During my freshman year of college, I dreaded the idea of having to present myself to the professional world. Having taken a lot of my major coursework with upperclassmen, I was always bashful about comparing my high school-oriented resume with the beautifully compiled lists of internships and accomplishments my older classmates had already experienced. After all, what could I, a high school graduate with only a few months of college under my belt, truly claim to have achieved?
Of course, as I became more immersed in campus life and began to connect with faculty members, I realized that no matter how old you are, there are always methods for marketing yourself and reflecting a professional image. Freshman year is a great time to begin cultivating that image and developing the tools you’ll need to properly maintain it. This month, we’ll explore some of the preparations you can take to land officer positions, internships and selection into other opportunities in the semesters to come.
The Freshman 15: Ways To Stand Out Professionally
1. Get involved on campus as early as possible.
Research shows that students who join organizations and activities on campus are more likely to graduate from college. This isn’t to say that you should sign up for every club that your school has to offer, but you should pick out a few that sound interesting and start going to their meetings. Chances are, the girl who was just elected president of the pre-med student society (you know, that girl who knows everything about the department and seems to be really put-together?) has been attending meetings and joining committees since her freshman or sophomore year. Look for organizations that interest you now. Remember, today’s members at large are tomorrow’s executive officers.
2. Create a new resumé.
Because you’re in your first year of school, it’s obvious that you won’t have a lot of college-related items to add to your resumé. However, organizing a brand new document with your local contact information and a few new tidbits of information (ie: “Member of the Ultimate Frisbee Team” or “Volunteer at Junior Achievement”) can shape things up quite nicely for when you do have more information to add in. If you don’t already have a section to list your skills and proficiencies, you can always beef up your resumé by listing some of the things you’re good at — Microsoft Office suite, Adobe Creative suite, HTML, event planning, you name it. Once you’ve put something together, bring it to your school’s career services center or to an advisor who can give you tips on making it really shine.
3. Don’t fret if your greatest accomplishments took place in high school.
In all likelihood, this won’t be true forever. In your first year of college (and even, to an extent, your second year), you are not expected to have made great waves at your university just yet. Because of this, it’s okay to list some of your high school accomplishments on your resumé for the time being. Professionals often disagree on how long this practice is acceptable, but most people will expect you to list some of your high school involvement and awards while you’re starting out. You can phase those out over time.
4. Behave on the Internet!
I don’t mean to scare you, but your Facebook/Twitter/Instagram is probably visible to a lot of people that you aren’t aware of. Because of this, you should try to keep your posts clean and not post statuses that you are going to regret. I’m friends with a few faculty members on Facebook who have gone on to hire me for positions or serve as references, but if I displayed an unprofessional side of myself on the Internet, those same people might not find me as personally reputable. Of course, the best way to avoid all of that is to change your behaviors in person, but the very least you can do is make sure that you are aware of the image you’re putting out through social media outlets.
5. Never throw out anyone.
As my favorite actress and idol Audrey Hepburn once said, “People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed. Never throw out anyone.” Not only is networking very important when looking for an internship or a job, but it is equally important not to burn any bridges. You may hate your supervisor for a particular project, but you must still treat that person with kindness and respect. Gossiping about them later to future employers or other authority figures will make you look like an immature, irresponsible worker and a bad sport. Nobody wants to associate with someone who will talk negatively about him or her behind his or her back!
6. Fix your voicemail message.
Once you get to college, it’s time to kiss your cutesy trying-to-be-clever voicemail greeting goodbye. Once you start applying for internships, jobs and even positions on campus, you will receive plenty of phone calls (some that you will not be able to answer), and when the caller hears your voicemail greeting, he or she may form somewhat of an opinion. It is important to speak clearly and be succinct. Something along the lines of “Hi, you’ve reached Justin Bieber at 407-555-3933. I can’t come to the phone right now, but if you leave your name and a brief message, I’ll get back to you as soon as I can” usually does the trick. For tips on what not to do when crafting your voicemail greeting, click here.
7. Suit up.
Even if you don’t want a job for a few years, you never know when you will be called upon to attend an interview or an event that requires “business casual” or “business” attire. You don’t have to break the bank, but make sure you have a few pieces you can wear to look presentable at these types of events. A professional appearance goes a long way – and you don’t want to be the one person who showed up at the dean’s reception wearing jeans.
8. Get to know your professors and faculty members.
Your professors may know everything there is to know about success in your industry. Connect with the right people, and you will find the perfect mentors. Talking to certain faculty members has also opened up countless opportunities for me, because those people wound up calling me when they heard about openings for jobs they thought would fit my talents and interests. They can easily be your best resources on campus and some may grow to be dear friends.
9. Practice your public speaking skills.
This one tends to scare people — myself included! Most of us have degrees of communication apprehension, or a fear of speaking in front of groups, but by utilizing this skill often and accepting constructive criticism on it, you will be much better off in interview and presentation settings. Most general education programs in college require a speech course, so I recommend taking that as early into your college career as possible. My first speech class gave me insight into my own nonverbal quirks — I play with my hair when I’m anxious and I used to sway while standing in front of the room — and this allowed me to correct these nervous tics and other weaknesses I had. (In fact, during a media training session at my internship last spring, I was actually commended for my ability to stand still! Go figure.) From my senior year of high school to my junior year of college, I have transformed from the girl who started shaking before an in-class presentation to the girl who hosts Open Mic Nights in front of a hundred people. I’m taking another public speaking class this semester, and although I still find it a little nerve-wracking, I think it’s great to be able to develop these skills even further!
10. Create a professional portfolio.
This applies to students of every major, but especially those whose ideal professions require them to create things. As an Advertising/Public Relations major, I save everything I write or publish at my internships and freelance experiences so that I can show potential employers in the future, “This is a news release I wrote. This is an article I wrote for a medical journal. This is a PSA I wrote for the radio.” This allows me to showcase my accomplishments in a way that my resumé never will, and it gives employers a sense of what I can do. If you’ve gotten articles published in your high school paper or yearbook, keep them in your portfolio. If you’re an art major, compile photos of your best work onto a CD you can burn and give to employers. Look online for ideas on how to create an effective portfolio, or ask me more about it in the comments section below!
11. Know your strengths.
Give yourself credit where credit is due. Obviously you will improve your skills in college and learn a lot about the industry of your choice, but in the meantime, recognize the areas you are good at and try to hone those talents. As I mentioned in the resumé section of this post, you can look to your past experiences to determine where you really shine. If you led a major fundraiser in your high school honor society, you might conclude that you’re a creative problem-solver with skills in event planning and delegation. If you were an editor for your high school yearbook, you can claim a proficiency in Adobe Creative Suites and a strong attention to detail. If you were the captain of your cheerleading squad or soccer team, you may be able to attribute your leadership and time management skills to your athletic involvement. Knowing your strengths will ultimately help you to create your own personal brand.
12. Arrive 15 minutes early for everything.
This is a good rule of thumb for any appointment you have, whether that’s an interview or a class. Unless you are headed to a party where you have been instructed to arrive “fashionably late,” being early usually won’t have any negative effects. Employers will see that you’re responsible and that you take the job seriously, while professors will see that their class isn’t just an after-thought to you. Arriving early will ease a lot of the stress as well; life is a lot easier when you aren’t rushing from one appointment to the next.
13. Before an interview or presentation, prepare yourself with possible questions.
I do this before every interview I attend. You should anticipate, more or less, what the employer or selection committee is likely to ask (ie: “What makes you qualified for this position? Why are you interested in working for us? What are some of your weaknesses? What is your availability?” — We could make an entire blog post dedicated to interviewing!) so that you have some answers already prepared. That way, you know what you need a better answer for and what sounds appropriate. If you can find a friend who will practice with you, all the better! If you seem articulate and well-prepared, you will project a much more professional demeanor.
14. Respond promptly to emails and phone calls.
When you leave emails sitting in your inbox for days, the senders of those emails assume that you don’t care enough about what they have to say, or that you are too irresponsible to check them. Similarly, when people leave messages on your voicemail, it is important to check them and return those calls as soon as possible. It may sound simple, but so many people don’t bother to glance at their phones or reply to important messages until long after it was necessary to do so. Responsiveness is an important trait in the professional world and will demonstrate your communication skills.
15. Demonstrate an interest in the companies or programs you apply for.
Nobody will want to hire you if you don’t really care. If you decide to apply for an internship, you should be familiar the company’s background and body of work, as well as some of the familiar faces with the company itself. When interviewers ask you why you were interested in that position specifically, they aren’t asking you “Why do you want an internship?” They are asking you “What aspect of my company appeals to you and why?” If your only answer is that it seemed like a good opportunity and you don’t know much about the company, employers won’t be impressed. Always remember to do your homework!