Students: You finished spring classes. Now what?

You made it. You survived weeks 10-16 of your spring semester 2020 with all of your classes delivered online. You miss your friends, your activities, your old life. Maybe you lost a job or your internship has been canceled and now you feel stuck and directionless. First I want to validate how you are feeling. This sucks. All of it. You should take a few days – even a week – and re-set, breathe, get outside. Most of us are still in Phase 1 of Governor Inslee’s re-open the economy plan. That means many cannot get back to work for awhile and now you don’t have classes to distract you (or at least not as many classes for those in summer session). So now what?

For my Type A’s – this will be a well-received post because you like to plan ahead and keep busy. Others may have more of an “ugh. shhhhhhhhhhhh” response and prefer to sit outside with your dog listening to a true-crime podcast while scrolling through your favorite subreddit, and working on your tan. Fair enough. I feel your pain. But – we could make a deal. What if you spent 1-2 hours/day over the next six weeks gearing up for the inevitable Phase 2 and 3 and prepare yourself for the next chapter of life BEFORE it becomes critical and chaotic? That way, by the 4th of July you will have a few things ready to go that you don’t have today. You will be ahead of most of your peers who are all in the same situation. You will have a leg up and it will no doubt pay off.

Work with me. I promise to not lead you astray.

Below are 5 WAYS you can begin this process of moving forward right now. I want to keep this simple. In future posts, I will outline more lengthy instructions and provide samples and resources. For now, my goal is for you to TAKE ACTION NOW so these are intentionally low impact and low-risk – things you can do immediately and on your own.

  • 1) Create a personal visual identity.

    A personal brand visual identity is a great way to establish visual consistency across your owned digital channels including social media and online portfolio with the creation of a personal icon/logo (favicon) plus identifying fonts and colors that represent your personality, tone, and desired professional approach. You can create a “personal brand mood board” or keep it simple by creating a logo using a free web-based tool like Canva. The logo you create can then be incorporated into your resume, online portfolio, and social profiles. >> Here is an article about how to create a mood board in Canva. Here is an article on creating logos in Canva as well.

  • 2) Update your resumé and make it pretty.

    So what do I mean by “pretty resumé?” Basically, I just encourage you to freshen up your standard resume and add some style, personal brand, and flare. These are not ideal for resumé readers when you apply for jobs and internships — but they are great to use when you print it out, add it to your LinkedIn profile as an image file, or showcase it on your online portfolio (pdf or image file). It should be 1-2 pages and be visually in-line with your newly created personal brand. The use of icons, photos, etc. is optional.

    To get started, adapt your existing resume to a stylized format using a template in Canva (search for “resume” to see all free template) or another design tool such as Adobe Photoshop or InDesign, or even templates you can find in Microsoft Word, Etsy (paid templates), and other sources. A general outline includes Profile (or Overview or About Me), Contact info (no home address!), Education (or Academic History or Academic Background), Skills (or Areas of Emphasis or Core Competencies), Professional Experience, Education, Awards (or Achievements), Languages (if applicable), Interests.

  • 3) Update (or create) your LinkedIn profile.

    According to Kinsta (2020), LinkedIn has more than 575 million users with more than 260 million monthly active users. More than 20 million companies are listed on the site and there are more than 14 million open jobs. 90% of recruiters regularly use LinkedIn. A study found that 122 million people received an interview through LinkedIn. So – if you don’t have a profile – it is time to set one up. Or – if you have an account – terrific! Let’s make sure you are maximizing your exposure and setting yourself up for success.

    Here is a table I created for students that summarizes basic profile content:

    Download [pdf]

    Additional tips & resources:

    1) Visit LifeHacker’s LinkedIn Cheat Sheet for additional guidelines on how to outreach for LinkedIn recommendations, view hidden LinkedIn features, and updating your privacy settings.

    2) Be sure to customize your public profile URL to remove the numbers. Here is a LinkedIn how-to for instructions on how to set that up.

    3) Upload a custom cover image (1536px x 768px).

    4) When you want to connect with someone on LinkedIn – ALWAYS personalize the message so you can introduce yourself and provide context for the request.

    Anna Centrella-Thayer is a Murrow College graduate in TV broadcasting and organizational leadership. She is also an Advisory Board Member and Director of Sales Development at Checkr, Inc. This spring she led two LinkedIn workshops and graciously offered to share her slides with students [review her slides – pdf]. You can also view a recording of her April workshop on YouTube:

  • 4) Check and update your social media presence.

    “Whether you know it or not, you have a personal brand that you’re known for, so it’s up to you to decide what your brand is and how it will help you stand out from the crowd.” – Melissa Llarena, Huffington Post

    Your job in personal branding is to create the “story of you” – where you are today, and what you hope to become in the future. When creating your personal brand profile, be articulate and intentional – know how you want to position yourself personally and professionally – speak of yourself as you want others to speak of you. The goal of this activity is to “help you find meaningful answers to four education and career/life planning inquiry questions: Who am I? What are my opportunities? Who do I want to become? What is my plan for achieving my goals?” (Skills Passport, n.d.)

    So I have an assignment I call the “mini digital footprint audit” that draws from a Skills Passport “building your brand” resource. It is a great exercise to 1) reflect on your personal brand as it stands today, 2) run a mini audit on your digital channels (Google your name, audit your social media activity), 3) do damage control, 4) improve your first impression, and 5) adjust your privacy settings.

  • 5) Register for a free industry-sponsored workshop or webinar.

    One of the outcomes of #COVID19 is that tons of industry-based associations, universities, clubs, and publications are hosting FREE virtual webinars and workshops. Believe me – these are NOT normally free. They are in fact spendy and time-consuming. So please use this opportunity to take advantage of access to these amazing resources.

    The list of opportunities is pretty endless so I am only going to highlight a few here. If you want to search within a specific industry, use keywords and Google search to see what comes up. Check out the websites and social channels of professional associations in your industry as a good starting point. Here are a few to get you started:

    • “We Are Next is an open resource built for students and jr. talent in advertising and marketing. It gathers advice, insight, and tools from all over the industry, making them accessible to everyone while making diverse voices the norm.” They offer free Virtual Recruiter Roundtables (recordings), coffee at a distance, and insights and advice on hiring situations. >> Learn more
    • LinkedIn Learning offers more than 16,000 free and paid courses that are indexed as “top picks” for you based on your profile. You can take advantage of a free one-month trial. >> Learn more
    • Add to your competitive edge and marketability with micro-certifications like Google Analytics. Get certified for free by completing Google Analytics for Beginners and Advanced Google Analytics. >> Learn more about getting certified once you have completed the courses.
    • The PR Council is offering a FREE 8-week Agency-Ready Certificate program starting early June. Requires participation in webinars in client service, writing, social media strategy, crisis comm. etc. >> Learn more
    • The Ad Club at Virginia Commonwealth University has created a free eight-week virtual summer camp June 1 – July 31 that offers students and recent graduates hands-on experience in the field of advertising during the COVID-19 pandemic. >> Learn more

So I gave you several things to work with. Even if you just did one task per week over the next 5-6 weeks, you would be well on your way to self-advocacy and progress. Don’t overthink it. Just do it! You got this!

#KeepGoing #KeepGrowing

This post is part of Rebecca L. Cooney’s Professional Pathways – Never Stop Learning series. Check out more posts in the Professional Pathways category.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rebecca Cooney is a Clinical Associate Professor of Strategic Communication and Director of Murrow Online Programs at The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She is also a Research Associate for the Center of Excellence for Natural Product-Drug Interaction Research. Rebecca has more than 26 years of professional experience. Her core areas of expertise include user experience design, integrated communication, brand strategy, and digital communications. She holds a BA in organizational communications and MS in communications and is the recipient of the 2019 Oaks Award for innovation in teaching, 2015 Scripps Howard Visiting Professor in Social Media, and 2014 Plank Center Educator Fellow awards.

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