Your university’s career counselor helped you find the perfect flashy verbs for your resume, assisted you in crafting a flawlessly-written cover letter, and coached you in effectively marketing yourself in an interview. But, that’s where college career counselors often abandon us, all alone on Career Island without a raft, like Tom Hanks and “Wilson” in the movie Castaway. Once you finally snagged that all-important first job, how do you continue to build on the momentum and focus that got you the job in the first place? How do you continue moving in a positive direction, rather than getting comfortable and sinking into a routine?
You’ve been holding down part-time jobs at fast food joints since you were a fresh-faced teenager, so why do you have to give something called a “professional persona” any thought now? Well, as soon as you enter the workforce after college, “success” in your career takes more than showing up for work each morning and going through the motions. Building a professional persona can open doors for you later on down the road.
Building a professional persona is a unique experience for all of us, and will differ significantly between fields. The engineering industry is worlds away from a law firm, both of which are quite different from the financial world. These all require different types of professionals, but no matter which industry you call home, it’s important that you build a professional persona that sets you apart from the crowd in a positive way.
First, cleaning up your social media accounts is imperative. Don’t completely erase your e-identity (that’s also a little fishy), but do some careful editing of what’s already out there. A rule of thumb: if your most conservative relative saw it, would they be offended by you or proud of you? Keep your pictures of your volunteer trip to Haiti, but delete or “hide” that embarrassing album from your 21st birthday. Even if it isn’t offensive to you or your inner-circle, it might offend a co-worker or potential client; you never know who might be searching for you on “the ‘book”. The same goes for Twitter or any social media account you have that uses your name. In fact, you can often tailor your social media accounts to reflect on you positively; LinkedIn was created for just that purpose.
The next important step in building your persona is taking a dose of humility. At your first job, you are still earning your right to be there. Always take initiative and grasp opportunities when they come to you, but don’t expect them to come quickly and easily into your hands. However, that does not mean that you ought to hide your self-confidence. An important aspect of any professional persona is being confident in your skills and your ability to get the job done. A little well-placed humbleness with the right amount of self-confidence will carry you a long way.
Lastly, produce consistent quality work. This one is a no-brainer, but it’s the most important and easiest way to build your professional persona.
As twenty-somethings who graduated from college in the middle of a recession, many of us are just now beginning to build that professional persona, learning how to navigate the complicated world of careers and corporate ladders. The key to finding success and fulfillment is creating a positive reputation for yourself that will open more doors than it closes.
Photo credit: Rachael Tulipano