There you are. Graduation day with your masters degree in hand. Basking in the profound sense of accomplishment that reflects the culmination of your graduate program. Congratulations on a job well done!
With my online master’s degree in communication in hand, now what?
That is the question I so often hear from recent graduates who want to leverage their masters degrees and catapult their careers to the next level. Of course, you will want to update your résumé and/or CV, obtain letters of recommendation from your Purdue professors and conduct a social media blitz announcing your academic achievement. But there are other strategies you must consider if you really want to begin differentiating your personal brand and positioning yourself in the “expert” category.
- Invest in visuals. You will need (a) a professional business headshot and (b) several “editorial-style” photographs that show you in action. These types of photos are very compelling; they should showcase you doing what you do best (e.g. consulting with a client, facilitating a workshop, mentoring a fellow employee, designing a website, hosting a corporate event or being interviewed on TV). Communication today is highly visual, so tell your story by effectively incorporating photos (and video) into your personal website, LinkedIn profile, and Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages. Consider adding your headshot photo to your business card – it will make remembering you and your message much easier for your contacts. You might even consider an electronic or video business card that provides the opportunity to actually tell your story and link users to your web page.
- Work your net. Comb through your lists of contacts and identify those who can be most helpful to you as you explore new careers, jobs and opportunities around the communication field. Ask these individuals for leads and introductions to others in their own networks. Don’t be shy about inviting new and established contacts to coffee or lunch. Better still, remember this fundamental tenet of professional business development: “The best networking is done at home.” If you have the opportunity to host dinner parties, mix-and-mingle get-togethers, brunches or other small events at your home, this is a sophisticated and highly effective way to establish meaningful relationships.
- Be thoughtful. If you come across an article, link, book, video, white paper or other resource that you know will be of interest to your contacts, be sure to send it to them, along with a personal note letting them know you were thinking of them. And, when others do something nice for you, always send handwritten thank you notes on high-quality stationery. This seemingly small gesture conveys volumes about your manners, professionalism and attention to detail.
- Put yourself out there. Armed with your Communication masters degree, you will be well-qualified to post blogs, vlogs, news articles, white papers, opinion pieces, case studies, scholarly research and other materials demonstrating your proficiency as a communications scholar-practitioner. Market yourself as a guest speaker to professional associations, business groups, chambers of commerce, talk radio stations and colleges/universities. If your public speaking prowess needs a bit of polish, contact your local Toastmasters chapter and get involved. These groups are also excellent for networking!
- Show off your leadership skills. One of the most effective career-boosting tactics I recommend to my own career counseling clients is the “spearhead” approach. This involves joining various professional groups, boards and committees and then offering to spearhead a particular project or initiative. By placing yourself in this highly visible position, you essentially require key contacts to get to know you. More important, they will get to see you in action, demonstrating your leadership, communication and project management talents. When these individuals (or their associates) have positions they’re looking to fill, your name will be at the top of the list.
- Remember that image is everything. From your clothing to the pen you carry, everything about you reflects your personal brand. If you have not clearly defined your personal brand and what makes you special and unique, it’s imperative that you complete this exercise before you embark on any self-marketing campaign. Some key questions you’ll need to consider:
- Who is my target audience?
- What do I want this audience to think about me?
- How do I want to be perceived?
- Who is my competition?
- How am I different from my competition?
- How can I communicate these differentiators?
Certainly, your masters program will have prepared you well to answer these questions – and to devise a suitable brand strategy for yourself. Brand differentiation is absolutely critical today because the job market is so intensely competitive. Instead of branding yourself like everyone else, consider an innovative persona that will pique the interest of potential employers and clients. If you’re really serious about your personal brand, you might want to engage the services of a reputable image consultant. Visit the AICI website for more information.
Finally, don’t forget that the best opportunities often go to those who are well-connected. Making the effort to develop meaningful, long-lasting relationships is the key to leveraging your masters degree. And, as you remember from your classes, it’s also the fundamental purpose of strategic communications. So do be sure to use your knowledge to launch your career to the next level – and beyond.
Debra Davenport Ph.D. is a member of the online faculty of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.