The job market is more competitive than ever (seriously, there are 580% more bachelor degree holders in America than in 1970), and entry-level jobs require more technical knowledge than they did 40 years ago.
Those sound like pretty bad odds, but there are certain things you can do to build your personal brand—and employability—in a short amount of time.
Step 1: Quantify Your Resume and Make it Crisp
Optimize your resume once you have a degree under your belt. Make it one of the first things you do after graduating.
Average resumes are easy to outshine if you know how to quantify your accomplishments. This is a best practice for job hunting in any industry and at any age—and a great way to convince people of just about every argument you’ll ever make, as an added bonus.
Realize that most resumes just regurgitate a series of tasks and responsibilities. That style used to work before the 1990s, but not anymore. Selecting the best candidates has become more about measurable success than a manager’s gut instinct about character.
Here’s what my resume looked like for my first job out of school:
- Managed various client accounts
- Delivered dozens of content pieces every month
- Familiar with Google Analytics
- Championed a culture of learning
- Developed, launched, and taught a professional writer’s course
- Managed a content marketing division
All of those points are true, but it just wasn’t enough to get my foot in the door as a proper content marketer (the main kind of job for which I was applying). Yet eventually I did land a job in content marketing
I quantified everything I could to convey a tangible amount of value relative to my desired salary range. This is what that position looks like on my resume now:
- Managed the company’s content marketing division, worth $372,000 in annual revenue
- Managed 12 client accounts at once
- Mentored and managed a team of six writers
- Developed and taught a professional writing course for struggling employees
- Wrote content for 14 different industries
- Grew three social media profiles from zero to 1,000 followers
See the difference? The first version describes what I did, while the second set describes what I achieved and the workload I sustained. These numbers don’t force hiring managers to guess what you did or how well you did it.
If you do force hiring managers to guess, then they’ll start to judge you by smaller details on your resume and cover letter—annoying peripheral things like sentence structure, the use of semicolons, the design of the document, etc.
You don’t want that.
Quantifying your resume invites hiring managers to dig into your story of challenge, success, and development. Not your formatting.
Incorporate a Story Format
Check out how to write a resume (and how to interview well) from Liz Ryan. She encourages clients to prepare “dragon-slaying stories” that contextualize your resume’s talking points and imbue them with character.
That “dragon-slaying” format is also called the PAR method because it follows this format:
Beyond that, make sure your resume follows a consistent visual style. You’ll kick yourself later for writing a fantastic resume only to be passed up for inconsistent typography, bullet icons, or colors. Hiring managers do judge candidates for those things, even if they’ll never admit it. I’ve seen it happen a dozen times. I’ve even been guilty of doing it myself in early
Step 2: Create Digital Career Profiles
After you’ve brought your resume up to PAR (couldn’t resist)—and only after that—you need to upload it to two places in particular: LinkedIn and Indeed.
Understand that these two websites will host your resume night and day. These will act as your first impression to most hiring managers, so they need to be crisp.
Using Job Board Sites Effectively
Creating a profile on Indeed is straightforward, as it just hosts basic resumes. There are many sites dedicated to job boards, but this is by far the best one out there. It pulls job postings from multiple sources for your convenience, and it updates those postings frequently.
Employers also use Indeed more frequently than any other job board. I’ve actually been contacted there multiple times, and that was long before I became a developed marketer.
Don’t make Indeed your one hope for finding a job, but treat it as one of your primary resources. Update your profile whenever you update your resume, too—you’ll need every advantage. Just remember to proofread every change that you make, and sleep on your edits for a review the next day before putting anything else out there.
You have nothing to lose by placing your resume on other job boards, but Indeed will be your best bet by a wide margin. You can find the most popular job board sites here to maximize your visibility, but understand that you shouldn’t spend your time updating each one meticulously.
Glassdoor works well for vetting a company’s culture and checking your salary value, but it doesn’t offer many entry-level opportunities. Don’t focus on this site too much until you reach an intermediate skill tier.
Monster is probably the oldest known job board on the net, but I can’t recommend it. I signed up for it and never found a single job worth pursuing that hadn’t appeared on Indeed already (and believe me, I checked every few days for nine months). Monster also just sent me spam emails every day without adding any value.
Craft a Rockstar LinkedIn Profile
LinkedIn is an important platform even if you don’t know anyone in person who uses it. It’s also more of a curriculum vitae than a job board.
It has job postings too—almost every career-related site does—but LinkedIn really shines as a professional branding and networking channel. Its job recommendations are pretty bad. It took 2.5 years for the algorithm to realize I’m not an engineer, software developer, or corporate executive.
Here’s what you didn’t know about LinkedIn, though:
- It has 500 million users.
- 250 of those users log in every month.
- 40% of its users log in daily.
- 39 million users are students and recent graduates.
On one hand, the platform has a huge number of users. On the other hand, you have some pretty stiff competition from everyone else.
Your LinkedIn profile is a complete record of your professional journey and, at the same time, a primary channel to develop your personal brand. It’s like a casual networking event on the Internet, so don’t treat it like Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
Follow these steps to make a great profile:
- Upload a professional headshot.
- Write a compelling headline about your “why.”
- Include your website(s).
- Connect every position to the right company page.
- Include 2 media pieces for every post if possible (slides, videos, etc.)
- List your education and include media from their sites as well.
- List any and all volunteer experience and connect it to company pages too.
- Procure at least 3 recommendations. You’ll need to ask for them.
- List your skills and have people endorse them on your profile.
- List every certification, award, and project under “Accomplishments” (including projects you’re working on now!).
- Follow relevant companies and thought leaders in your space. They’ll come up in your Interests section for hiring managers to see.
With a stellar LinkedIn profile and your resume on the most effective job board, you can begin promoting yourself in person.
Step 3: Make a Website
My second boss told me that over 200 people applied for my content marketing position, but hiring me was a clear choice because I was the only one with a website.
Having a portfolio website matters more in the digital marketing industry than most others, but having a professional portfolio is still critical in setting yourself apart from the other 72.8 million professionals holding a bachelor’s degree. Having your own website just separates yourself that much more.
It’s never been easier to make one for yourself, and you don’t need technical skills to set it up. You can start with any of these platforms, both free and paid:
You don’t need to hard-code a website yourself with HTML5 and CSS languages, so don’t worry about your technical ability too much. I started out with a Squarespace website and it paid off in spades. It has a nice drag-and-drop functionality that works intuitively for newcomers.
Since then I’ve learned how to build a website using WordPress themes and semi-custom solutions during my time at a marketing agency, but the tools to get started without that background are all there for you if you’re willing to learn how to use them.
How to Set Up Your Website
Your website can be fora freelance business or for just about yourself, but it should always show off your work. Make sure it includes these pages:
- Success Stories
- Resume (or an option to download it)
Straightforward personal sites don’t need to follow that exact formula, but it will have a similar layout:
They’re essentially the same layouts, just geared for different messages and audiences (business vs. employment).
Personal websites remain the perceived domain of thought leaders to many outside of the marketing industry. People will be impressed. Even people within the marketing industry still tend not make sites for themselves, but thought leaders in that industry are all over it.
You should have one either way.
Creating a basic website is your opportunity to look more professional than you might actually feel (hey, imposter’s syndrome hits all of us), giving you another edge over the rest of the recent graduates who continue to put “experience with Microsoft Word” on their resumes.
It doesn’t need to be a static site, either—you can write blogs about your experiences, perspectives, and anything related to your professional development. For example, I’ve written on these topics:
- How non-technical marketers should approach working with web developers
- Using social media analytics to engineer engagement
- What happens when a Facebook algorithm upsets your ad campaigns
This is where recent graduates throw up their hands in frustration. They don’t have the experience to brand themselves as cutting-edge professionals, obviously. Scroll down to the next section.
Step 4: Start a Portfolio Project, Even Without Payment
Many graduates run into trouble finding jobs because they smack into the chicken-and-egg dilemma: they don’t have the experience to to get a job in today’s crowded marketplace, yet they don’t have a job to gain that experience.
It’s a vicious cycle that keeps hard-working graduates in part-time, minimum-wage jobs. Here’s the secret, though: you don’t need “job experience” to start a career.
You need project experience.
The difference between them is that someone has to give you a job, whereas you can start a project yourself and measure the results on your own at any time.
I wanted a job in content marketing, so I did some volunteer marketing work for a local non-profit organization and helped various acquaintances write their websites. You can do freelance work too, if you need money—just price by item or project instead of an hourly rate so that you can take your time to practice while you work!
That’s exactly what I did to pull myself out of a 9-month unemployment streak. And it worked.
Step 5: Attend One Networking Event Per Month
Building your digital profile will become the cornerstone of your personal brand, but you can’t rely on resumes and profiles alone. Personal appearances are integral to personal branding, too.
Attend a live networking event at least once a month, and even more often if you aren’t putting in full-time work in some form.
Career-building events can be traced to certain organizations. Research these kinds of organizations and events in your area:
- Chambers of commerce
- College and university career offices
- Young Professionals’ Networks
- Networking events for specific industries
- Mentor events
- Fundraising events (these count!)
Just building up the courage to attend one of these events is a huge stepping stone for some people, but these events really aren’t such a big deal.
How to Network as a Job Seeker
That’s because networking isn’t so much about direct lead generation as it is personal branding. You can still follow a strategy to connect with the most valuable people in the room. Use these tactics after approaching them:
- Ask questions about them more than talking about yourself.
- Learn their personal stories—what drives them, in particular.
- Where they see themselves going, and what projects they’re working on.
- Recommending your favourite influencers for ideas and inspiration.
- Connecting them to people you know who can offer relevant services.
- Talk about your projects, drive, and goals—in moderate amounts
Again, you probably won’t generate direct career opportunities with networking events alone, but you can build a reputation for being thoughtful, helpful, and on-point. Networking with enough people in that way will keep you top-of-mind in a positive way when an opportunity does appear.
The challenge lies in putting consistent appearances without burning yourself out any further on job hunting. Searching for a job as an unemployed graduate can be depressing, but you don’t want to exhaust yourself with excessive events on top of a full-time workload.
For reference, full-time work can include anything like this:
- Minimum-wage work
- Volunteer work
- Job-hunting every day
- Parenting or compassionate care
Put in the effort to make regular appearances but don’t strain your emotional capacity. You’ll need it to apply for jobs on a regular basis.
Step 6: Regularly Update Your Assets with Your New Experiences
For the purposes of getting a job, your new experiences are only as good as they look on paper. Update your job-related assets when you can officially brag about a new project, or if you’re able to quantify past performances more accurately and positively.
Create a checklist to update these assets:
- Paper resume
- Indeed resume
- LinkedIn profile
- Website portfolio
Updating four things for a single change will get exhausting every time you want to make a moderate update to your resume. Keep track of everything new you want to add in a single list, then make the changes everywhere.
It’s possible to update your resume once and then re-upload it to the job board sites, but these sites don’t do a great job of formatting text from documents in my experience—it was just faster to copy and paste my resume updates into them one by one after figuring out how to write it effectively once.
It only takes 15 minutes to make these updates if you already put time into learning how to quantify your resume.
Here’s how I updated my resume after running an email campaign for that non-profit I mentioned:
- Sustained an average open rate of 35% on a five-part email campaign over four weeks
- Achieved click-through rate of 7.5% on a client’s first-ever email campaign
Write it effectively and edit it once, then copy and paste it into your various resume channels to avoid typos. Rewriting out the same thing manually increases the chances of making a mistake by a factor of ten. I’ve managed enough junior writers to know, believe me.
Your Move, Graduate
Today’s unemployment rates for new graduates aren’t your fault, and the math simply doesn’t favour the inexperienced.
But now you have a roadmap to get on your feet. Follow these steps in sequence to craft a professional image that puts you on much better footing with experienced job seekers already out there.
I hope this helps with your journey!
Now it’s time for you to implement what I’ve done and give yourself a fighting chance. Happy hunting!