Updated: Jul 21
It wasn’t supposed to be a career advice session, but it turned into one. As a senior communications strategist at my company, I was asked to give a presentation about the role of communications in the defense sector to our STEM interns. By the end of the presentation, the questions quickly turned from industry to their personal promotion: the students desperately wanted to know how they should be presenting themselves while job hunting.
For over an hour, I shared stories from my early career days, including some unconventional career advice. Interestingly, these students from highly technical majors were concerned about their non-technical skills. Specifically, they were eager to know how to do their own PR like a pro. They wanted to know how to put their best foot forward, from networking with recruiters to interviewing for jobs and even creating an attractive online presence.
Let it be noted that this sizable group of students were from a variety of top schools and none of them had received this guidance from their educational institutions. According to VitaNavis, there is a major discrepancy between educators and employers when it comes to college students and career readiness: 92 percent of educators believe college graduates are prepared for the workforce, but only 11 percent of employers believe this is so.
Why the discrepancy? The missing link is soft skills, with an emphasis on good communication, empathy, and presentation. In fact, 72 percent of employers in the poll said that soft skills are just as important as technical skills. In a survey published by the American Association of Colleges and Universities (ACC&U), more than half of employers emphasized mindsets and attitudes as “very important,” including demonstrating a strong work ethic (65 percent) and self-confidence (63 percent).
Job hunting takes tenacity and confidence. It also takes a certain amount of skill to present yourself as a prize to future employers. As we advance in our careers over the years, we quickly forget how overwhelming it was to first step foot into the marketplace. As someone who vividly remembers what it was like to graduate from school and then get thrown directly into a hectic field, I’ve held on to those little PR “tricks” that led to my first promising jobs, which I’d like to share below:
1. Turn yourself into a brand. Since most employers are likely to google you before making an offer, you want to create an online presence that boasts savvy and displays your skills. With this in mind, I recommended to the students that in addition to thoroughly filling out their LinkedIn profiles and including a clear, professional headshot, they should consider setting up an online portfolio of school projects or impressive extracurriculars. According to the ACC&U survey, an increasing number of employers find ePortfolios “very helpful” in evaluating a potential candidate’s abilities, as opposed to academic transcripts alone.
Taking the branding concept one step further, pick a color palette (Canva has some great tips for getting started here) and use it consistently across your portfolio pages. You can then apply the same look and feel to your business cards (you can use templates, like from Vistaprint), which should include your name, area of interest, contact information, and links to your portfolio and LinkedIn profile. At your next networking event, hand out those business cards and you’ll look like a pro.
2. Prepare for a job interview as if it’s a media engagement. Many people who are about to appear in the media will hire a professional to provide them with media training. Training before the appearance includes anticipating and writing down every potential question that may be asked, along with your answers—in concise, polished soundbites. For the actual appearance, it’s advised to wear tasteful, non-distracting clothing that subtly communicate your brand.
Same goes for the job interview! Job interviews can be nerve wracking, even for the more seasoned professional. But if you show up well-prepped, you’re more likely to perform well, even if you’re still feeling a bit anxious on the inside.
3. Fake it ‘til you make it. I’m talking about confidence. When one of the interns told me that she was lacking in confidence, my response to her was who cares? You don’t need to actually have it to fake it well. As if you were preparing for a media appearance, stand up tall, smile, and shake hands heartily. Speak with enthusiasm—even if it feels fake—when discussing a school project or the program you volunteered for during your studies. Acting with confidence inspires confidence in others, and before you know it, you’ll start to believe it, too.
Remember: Just as you’re eager to nail that great job, employers are eager to fill their positions with talented, capable people. So, get out there and show the world your worth, because you’re probably more valuable than you think.
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About Jessica Lauren Walton: Jessica is a communications strategist, video producer, and writer in the U.S. defense sector. She has written articles on a range of security and mental health topics and conducted interviews with military leadership, CIA officers, law enforcement, psychologists, filmmakers, and more. Jessica recently completed her memoir about her experience as an American woman struggling with mental illness while trying to get into Israeli intelligence.
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