Sydney McKinley: Don’t be consumed by personal branding

Seniors, for many of us, the time has come: The job hunt is live.

Tomorrow, GW will hold its massive Fall 2014 Career & Internship Fair, which traditionally brings in over 100 company representatives for the perusing pleasure of students and alumni.

While it’s undoubtedly comforting to have the support of Career Services during this stressful time, we must be careful which advice we accept – namely, University-promoted tips for personal branding.

In this world of self-branding, we are constantly on trial for a job we haven’t even applied for yet. Career Services encourages us to update our LinkedIn profiles, maintain our Twitter accounts, and create websites that include our résumés and portfolios of our work, all to impress employers.

Career Services features resources on its Pinterest page for personal branding, which recommend you add milestones to your timeline on Facebook “that further enhance your image,” like details about job changes or promotions. It also recommends you use Klout – the web service that scores people on how influential they are – to “gauge the effectiveness of your online branding and social media efforts.”

It’s important that we as students are critical consumers of this training and are thoughtful about ways this mentality could become draining.

While branding makes sense for products, it can be detrimental when applied to human beings. Humans are not objects to be packaged and sold. We are multidimensional, emotional and complex, and the pressure to condense one’s self into a brand is neither healthy nor natural – in fact, it can be psychologically taxing in some ways.

Personally, I have found it incredibly difficult to encapsulate the many elements of my personality into a marketable brand. We all act differently in different situations.

One could argue that Career Services is simply doing its job by keeping up with trends. The proponents of self-branding argue that these tactics help applicants highlight their skills and stand out.

But the push to brand forces us to consolidate these various identities in a way that the résumé, cover letter and interview never have. This can be confusing to navigate for younger students, as well as seniors like myself who have branded ourselves during every job and internship application season for the past three years.

This pressure to consolidate arises from the increased prominence of social media in the branding process. With our nonstop connection to the online world, “building your brand” becomes a part of your everyday life in a way that editing your résumé or writing a cover letter does not.

The way this process can consume us is particularly dangerous because branding is more concerned with presentation than content. It is a process that sends the message that job success will result from better self-packaging, rather than self-improvement.

While sitting in some of my most interesting lectures, I have watched students update their LinkedIn pages or post articles to their “professional” Twitter accounts instead of paying attention.

We must be careful to not let the pressure to self-brand detract from the other important work we can do as college students. This could mean studying, volunteering, writing, exercising or socializing with friends. Rather than worrying about packaging ourselves, we should focus on engaging in activities that will make us appealing to employers in a more substantive way.

Stop by during drop-in hours at Career Services to polish that résumé and cover letter. Ask your professors to help you edit your writing samples. Find a mentor in your field and develop that relationship.

Don’t allow a trend to take up too much of your day-to-day thinking. By not stressing about branding ourselves, we have more time to actually grow as people.

Sydney McKinley, a senior majoring in political science and sociology, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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