I have often felt a little guilty when I have the following conversation with students:
Student: Do you think it’s more appropriate for me to major in Communications or Marketing? I mean, I see the value in going either way. I’m not determined to go into business, but I see the practicality in the business degree. Is Communications too broad, or does it show versatility? What do you think?
Me: I think you could major in Dance and go on to have an incredible career in Communications or Marketing.
Me: Yes, absolutely. Think about it. Dance majors are steeped in thinking on their feet (literally), taking risks, exercising enormous discipline, creativity, and teamwork that results in a performance that persuades people to pay to see their product. Artists often work with diverse groups and networks; they enjoy traveling and don’t mind an unusual schedule. They are creative communicators with nothing but transferable skills. You see, it’s not so much what you major in; it’s as much or more about who you know and how you present what you know.
Me: This isn’t to diminish your path or plans in any way. What I’m saying is there’s another step in this process from getting from student to professional that has little to do with you major.
Here are a few suggestions to help you get started:
1. Personal Presentation
I see students skipping this step all the time. Here’s the thing: You can’t show up at the college career fair in your Miller Lite T-shirt or Victoria’s Secret cami! You just can’t, so don’t. Ever. You don’t have to spend a lot of cash on a new suit, either. You can easily thrift for one or hit the discount chains for deals. Some industries are very informal and won’t require such formal attire, but many do. Do your homework and understand what’s expected of you. Many universities have career workshops and classes to prepare you for the challenges of professional appearance. This is about taking responsibility for your personal work style and getting it right the first time. You don’t get a second chance at a first impression. This also includes what you say. Have a few lines prepared — even practiced — that convey who you are, what your interests, skills, and values are, and, finally, what you can offer. This is also known as an elevator speech. It may not be fair or even right, but for some environments that cool tattoo had better be in a place where it only comes out to play on the weekends. Welcome to the world of work.
2. Email, Voicemail, and All Social Media
Appealing to your sense of pride and good taste, I beg of you to carefully consider your personal email address, your recorded voicemail message, and the photos you posted last week on Facebook. If I get another email from a student like the one below, then I will officially take leave of my senses:
So I forgot about our appointment. It was my birthday and my parents took me out. Soooooo sorry!
Always use a simple but formal salutation, like “Dear Jane” (it’s not hard), and wording that is sincere. If you are in the wrong — such as missing an appointment like in the example — here is how you are going to make it right:
I sincerely apologize for missing our meeting and the inconvenience it caused you. I appreciate your time and will call you next week to reschedule our appointment at a time that is suitable for you.
Voicemail: same thing. No, “Yo, this is Bart. Do it!” Beep.
Red alert! All social media will follow you until the end of time. Employers will look you up to see what you post and how you conduct yourself publicly, and they will make a judgment on what they see and read. So, think first; post later.
3. Calling Card
It’s great that you are a college student, but it’s not too early to start acting like a professional. Get some simple business cards. Yes, I’m talking to you, undergrads. Include your name, contact information, and maybe some key words, like “Grant-writer & Communicator: English BA, Class of 2016.” When you make a contact at the career fair I told you about (you know, the one where you aren’t wearing your Miller Lite T-shirt), you can hand them a card and give them a reason to remember you out of the other 1,400 English majors they met that day.
4. Link It All Together
I find that most undergrads are not on LinkedIn. It’s free and easy to use. LinkedIn is the most used professional networking site, so why wouldn’t you start building a profile? People find jobs exclusively through LinkedIn all the time. It’s a real tool, so don’t miss out. For no additional cost, you can create a profile that’s really an e-portfolio with live links and the whole shebang.
Go from student vs. professional to student and professional, just like that.