When considering your future, think of yourself as a product. You are trying to sell your expertise and skills to companies. Or you are selling your academic talent to a university. It will be harder to convince someone to buy a product when its packaging is haphazard and sloppy. It is the same with yourself – maintaining a professional image is key.
Things to consider
- What you wear – Maintaining a smart appearance is not only useful in creating a good first impression, but can also boost your confidence. More details can be found in the ‘Interview’ section, but try to stay presentable as often as possible in case an opportunity arises for you to meet someone to add to your contacts (see the ‘Networking’ section).
- Your body language – Even if you are shaking from nerves, try to disguise it. Everyone gets nervous about tasks they need to do from time to time, whether it is giving a speech in front of 500 people or speaking to your boss one-to-one. Giving the appearance of confidence is more important than actually being confident. If you are meeting a professional or tutor for the first time then give them a confident handshake and smile. Try not to play with your hair or bite your nails (or any other nervous habits).
- Your speech – Try to keep your voice calm and controlled and don’t accidentally interrupt or talk over anyone else (this can be easily done when you are nervous, but is important not to do this in order to maintain your professional image).
- Email Addresses – It is extremely important to have a professional email address. In this day and age where electronic communication is the norm, often the first interaction potentially employers will have with you is via email. Email addresses such as ‘crazychick@…’ and ‘iamgod@…’ (both real life examples…) are fine for your personal life, but inappropriate for anything professional. Make a good impression. Create a separate professional email account if necessary. Something simple like ‘firstname.surname@…’ or a variation of this is best.
When is this relevant?
- Online – You are the generation that saw the emergence of social media. Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn can be very useful for keeping in touch with friends, family, and professional contacts. However, be aware that these are very public sites. Therefore, anything that you have written or any photos that you have posted can be accessed by people that you have never met. Although the privacy settings on Facebook can restrict the number of people who can see your profile, Twitter and LinkedIn are much more public. So, think carefully about what you want to put on there – do you really want to put a photo on Twitter of you and your friends doing something potentially offensive? Employers are now using social media to browse the lives of interviewees so think about whether a post may come back to haunt you before you put it on there!
- Career events – The careers service at your school or university will invite representatives from various occupations to come and speak to you at events. This might be an opportunity to build up some contacts. Therefore, make sure that you look and feel the part when you meet with, and talk to, these professionals.
- Open days – Career open days reflect another opportunity for you to show off your professional image. Just like at career events, you will have the opportunity to talk to professionals within a specific career sector so make sure that you look and feel confident.
Maintaining a professional image is just a small way in which you can improve your prospects of building a network or securing a job. Just remember that you may meet potential contacts or employers at any time so always be polite and confident and try to dress in an appropriate way for important events.