I’m willing to bet that you get a bunch of blank stares. These students probably don’t realize they already have a personal brand that is being developed every day. My focus and goal for each of you is to understand the importance of personal branding for your students and assist you in creating a game plan to mentor your young students on differentiating themselves through personal branding.
What is it? Why Care?
My simplified definition: A personal brand says who you are, what you are known for and what you have to offer.
Why should students care about personal branding? The main point of developing a personal brand is to differentiate yourself from others. This is no longer just important for the college graduate looking for their first professional job. With more students attending college, the competition for admission to colleges is getting more difficult. Did you know that over 200,000 high school seniors graduated with a 4.0 GPA last year? Were you aware that Harvard rejects over 200 applicants a year with a perfect 2400 SAT score? The point of these statistics is to show that without a personal brand outside of simple test scores, colleges and employers see far too many similarities and your students may look just like everyone else.
In my past experiences, I interviewed nearly 200 new college graduates for entry-level Student Advisor positions within a for-profit college. Within every interview I finished with the question “What differentiates you from the other candidates I interviewed”, or “Why should I hire you?” The disappointing part about the majority of the responses was there similarity. My question for you; how are your students standing out in this sea of sameness?
Personal branding is a lifelong effort, and high school is the perfect time to start. At the high school level, personal branding involves educational experiences (both inside and outside of the classroom), interests, hobbies, skills and community involvement. By starting to assess and brand themselves early, students allow their brand to grow, strengthen and evolve as they age. It is our job as administrators to help our students identify and hone their strengths and interests. While academics are a huge part of a students’ personal brand, it is not the only thing. With the increase in sameness, academic achievements are only one piece of a bigger puzzle. Now, more than ever, we must encourage this age group to maneuver through the fierce competition by developing a positive personal brand through educational experiences outside of the traditional classroom setting.
Assessment: Helping Students Identify Their Brand
We can begin by relaying the importance of developing a differentiation strategy for each individual student. Self-assessment is huge in this regard and I have had a lot of success at The University of Iowa focusing on activities such as the creation of SMART Goals to the completion of a Skills Assessment and personal SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) Analysis. Start by having each student identify their own personal goals, core values, and passions. After assessment, encourage students to become involved in activities and projects both inside and outside the classroom to continue their learning and development in these areas. It’s one thing to identify ways they want to brand themselves, but the next step is taking action. We can facilitate that action as educators and I encourage each of you to think about how your school can do just that.
Social Media and Personal Branding
From a personal branding perspective, we have to educate our students on the professional and educational importance of responsible social media behavior. If you are like me, sometimes you wonder what people — not just kids — are thinking on social media, and you have probably heard stories of employees getting fired over social media postings. While controversial postings are currently an important issue for college students looking for their first job, high school students are at risk of negative consequences of poor choices as well.
The resemblance of the college admissions processes with the job search process now is striking. Our students might think it is cool to post borderline jokes or pictures on social media or make a video for YouTube to make people laugh, but what they are doing is creating an image of themselves; positive or negative. It is important to educate our students on the future implications and consequences of Internet behavior. I read something recently that really stuck with me; “What you do on the Internet is permanent — it is written in ink.”
While there are many dangers from a personal branding perspective that we must warn our students about, there are just as many positive aspects that can come from educating them on appropriate and beneficial social media use. LinkedIn as well as many other sites allow students to follow and become involved within groups of interest. This is their chance to focus on what they care about and begin to connect with others who have similar interests. I have made many connections and have learned an immense amount through following groups and organizations within my field.
Another way for students to utilize the Internet and social media is to create their own personal website or blog. One of my former students has succeeded in landing her dream job on the strength of the personal branding she did via her website. Her website includes sections such as: About Me, My Work, Resume, Blog and Contact Me. What better way to represent yourself than by showcasing your work and who you are as a person and young professional. She has taken control of her personal brand and it has helped her reach her goals. Other potential options would be to assist your students in gaining important certifications or starting a personal portfolio.
Personal Branding Lessons
Stay Consistent: It is imperative that your students stay consistent with their brand across channels. This includes making sure their social media profiles are reviewed and up-to-date, and their actions both inside and outside the classroom represent the core values that they wish to uphold.
Be Self-Aware: Encourage students to seek feedback and be open to providing them with that feedback in a constructive and supportive way. The more feedback the students receive and the more aware they are about how they are representing themselves, the more they can grow their personal brand.
Create a Positive Online Presence: Managing their reputation is key while looking to expand their knowledge and digital footprint. Remember, schools and employers are searching the Internet as a means of a background check. Make sure your students are aware.
Have a Multi-level Approach: Encourage your students to take action and get involved with what they are passionate about. Utilize social media to their benefit, volunteer, create a beginner resume and behave consistently in a way that represents how they want to be viewed.
Deliver Your Brand: This will feel different for students because with personal branding they are the product. Doing the simple things such as following through on promises, returning phone calls and showing up on time can help grow their brand.
A growing number of high schools and colleges are offering career management courses that embrace personal branding. Others have even developed curriculum involving personal branding. Now more than ever, it is our job to help teach our students how to differentiate themselves. Personal branding is key. Let’s help students make it happen.