During one of New York City’s frigid, torrential downpours, I found myself with an old friend at The Bean in the East Village—try their dirty chai latte, you’ll become an addict, I swear. Catching up about our winter breaks at home (much needed quality time with family, food, and SLEEPING), the conversation naturally led its way back to school and our professional endeavors. Both my friend and I have founded our own respective social ventures: his tackling the hunger space, mine addressing yet another facet of educational inequality.
The past two years have provided an enormous wealth of business plan competitions, recruiting and partnership development, but I was anxious to pick my friend’s brain about the perpetual hot topic of “networking.” He said networking is “just being a person,” or in layman’s terms, be who you are and have a conversation.
Networking seems easy on paper: attend an organized event (like the employer presentations held at your school), make a nametag, and mingle with some folks. But the pressure of making a decent first impression and possibly landing an internship or job weighs heavy on your shoulders, your rapidly sweating hands, and your sanity. Making a coherent sentence all of a sudden is more difficult than landing on the right side of a curve in your Calc class. The issue is not simply being a good speaker, but rather it comes from a lack of a polished personal brand.
Public speaking is a big passion of mine and my knack for it lies in this understanding: say what you believe and believe what you say. As college students, we all are masters of “getting by” with our words, but imagine the power in really believing and supporting what you’re dishing out. When talking about yourself, the more you understand your past experiences, dreams, and working style, the more beautiful a picture you can paint for others.
Here are my simple tips for building a personal brand:
1. Build out + Learn Your Resume
Chances are you already have a resume, which is great! If you don’t (and even if you do, really) visit your school’s career center, and sit with a career counselor. Once you have that done, it’s time to study the most important document of your life. And not just the boring logistics of how much money you saved the company or how many volunteer hours you accumulated. As Simon Sinek preaches in his TED talk, people don’t care what you did, they care about why you did it. Think about your motivations, what you learned, and how it’s influenced or continues to influence you. Approaching your resume in this light will give you valuable stories and insights that you can share with others.
2. Hashtag It
Not literally. Can you imagine #AndyNgNYU on all my profiles? But really, I’m talking about social media (the Internet in general) and how it’s actually useful. When you type your name into Google, many things might pop up. So why not put things into your own hands and populate the search with viable, honest presentations of your interests, personal story and work? You can design, write and post to a blog (like this one!), retweet and follow news of companies you admire on Twitter, and my absolute favorite, make an extremely detailed LinkedIn profile. Keep in mind that your brand follows you and exists everywhere. The more you update and post, the more chances you create for someone to notice.
3. Make a House of (Business) Cards
You have nothing worthy of putting on a business card? Nonsense. One, you’re a student at a university, which holds value on its own already. Other items you can list are positions or titles held on campus, current internships, fellowships, and even scholarships. For instance, mine says I’m a Dalai Lama Fellow and a Gates Millennium Scholar. While most people might not know what these things are, they are nonetheless good starting points for conversation and elaboration. Something else you might want to consider putting on a card is your answer to the question, what are you? Are you an entrepreneur, a coder, an engineer, an actor, or a writer? I have several of these “careers or roles” on my card and when listed, it’s a very direct way of expressing to employers (or whomever might have my card) what my skillset and interests are.
4. Dress It Up
Wearing your personality is a possibility, even in the world of pantsuits and overpriced ties. When I first began networking, I always wore appropriate clothes with a pop of color (POC) whether it was my socks or a bowtie. Along with a firm handshake and a cute smile, this was my way of giving an awesome first impression. If color is not your forte, no pressure – just make sure that your personal appearance is up to par. Being “put together” does not mean being average or drab. Your well-fitted clothes and confident body language should draw you compliments from everyone in the room.
Remember that networking does takes practice and that the more events you attend, the more comfortable you get. And with those events you should start testing out some of these tips and see which areas of your personal brand are useful and which ones need more work. Getting out of your comfort zone always feels weird at first, but when it comes to networking, the more you know yourself and your needs, the more prepared you’ll be to brand and share that with the right people who can help out.