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In today’s marketplace, college students need to realize that degrees are no longer enough. They also need a brand.

New York Times best-selling author and business marketing guru, Jon Acuff, agrees.

“You’ve got to differentiate yourself,” Acuff said. “A degree is now the starting line, not the finish line.”

One very important way that students can begin to set themselves apart is by building an online presence or brand, Acuff explains.

“Every college student, regardless of major, needs a blog and a growing social media platform,” he said. “What a blog does is establish that you actually care about a certain industry or career field. Everyone says they are passionate about topics, but if you really want to stand out, actually have a blog dedicated to it. It can be a video blog or even a tumblr if your field fits that medium.”

Dan Schawbel, author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules for CareerSuccess, agrees that building an online presence is very important but cautions about which medium to choose when first starting.

“I think you need to pick a platform and invest your time in it,” Shawbel said. “The first platform you get involved with should not be a social network; it should be a website. Building your own website is essential, because who knows if that network will even still exist in five years. Your website will though.”

He explains that a blog functions just fine as a website today, students don’t necessarily need to go out and get one professionally designed right away.

Schawbel is a best-selling international author and authority on marketing for success. In addition to being a writer and speaker, he is also the Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm.

Shawbel explains that we need to get creative when making our brands to stand out in the sea of potential applicants.

“The most common mistake is people just copy what other people are already doing without inventing their own concept or angle,” he said. “When you do that, people are just going to ignore you because they get that type of content from someone else. So you really need to focus on a niche.”

Schawbel also stresses the importance of acting with a sense of urgency and making sure not to wait to develop a profile while getting in as much experience as early as possible.

“I think it’s about starting as early as possible,” he said. “I started in high school. I had my first internships my senior year. So, I think people are going to be developing earlier in life because of the competition now, the global competition. I think it is essential that people don’t wait until junior year to decide on a major. You have to get with the program even if you have to sacrifice a few nights of partying; you have to make these sacrifices, otherwise you are going to graduate without a job with debt you can’t afford.”

Here at Western we have a resource that we can utilize to help with getting started as well as maintaining our brand. The Career Development Center has many tools which we can take advantage of and a knowledgeable and helpful staff that is continuing to grow.

Director of The Career Center, Kay-lynn Taylor, explains that surrounding oneself with faculty and staff is often a good idea when it comes to developing strategies for a clean and polished brand, including online, but also beyond that.

“This is a critical area.  In the technical culture of today it is vital that everyone is aware of their brand.  In fact I like to refer to this as reputational intelligence.  It is so easy to send any data at any time,” she said. “Beyond the social medial realm, I always recommend students cultivate a group of faculty and staff who not only support them in their job search endeavors but also act as their think tank and editors of information they wish to send to any employers.  The details are important.”

Taylor also cautions about how easy it is to forget sometimes that all of our online activity, especially social media, is fair game for potential employers in today’s job market and we need to use caution.

“I’ve seen all too often a hasty response, made in the moment, was found as an employer conducted an internet search on a candidate for a position,” she said. “It’s important for students to remember that even while attending college the job search begins and ends with them.  There is a shared responsibility between the services we provide and the student.  But if the student is cavalier with their brand, or professional reputational identity, so to speak, we can assist, but it’s of value to remember that information posted often times lasts a very long time.  I suggest to students to always have their future employment candidate hat on as they use their Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. accounts.”

Taylor also has advise for students about what they can be doing now to prepare for the job-market as well as what to prepare for.

“First, be an outstanding student and pay attention to the faculty and staff,” she said. “Make contact with employers while in college and even in the first and especially second years.  Students need to be actively involved in the university community.  Employers may not always seek them out.  It takes persistence and dedication.  It also takes a willingness to hear the word ‘no’ as well as the knowledge to know when to move on to the next viable employment opportunity.”

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