When John T. Molloy’s book, Dress for Success, was published in 1975, it changed a lot of people’s perceptions about how to prepare for the workplace. The bestseller established the concept of ‘power dressing;’ that you are what you wear, and how that might influence the way others might perceive you. Today, those kinds of ideas are just a small part of the much bigger picture of personal branding, a term referring to not just corporations and what they sell, but how individuals themselves are perceived. And developing that sense of personal branding is becoming a lot more crucial for a group of people who are going out into the world of work for the first time: today’s job seekers of the Millennial generation.
“Personal branding is not about being somebody else, it’s about being yourself,” explains Joan Kuhl, President and Founder of Why Millennials Matter, adding, “it’s about being your best self.” It’s a philosophy she’s advocating in a pilot program of eight schools with Barnes & Noble College as part of a Jump Start Your Career Now program, garnering national followers on Twitter through the #CareerNow hashtag. Talking perhaps less about dressing and more about how students can develop their personal brands through networking and organizing to achieve their career goals, Kuhl is enthusiastic about taking the program to the front lines of Millennial job seekers. “There’s so much information available to students on the internet, but instead of naming a million different resources, what I hope to do is help simplify a very overwhelming process by providing a more navigable road map to spark their own confidence,” she says.
That commitment was very evident at Baruch College, an institution known for its business programs, and the first stop on the Jump Start Your Career Now roadshow. “Our event attracted a wide cross-section of the students here — from freshmen to seniors,” explains Barnes & Noble Regional Manager, Angelina Carvalhal. Held in the campus bookstore, the event was deliberately designed as a relaxed and intimate session to actively encourage a fully interactive discussion. “The environment enabled the students to really be themselves among their peers and to provide their different perspectives on developing their personal brands to help their career development,” Carvalhal notes, adding that very often, even the younger students have career ambitions, but little idea about how to achieve them.
Those kinds of observations are endorsed by the recent Barnes & Noble College research, The College Student Mindset – For Career Preparation & Success, a study the company co-authored with Kuhl, where it was revealed that while 90 percent of students considered attributes like good communication skills as essential to their career goals, few recognized it as a skill they actually possessed or understood.
The Jump Start Your Career Now workshop at Baruch College sought to help with those kinds of issues, and wasn’t dependent only on theory. Elissa Marcus, Manager, Talent Acquisition for Barnes & Noble College, also attended the program and offered a recruiter’s perspective of how the student’s resume might better reflect their individual brand and be a more viable tool in their career success. “I don’t think the students were really expecting that level of hands-on support or the opportunities to ask questions and learn from each other — and I know that part of the session was really appreciated,” Carvahal says.
If students are desperately looking for career mentoring and advice, it couldn’t have been more apparent than in an hour-long Twitter event Joan Kuhl co-hosted with Barnes & Noble College to kick off the Jump Start Your Career Now roadshow. Using the #CareerNow hashtag, Kuhl fielded a variety of different questions ranging from how important it might be to earn a Master’s Degree, to advice on studying abroad and tips on resume writing. It underscored the need for the work Kuhl and Barnes & Noble College are doing to help support, and be a stronger resource for, students and colleges.
College is where many of the answers and resources those students are seeking might be found. “My college enabled me to meet some amazing mentors, so if I can reach students and increase their awareness around innovative resources that can help them develop their brand on campus and hone their career goals, that’s a big part of my purpose,” says Kuhl. “I want to empower them to achieve their goals, but prepare them for the hard work ahead.” It’s hardly surprising that the current generation of Millennial students are taking notice.