clients my boss as well. This means that on any given day I may have upwards of 12 people asking me to do something. Because of this, much of the success of my business is dependent upon two things: 1) How well I can prioritize my tasks and 2) How efficiently I can complete them. Unlike a salaried position, I have full incentive to work quickly and take on as many clients as I can. Increasing my clients may mean increasing my “bosses” but it also means multiple paychecks.

When I hear someone say they have to go for an interview I often get nervous for them and think how glad I am I don’t have to do that. But then I stop and realize that I do; every day is an interview for me. And while this career choice may bring limited stability, it also brings endless possibilities.

 

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