Personal Branding in Graduate School

Anna Kristen Poteat

January 1, 2018

Earlier this year I was focused on my transition into my graduate program. Now that I have successfully made it through my first semester I have realized that building your personal brand starts way before you go through your first job search. Your personal brand is similar to your professional reputation. Do people enjoy working with you? Would your colleagues recommend your work? What does your professional network look like? These questions are important to the longevity of your career. Establishing and maintaining your personal brand can guide your career path. The wonderful thing about personal branding is that it can be worked on while you are in graduate school. There are many things that are not within our control as graduate students. We are subjects to our job responsibilities, academic workload, and personal lives. As graduate students, we roll with the punches and adapt to our environments. But can you imagine starting to craft a unique tool in your professional toolbelt BEFORE you even start your entry level position?! Amazing, right? Here are some steps I have identified along my journey to creating my personal brand:

  1. Identify your values: How can you articulate your values to a prospective employer if you don’t know what those values are! Of course, you can try to say what you think the prospective employer wants you to say, but if you are not your authentic self… how will you fit in an institution? Identifying your values is important to establish your personal brand. What do you stand for? How do your values influence your work in Student Affairs? Why do those values line up with the mission of the potential office of institution you could be working for?
  2. Engage with your peers: We all know that networking in higher ed is important and inevitable. The field is filled with stories about how networks have led to jobs, internship opportunities, and promotions. Yet, a lot of graduate students feel like their network is limited to their undergraduate/graduate institutions. How do we remedy this? Engage with your peers! There are thousands of students across the country that are either a) interested in higher ed or b) studying to become an #SAPro. Engage with other students across the nation by participating in online discussions on twitter, Facebook groups, or organizations. We will be working together in the field someday—so what better way to start your network than with peers! Their primary networks become your secondary networks. So, if you engage with five peers at different institutions, your network span gets bigger indirectly.
  3. Invest in professional development: Professional development is talked about in almost every graduate program in the country. Student Affairs is no different. In fact, there seems to be a conference for everything under the sun in our field. Build your professional development plan around those things that you value as a person and as a professional. Do not go to a conference because you feel like everyone else is going. Choose your professional development based on your values and goals. Save time and money by being intentional.
  4. Be authentic: Be yourself. You are valuable. Don’t compromise yourself in order to fit a mold. Your unique perspectives, your experiences, and your knowledge are assets. Articulating what you bring to the table and identifying skills that set you apart from the group solidifies your personal brand. Why do employers want to hire you? What value would you bring to an office or organization?
  5. Create an action plan: What do you want to achieve during your time in graduate school. Make a road map, set goals, create an accountability group—do what you can to keep yourself focused on the time you have. Undergrad went by quickly, and graduate school is going by even faster. The semesters may seem long, but we will graduate before we know it. Make your time in graduate school count!

Finally, I would like to say one thing to all the new professionals and graduate students:

I believe in you-- you are the only person that can do what you do! If you are a graduate student or a new professional, no one can take away what you bring to the table. Have confidence in yourself and know that you are making a difference in higher education. Thank you and feel free to connect with me on social media/Linkedin.

Do you have thoughts on this blog post? Share them with us on Facebook @NPGSKC, on Twitter @npgs_kc, or on Instagram @npgs_kc!

Anna Kristen Poteat is currently a first-year graduate student at The University North Carolina at Greensboro. She is also a graduate assistant at Guilford College in The Office of Student Leadership & Engagement. She loves her reading, hiking in the NC mountains, and her miniature wiener dogs (Tootsie & Luna).

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