By Liezel van der Westhuizen

Most personal branding experts focus their energies on small business owners and entrepreneurs, but everyone was once a new graduate and had to work their way through a permanent job – or several – before heading out on their own. Here’s how to create an outstanding personal brand as a new graduate, and to outshine the competition so you can secure the job you really want.

First up, let’s look at how personal branding for recent graduates differs from that of established business owners or seasoned entrepreneurs. In your favour is a fresh slate in the marketplace. But, even if you feel young and inexperienced, every part-time job, internship or travel experience has made you the awesome young individual you are today. So, be sure to include these enriching experiences when drawing up your CV.


• Differentiate yourself
You may, in fact, be unsure of what a personal brand is – so think of what you’re aiming for and how you differ from the other graduates who have studied exactly what you did. It could be that your value system is superior – you’ll go above and beyond in using your social work degree to draw up an anti-drug campaign for township teens, for example. Or, once settled in a corporate environment as a budding actuary, you’ll encourage colleagues to donate old/unused textbooks to a school without a library. Future employers want to hire staff who have more to give than just filling a seat each day from 9 to 5, so showcase what sets you apart and make sure this message is consistently portrayed across all your online platforms.

• The community needs your help
There are many ways to give back, two of which are mentioned above (anti-drug campaign and school library). I volunteered at the local campus station, TUKS FM, in my student days – starting out by assisting in the admin department. Over and above what I learned during this volunteer work, it eventually led to me working my way up to the role of Music Manager and assisted me in securing my first ever job opportunity – from Virgin Records! You just never know where a community project or volunteering opportunity may lead.

• Unemployment update


A sobering fact from Stats SA is that youth aged 15 to 24 are the most vulnerable group in the labour market, with their rate of unemployment currently sitting at 55.2%. While the national unemployment rate for graduates is much lower at 1.7%, you’ll still want to do everything in your power to make sure you stand out against all the other new graduates. Read more here.

• Manage your online persona, especially LinkedIn
This is the time to assess how professional your various profiles – especially LinkedIn – appear to potential interviewers. If you’re aspiring to take on more modelling work, after enjoying your first shoot with an agency, it’s fine to post an image of you in bikini to your Facebook background. If you’re keen on being hired as a personal assistant – someone with hotshot typing skills and the ability to keep the most heated information confidential – you may, instead, want to hide any images of yourself partying up a storm. Remember: the experts say LinkedIn is the one resource most graduates overlook, because it seems less fun than other platforms… Until they realise how effective it can be! It’s the first place recruiters share job vacancies and it can prove a brilliant way to network with others in your field –thereby showing what you’re made of.

• A good headshot is a winner
Wanting to tick off a checklist that will actively streamline your personal brand into something you can be proud of? Have a look at my blog post on “31 tips for personal branding”, which you can apply over the month of August and beyond. It doesn’t matter if you don’t yet have your own website – rather focus on the overall image you’re portraying out there in cyberspace and ensure that it brings your very best features into the spotlight. And, on that note, if you know a budding photographer, be sure to ask them to snap some headshots of you for use across your most-utilised platforms.

• Showcase your stuff on a blog
Not sure of your best personal features? Think laterally… if you were a prefect at school, chances are you’re confident and can stand up and speak confidently at any event. Worked at a kids’ camp during your overseas stint? You’ll probably get the job in place of another graduate teacher who has not done so; just be sure to mention this on your CV and in that job interview with a school principle. On that note, images of you working on a kids camp, with a bunch of kids looking on and laughing while you entertain them, will work a charm as your Facebook banner if education is your chosen industry. Worked in retail during the varsity holidays? This shows you’re disciplined and have experience in handling trying customers, which puts you ahead of the crowd in a call centre job, for example. Write about what you’re proud of and share the photos!

• Hobbies show character, so promote yours
There is a trend among graduates to move on from their first few job before they’ve really settled in. So it may be an idea to mention in an interview that you’re not a quitter and would prefer to commit to a job for as long as it serves both your future employer and yourself. They’ll probably believe you have staying power if you mention the hockey tournaments you’ve taken part in since junior school, or the fact that you prefer ultramarathons to short sprints around the block. Endurance is a definite perk.

• Work on your speaking skills
In my honours year, our lecturer asked us to present our research findings to the rest of our peers, I remember being too scared to present in front of my fellow students, so I joined my local Toastmasters to practice my speaking skills, build my confidence and help me find my voice.

• Customise CV & cover letters
Each job you take on is another opportunity to hone your skills, add to your knowledge and become a greater asset to the next employer. Despite it being better to stick at a job for a year or two, it’s really okay if one position does not work out; be sure to state the reasons on your CV, such as “it involved three hours of travelling per day”, which most reasonable bosses will understand. And the day before your next interview, go over what you plan to say to a trusted friend; plan what you’re going to wear; and make sure your CV and other documents have been perfectly prepared as per the application instructions. It helps, of course, to gear each application specifically for the job at hand. The PT is always worth the effort!


However, if you’re still trawling through Bizcommunity and other career websites, and mulling over which industry may suit you best, be sure to make use of the extra time at your disposal to attend industry events where you’ll meet reputable professionals. You may be fortunate enough to receive incredible advice for the onward journey – use it to get ahead!