Getting a job straight out of uni is getting harder. More than 1 in 4 students don’t have a full time job within four months of finishing uni. In this article, you’ll learn easy ways to build your “personal brand” while you’re at uni. 

 

We’ll reveal actionable, resume-boosting secrets to help you not only get a job, but get the job you want. 

 

Over the past 15 years, Rob Malicki has helped tens of thousands of students to boost their resumes and employability. Follow these steps and your resume will also be looking stronger!

 

 

Index

1. Quick List: The Top Seven Things You Can Do To Build Your Brand

2. Why a Personal Brand is Important

3. How Your Personal Brand Develops

4. What Makes a Strong Personal Brand

5. How-To Steps for Building Your Personal Brand While at Uni

5a. Build Out Your LinkedIn Profile
5b. Publish Some Articles Online

5c. Create a Consistent Social Media Presence

5d. Improve Your Public Speaking and Presentation Skills

5e. Get Some Unique Experiences on Your Resume

5e (i) Overseas Study

5e (ii) Volunteering

5e (iii) Attend Professional Conferences

5f. Join a Leadership Program

5g. Expand Your Network

6. Additional Resources

 

 

The Top Seven (Things You Can Do to Build Your Personal Brand)

 

 

The top seven things you can do at university to build your employability skills and personal brand: 

1. Build out your LinkedIn profile

2. Publish some articles (or, better yet, videos) online

3. Create a consistent, authentic social-media presence

4. Improve your public speaking and presentation skills

5. Get some unique experiences on your resume

6. Join a leadership program

7. Expand your network by meeting as many people as you can

 

Why A Personal Brand is Important

The Scene
You open the door to the interview room. There's a rectangular table, an empty chair and a glass of water. On the other side of the table are three people in tidy suits - two men and a woman. Their heads are down, scanning your resume and cover letter. 

As you enter the room, they look up at you and... smile. 

Click! Your time starts now!

What Happens Next
In 2006, psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov showed that humans form judgments about attractiveness, likeability, trustworthiness, competence, and aggresiveness in as little as 1/10th of a second

So clearly, how you enter an interview room is extremely important! 

What's worrisome for you is that your interview itself is likely to only confirm those first impressions. However, these judgments that are formed almost instantly about you can be powerfully influenced. And that influence begins before you enter the room.

It's called your personal brand and it is the key way in which you can presuade (that's persuade in advance, get it?) the interview panel that you're the person for the job. Watch Robert Cialdini talk about pre-suasion here: 

And if you're not convinced that this is important to you, consider this. Pallavi Singhal, in her excellent article for the Sydney Morning Herald, writes: "The proportion of graduates in full-time employment four months after finishing their degrees has plummeted over the past decade to 72.9 per cent last year from as high as 85.2 per cent in 2008."

The difference between getting a job and getting the job that you actually want may come down to how you "brand" yourself. Let's look at how to do that. 

How Your Personal Brand Develops

Your personal brand is:

"Everything that you are
+
how you present yourself to the world."

For example, let's say you love reading, nature, travel, and going out. If your social media profiles only show you out partying, how does anyone looking you up online know you also like hiking in the mountains?

Conversely, if you portray yourself as being a foodie (even though you're not really into that), you'll get found out quickly as a fake if someone engages you on the subject. Thus, you develop your personal brand by consistently demonstrating who you are to the world. 

Note the emphasis on the words "consistently" and "who you are" as we'll come back to those. 

What Makes a Strong Personal Brand?

Strong personal brands are:

1. Individual
A personal brand is strong when it is distinctive and individual. It's the combination of our characteristics that make us unique. For example, many people dye their hair. But, fewer people dye their hair and wear a sharp suit every day. And even fewer dye their hair, wear a suit and purple glasses and carry a man-bag. You get the idea.

To create a strong personal brand, you'll need to highlight your unique, individual combination of traits. 

2. Authentic
There is a temptation to try to copy people who've "made it". This is a mistake. The world is already full of cookie-cutter food critics, life coaches and fitness idols. In the real world, we all experience highs and lows, positives and negatives. 

A strong personal brand tells a full story of the successes and the failures. When you're authentic, it makes you more relatable and trustworthy to others (this is called an in-group bias, read more here.)

Remember: you are not a bottle of Coca Cola (i.e. the same as every other bottle). You are unique in your strengths and faults, your interests and ideas. Be true to these and you can create a strong personal brand. 

3. Mental Availability
Psychologists have clearly demonstrated that we are more likely to see the things that we've been exposed to the most, as important and valuable. We are strongly influenced by the things that we can most quickly recall. 

It's called an "Availability Bias" (or "Mental Availability") and is one of the reasons why advertising works! Mental availability is important for the strongest personal brands. Here's a real-world example:

Why are celebrities always clamouring to make it into the gossip pages? 
Because "There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about." (Oscar Wilde)

A celebrity's brand, and therefore worth, are highest when they attract the most attention - the most "mental availability" in their audience. 

Mental availability is affected both by frequency (how often we see something) and consistency (the regularity of when and what we see). There are some simple things you can do to create "mental availability" around your personal brand, which we'll discuss below.  

"How-To" Steps for Building Your Personal Brand at Uni

As Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, famously said, "Your brand is what other people say about you when you're not in the room." 

Here's how to get people saying all the right things:

1. Build out your LinkedIn profile
Hiring a new staff member is one of the biggest opportunities, as well as the greatest risks, that organisations have. It's little wonder therefore, that 97% of recruiters will look up the LinkedIn profiles of prospecitve candidates

Here are some easy ways that you can develop a LinkedIn profile that really pops. 

-> Create your profile. This exceptional infographic from Lifehacker.com will get you going in the right direction!


-> Take advantage of new LinkedIn features that allow you to highlight your achievements. Watch this video from The Global Society:

-> Follow the advice of "The LinkedIn Expert", Viveka von Rosen, in this video from A Life That Travels about how to create your personal brand on LinkedIn:

Remember: don't pretend to be something that you're not. Your LinkedIn profile should be individual and authentic and an accurate reflection of you.

2. Publish some articles (or, better yet, videos) online
What comes up when someone Google's your name?

Perhaps your social media profiles? Maybe an obsolete reference to the 2nd place trophy you won playing weekend sport in high school? What if that same person searching your name instead came across a couple of articles that you'd written that were relevant to the industry you're looking to work in?

That would make you look interested, engaged and proactive in your discipline, wouldn't it?

The process of creating content for branding purposes is called "Content Marketing". 

And the power of it is that it is building your authority and personal brand at all times - even when you're asleep! 

Publishing some original content is not as hard as you think. Here's how to do it: 

  • Interview someone well-known in the field in which you want to work. Don't bother trying to get "famous" people (like Elon Musk or the Editor of Vogue), as they get asked 1,000 times a day for interviews. 

    Instead, try approaching your favourite professors, people running successful small/medium-sized businesses in your space, or people running charities and associations. Everyone loves to share their story and these people have far fewer demands for interviews. However, they also have "authority" and by interviewing them, you will benefit from their authority reflecting onto you.

  • Try using some of these questions, created by Northeastern University
    - How did you break into the industry?
    - What steps would you take if you were to make the transition all over again? 
    - How do you stay up-to-date with industry trends? 
    - Are there any professional or trade associations I should join?

    Your article does not need to be long - a few hundred words will suffice. Sprinkle quotes from your interview subject with recent industry statistics that you've looked up online.

  • Choose your publishing platform. Platforms like LinkedIn and Medium allow you to publish freely, but also rank well in search results. 

  • Once published, ask your interview subject if they'll publicly post a link to your article. Most will... it's about them after all! 

  • Add the link to your article to your LinkedIn profile.

  • Consider filming a short, unedited video about your article. This can be as simple as a selfie-style video where you simply restate the main points of your article. Post it to YouTube and add the link to your video to your LinkedIn profile. 

3. Create a consistent, authentic social-media presence
Like it or not, your social media profiles are often the first things that appear when someone searches for you online. Remember above we discussed that "mental availability" is affected by both frequency and consistency?

When your social media profiles consistently and authentically represent your individual characteristics, you are more likely to be trusted and remembered. 

So it's time to tidy up your profiles! You can do this by:
-> Watching this video from A Life That Travels with Instagram influencer, Jenna Kutcher, about being authentic:

-> Choosing which platform/s you want to use (tip: limit the number to no more than 2-3).
-> Create consistent naming, profile photos and descriptions across the platforms you use.
-> Post consistently. That might only be once per week or could be as often as once or more per day. 
-> Vary your content, but keep it focused around the things that are important to you. 

If you want to know more about creating a consistent, authentic social media presence, check out Gary Vaynerchuk's video on How to Build a Personal Brand from Nothing (Daily Vee, Episode 34). Gary is the king of personal branding - watch and learn from the Master!

4. Improve your public speaking and presentaion skills
Personal branding isn't just about your online presense, it's also about how you interact with people. Honing your public speaking and presentation skills, and understanding better how to interact with people, are key ways of strengthening your personal brand.

Here are some ways to improve your communication skills:
-> Check out this video with Luria Petrucci, one of the world's experts on Live Streaming, as she talks about how to improve your speaking skills.

 
-> Join a Toastmasters club and use their online resources.
Toastmasters is a global organisation that helps people improve their public speaking and leadership skills. Their site has a tonne of valuable content and Toastmasters clubs are renowed for helping even the greatest introverts to become more confident in their public speaking.


-> Develop your "elevator pitch".
Watch Simon Sinek's classic TED talk on how great leaders inspire action talks about putting your "Why?" at the center of your message. "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it", says Sinek.

The same is true of your personal brand. If someone asks you what you do and you tell them "I work in a bank", the response is probably a glazed over look and absent head nod. However, if you tell the same person "I help people achieve their dream of financial freedom" (a more mission-based response), you're more likely to get a positive response! 

Read this great, short LinkedIn article about how to develop your elevator pitch. 

-> Watch a LOT of TED talks. 
Can you learn a lot from watching a lot of online videos? Absolutely! TED.com is a repository of some of the most memorable, engaging and applicable public speeches ever given. Watch one TED talk a day for a year and you're guaranteed to have vastly enhanced general knowledge and communication techniques. 

-> International Speakers' Summit
Want to learn the secrets of professional speakers who are paid thousands of dollars to travel the world just to speak? Check out the free online International Speakers' Summit!

-> Learn about body language
Human communication isn't just about words. It's about body language too.

Imagine if you could sit in a meeting (or an interview!) and have a fairly good idea of what the person on the other side of the table was thinking? Believe it or not, it is possible. Reading Allan and Barbara Pease's seminal book, "The Definitive Book of Body Language" will get well on the way there.  

5. Get some unique experiences on your resume
Humans resonate with stories.

A well-told story can fire a complex chemical pathways in our brain that invoke positive reactions and trust. It's a little wonder, therefore, that having good stories to tell is an asset to you in an interview.

Picture two very different job candidates being asked about their problem-solving skills. 

Candidate 1 Response:
"Well, when I was at university, I had to work with a difficult group for an assignment. It was really hard to get everyone to work together."

Candidate 2 Response:
"When I was at university, I did a student exchange. While travelling one weekend in Europe, my passport was stolen from my backpack - what followed was a personal challenge to overcome language and cultural barriers, administrative issues and financial constraint." 

As someone who has sat on many interview panels, I can tell you that I will listen politely to the vanilla answer of candidate 1. And I will listen intently with great interest to candidate 2. 

Remember, your personal brand is:

"Everything that you are
+
how you present yourself to the world." 

If points 1-4 above are about how you present yourself to the world, point 5 is very much about building up "who you are" with some unique experiences. 

Here are some of the key ones you can get at university. 

-> Overseas study
Of all the ways that you can add to your bank of stories, and give yourself more ammunition for job interviews, studying overseas is probably the most compelling. Decades of research has demonstrated that overseas experiences dramatically increase your employability. In this comprehensive paper, Dr Davina Potts from the University of Melbourne highlights more than 100 academic studies that have demonstrated how the skills you gain from overseas study experiences are highly sought after by employers. 

Overseas study increases soft skills, confidence, language and cultural skills, flexibility, adaptability, creativity, problem solving, and much more. 

Types of overseas study experiences include a semester of student exchange, a short-term program at an overseas university, a study tour with your regular faculty, an internship or research abroad. This video from The Global Society explains the different types of overseas study programs available to students.

The OS-HELP loan scheme provides eligible Australian university students with thousands of dollars to help fund an experience. For more information, Google "study overseas" + your university's name. 

-> Volunteering
Volunteering takes many forms and is a powerful addition to a resume. Whether you're coaching a sporting team, helping out a non-profit or supporting disadvantaged and at-risk communities, volunteering teaches you a lot. Most importantly, it teaches you to commit to a cause for the cause's sake, not because of any sort of compensation. 

Employers positively view volunteering experiences as they are indicative of people who think beyond themselves, have positive values, and are able to work as part of a team. A range of organisations support volunteering and many universities also have staff members that support volunteering and community development initiatives. 

-> Attend a professional conference (while you're still at uni)
Once you're out in the workforce, one of the main ways you're likely to continue your professional development and networking is by attending conferences. You can find a conference on almost every topic imaginable! 

The great thing about many professional conferences is that they have a student rate. This is your opportunity to learn the very latest of what's happening in your industry. Most importantly, it's also your opportunity to sit amongst people who are already working in your industry. 

The upsides are massive: be seen as the most proactive student in your discipline area, meet interesting people (who might be able to get you an entry-level job!) and find out where your industry is heading. All of these things are incredibly valuable once you get to interview.  

6. Join a leadership program
Many Australian universities have leadership programs. These often involve presentations from special guests, skills development opportunities, networking sessions and more. And often, they are free to join! 

Not only does a leadership program look positive on a resume, you'll genuinely learn interesting skills and meet people. 

7. Expand your network by meeting as many people as you can
Meeting a lot of new people can really help you develop your personal brand. It's your chance to practise your personal elevator pitch, grow your connections on LinkedIn, find common points of interest and get comfortable in environments where you don't know anybody. 

Now, if the idea of that makes you shudder, it doesn't have to be as tough as you think! 

Here are ways that you can expand your network, stress-free, while at university:
-> Clubs
There are clubs for many things at university. They are inexpensive and allow you to meet people that have common interests to you. Get involved in as many as possible! This is something that doesn't exist to the same extent once you get into the workforce! 

-> Youth Associations
If you have an interest in a particular country, search online to see if they have Youth Association. For example, the Australia-China Youth Association. You can also look to get involved with the Chamber of Commerce for that contry. 

AIESEC (aiesec.org) is the world's largest student-run organisation. The benefit of being a member is being able to undertake a paid internship in another country around the world. This is definitely one to get involved in! 

Additional Resources

  1. First Impressions: Making Up Your Mind After a 100-Ms Exposure to a Face: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01750.x
  2. Pre-suasion- Robert Caldini YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PoviPFw0VbU
  3. Full-time employment rate for university graduates plummets: https://www.smh.com.au/education/full-time-employment-rate-for-university-graduates-plummets-20190110-p50qlf.html
  4. Cialdini’s Six Weapons of Influence – Part 4: “Liking”: https://scottfenstermaker.com/the-six-weapons-of-influence-part-4-liking/
  5. Availability heuristichttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Availability_heuristic
  6. New Survey: LinkedIn More Dominant Than Ever Among Job Seekers And Recruiters, But Facebook Poised To Gain: https://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2013/02/05/new-survey-linked-in-more-dominant-than-ever-among-job-seekers-and-recruiters-but-facebook-poised-to-gain/#6fd55363414b
  7. The Ultimate LinkedIn Cheat Sheet: https://lifehacker.com/build-your-linkedin-profile-from-start-to-finish-with-t-1751936305
  8. [Careers] Easy New LinkedIn Features To Make Your LinkedIn Profile Awesome YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oq7eKIB6_cs
  9. Finding A Job You Love and Developing Your Personal Brand on LinkedIn - Viveka von Rosen YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjRcO8SVPgE
  10. 10 Tips For Building a Personal Brand That Can Boost Your Career - https://www.northeastern.edu/graduate/blog/tips-for-building-your-personal-brand/
  11. #AskGaryVee Episode 34: How to Build a Personal Brand from Nothing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FlVP7eYBNX4
  12. Toastmasters: https://www.toastmasters.org/
  13. How Great Leaders Inspire Action: https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action?language=en
  14. Why You Should Have a Personal Elevator Pitch (And How to Make One) - https://learning.linkedin.com/blog/working-together/why-you-should-have-a-personal-elevator-pitch--and-how-to-do-it-
  15. TED - https://www.ted.com/topics
  16. International Speakers’ Summit: https://internationalspeakerssummit.com/
  17. The Definitive Book of Body Language: The Hidden Meaning Behind People's Gestures and Expressions: https://www.amazon.com/Definitive-Book-Body-Language-Expressions/dp/0553804723
  18. Why Your Brain Loves Good Storytelling: https://hbr.org/2014/10/why-your-brain-loves-good-storytelling
  19. 5 Storytelling Tips To Help You Ace Your Job Interview: https://www.forbes.com/sites/estherchoy/2019/03/24/5-storytelling-tips-to-help-you-ace-your-job-interview/#5fe69adc48b1
  20. IEAA - Outcomes of Learning Abroad Programs: https://www.ieaa.org.au/documents/item/750
  21. OS-HELP and Overseas Study: https://www.studyassist.gov.au/help-loans/os-help-and-overseas-study
  22. NSW Volunteering: https://www.volunteering.nsw.gov.au/home

 

Rob Malicki is passionate about overseas study and the way that it transforms young people. His mission, since his own student exchange in 2000, has been to help more young Australians make the most out of their own overseas study experiences. With over 15 years of experience, he is one of Australia's leading experts and commentators in the 'outbound mobility' of Australian uni students.