Shine Bright: How to Stand Out at Job Fairs, Networking Events, and More

Lakeisha MathewsLakeisha M. Mathews, Director, Career and Professional Development Center, University of Baltimore
Twitter: @RightResumes_CC
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/lakeishamathews/

Pop singer Rihanna’s 2012 song titled “Diamonds” topped the charts in more than 20 countries and became her 12th number-one single going quadruple platinum and selling more than 7.5 million copies worldwide. The song is about a couple’s love that is so strong it shines bright as a diamond. The chorus is my favorite part, where the singer chants: “Shine bright like a diamond…You’re a shooting star I see…So shine bright…We’re beautiful like diamonds in the sky.”

It’s not the song’s love story that strikes me the most, but the vivid imagery of two people being able to stand out amongst a crowd. To me, there is a correlation between standing out in a crowd and successful participation in networking events such as job fairs. Knowing how you stand out and shine in a crowd is relevant for students looking for work, launching careers, and seeking to build professional brands in today’s chaotic and competitive workplace. Professional brands are built on the ability to determine what separates you from another job seeker. Instead of teaching our students to look, act and sound like every other job seeker, we must teach them to shine and stand out from others.

We have all heard the 55/38/7 rule which asserts that success is based 55 percent on what you look like, 38  percent on what you sound like, and 7 percent on what you say. Oftentimes, students attend job fairs and networking events but leave without having established new connections or serious job prospects, not because they weren’t prepared, but because they didn’t stand out. When asked why they failed to broaden their network, students usually place the blame on the employer—saying the employer was not really looking to hire anyone. I turn the table, placing the responsibility with the student, because it’s no longer the early bird that gets the worm, but the bird that shows up and shines bright!

Building a professional brand that shines and stands out at networking events starts with developing a strong self-concept. That is, understanding your strengths, interests, skills, and talents, which all combine to shape your professional brand. This is a challenge for most young adults and even some career changers. To help students of all ages and backgrounds develop a strong awareness of their brand and identify their value factors—areas they shine in—I use the 55/38/7 rule:

What I Look Like (Physical – 55 percent):
- Wearing appropriate and professional attire
- Ensuring a stylish polished look
- Understanding your best features and how to enhance them

What I Sound Like (Verbal & Nonverbal – 38 percent):
- Strong public speaking skills – confidence, clarity, conviction
- Positive nonverbals – handshake, eye contact, good posture, and a smile

What I Say (Content – 7 percent):
- Captivating professional pitch
- Ability to articulate what you have to offer
- Thorough knowledge of the company and/or industry

It’s important to note that as career professionals, we probably spend more time working with a student on what they say and less on what they look like and how they speak, both of which carry weight in the employment process. Successful professionals and those who rise to the top of their company or industry are noticed first for how they look and sound before anyone cares to hear what they have to say. Challenging students to work on all three areas of their professional brand will help them develop an authentic professional brand that shines bright in the labor market.

Read more from Lakeisha Mathews.

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