Let me ask you a question — when you walk into an interview for a job or an internship, which question do you dread the most? For me, it’s often the very first one. So, how about you tell me a little bit about yourself?
My mind goes blank, and I mechanically spit out some unilluminating facts that could have been gleaned from other application materials: where I’m from, where I went to school, what I studied, my study abroad experiences, why I’m interested in the position, etc.
But honestly, that question makes me flail. It’s unsurprising, considering my personal professional background. For context, let me give you a brief summary. By the time I graduated with my undergraduate degree, I had spent over a decade learning Arabic and had spent summers working in language immersion education programs for youth. I was passionate about world language education, and I thought I wanted to become an Arabic teacher. I knew my elevator pitch; and within months of graduation, I had landed a job as a public school Arabic teacher. But, by the end of that year, I knew that teaching wasn’t for me; and I was left with the lingering, uncomfortable question of: What now?
Suddenly, the story I had been telling about myself didn’t fit anymore. I couldn’t even tell myself about myself, let alone anyone else. But now, having done the research and self-reflection needed to determine that library school is the path for me, I want to be intentional about transforming my professional identity and my personal brand.
Let’s Talk Personal Branding
As Allison Jennings-Roche has previously pointed out, the MLIS degree itself is a “minimum qualification” for many library jobs. Internships, work experiences, publications, and other experiences are all great ways to make yourself stand out. But, more than ever before, the way that you synthesize all of these things into your own personal story is a pivotal part of preparing yourself to be successful.
Enter the concept of personal branding. Much like a product or a corporate brand is designed to communicate company values, history, and story, your personal brand should represent you in a cohesive way.
Whether or not you are currently looking for work or internship opportunities, library school is the perfect time to start crafting your personal brand. One of the ways to do this is to fully take advantage of LinkedIn as a social network and to optimize your profile to align with the story you want to tell about yourself. In LinkedIn Profile Optimization for Dummies, expert Donna Serdula points out that when someone searches for your name online, your LinkedIn page is often one of the top results. That makes it a pretty important page to align with your personal brand. Serdula urges LinkedIn users to avoid just pasting a copy of their resume into their LinkedIn profile. Instead, offer new information, so that if someone looks you up after receiving your resume, they aren’t faced with repetition and disappointment.
You create your LinkedIn profile. You choose what people learn about you. You have total control over how people perceive you.Donna Serdula, LinkedIn Profile Optimization for Dummies, 2nd ed.
For specific tips on how to optimize your social profiles, check out Kerri Milliken’s post here.
Why Personal Branding on Linkedin Matters
It’s no secret that personal branding is an important part of a productive job search. In fact, 85% of hiring managers consider personal brand a factor in their hiring decisions.
But, even if you aren’t looking for work, building your personal brand on LinkedIn is a good thing to be doing. Despite its reputation as a tool for job seekers, LinkedIn is also a content hub. LinkedIn can help you to build a reputation, to follow thought leaders, and to build the ever-important personal learning network.
Read widely and build your personal learning network. Read books, trends reports, research articles, RSS feeds and become engaged in professional social networks to understand various perspectives, insights, ideas and knowledge. And never stop learning!Sandra Hirsh, former Director, San José State University iSchool
LinkedIn is the place where you can find, share, and engage with content related to your professional areas of interest. It’s worth noting that each post one publishes on LinkedIn can be expected to reach about 20% of one’s network, which is a much higher percentage than other social media sites. Consider sharing some thoughts or articles that align with the personal brand you’ve created for yourself. The benefits of using LinkedIn like this are manifold; not only do you stay up-to-date on relevant news and trends, but as you engage with others’ content, they will be more likely to check out your profile, which helps you to network.
In the 2020 world of work-from-home. virtual education, and online webinars, conferences, and meetings, now is a good time to make sure your online professional presence is working for you. As you continue as a student, a librarian, an information professional, a freelancer, or whatever it is that your path lead you towards, these connections will serve you well.
Personal Branding Isn’t Just for Established Pros
For many students and new professionals, plans for personal branding and Linkedin profile makeovers can be stymied by the nagging feeling of not being ready or established enough to curate a public, online, professional persona. Let me reassure you — you don’t need to be an established professional with years of experience to create a personal brand. Here’s why:
- Increasingly, people are choosing to focus more on future goals and aspirations on their LinkedIn profiles as opposed to centering past achievements and experiences. When crafting your page, focus on your values and your goals and don’t stress about a lack of experience.
- Because your personal brand should represent your authentic self, it should evolve as you do. No one expects you to be the same person forever. Both you and the LIS fields are constantly evolving and changing. Make sure to be thoughtful about identifying your values and goals and work them into a dynamic personal brand.
The key to an authentic personal brand is one of evolution. Transforming your brand to fit who you are at each life stage is the key to full acceptance.Susan Chritton, Career, Personal Branding, and Executive Coach
I want to hear from you
Have you thought about personal branding as a student? Do you think it is an important thing for library school students to be thinking about? How do you use LinkedIn and do you find it valuable as a student? What is your least favorite interview question? Let me know in the comments — I’d love to hear what you have to say.
Caroline Hron Weigle is a first-year student in Wayne State University’s online MLIS program. You can find her on twitter at @hronweigle. Connect with her on Linkedin here or check out her personal library school blog.