Be More Than Your Diploma: Why Self-Branding Is Crucial To Standing Out In The Job Market

Imagine that you are applying for a job. You create a standard resume for yourself. After submitting that resume, you are told to wait patiently for a response because they are overwhelmed by the amount of applicants they have received. That sounds reasonable, but you then find out that the number of applicants is 1,606,000 -- and that number doesn’t even include all of last year's applicants that the company wasn’t able to get around to.

One-million six-hundred and six-thousand is the forecasted number for US college students graduating with a BA in 2014. And the hypothetical scenario above is how I believe a college degree positions students in the job market. That's one and a half million students all having learned relatively the same material and counting on the same credential to get them a job: their college educations.

There are many reasons we attend college. I believe that the most common reason is the fear that we won't get a good job if we don’t. We have been raised to believe that a college education makes you stand out to employers -- that it makes you unique. However, the hard truth is that graduating from college only makes you as unique as the students sitting with you at commencement, which distinguishes you no differently than any of the other 8.5” by 11” pieces of paper in that 1,606,000 sheet tall resume stack.

As much as I hate to acknowledge it, a college degree is the key to many of the most highly regarded social and professional opportunities. It is not the only key, but it is the least risky one to pursue. However, your diploma becomes less and less valuable as more and more people earn theirs. And this is why I believe that non-academic engagement and self-branding have become more important for young people than ever before.

There are two types of people that I know who don’t really need resumes, but instead only business cards. The first type could easily fit their name, school, GPA and contact information on a 2” x 3.5” card -- because that is all that they have done. Any more detail than that would be fluff and fodder. The second type doesn’t need a resume because their business card is for their own business, which differentiates them from everyone else who has become commoditized.

Now, I’m not saying that you need to start your own business -- nor am I discouraging it. However, what is important is that you (a potential or current college student) understand that college does not get you to where you want to be in life any more. You get yourself there. College has merely become a box on a list that is in your best interest to check off.

Internships, mentorships, jobs, clubs, sports, traveling, projects, startups, art, service work, community evolvement, writing, hobbies, etc… What actually distinguishes you is everything else you engage in that is non-curricular. Over my last four years in college, the most commonly voiced concern I’ve heard from peers is that they fear a company will look at them as a number instead of a person. And the only honest response to that fear is: “Yes! They will… if you only give them a number to look at.”

I’m not writing this to justify my own behavior. My aversion to academic focus was not part of a self-branding or differentiation plan. It was simply because I chose to pursue my own interests instead. However, with my current perspective, I can honestly say that I would have focused much less on school if I were back at day one. And, instead, I would have focused much more on this “real world” we all hear about.

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