Many military veterans, after service, opt to go to college or university to complete or advance their education. This can prove an excellent decision in cases where advanced education makes you more competitive in the civilian job market.
As a personal branding expert, I offer advice to college and grad students, regardless of whether they served in the military or not. As a veteran, however, you likely are entering school older (and wiser!) than many of the college/university students you will learn alongside.
You are building your personal brand and reputation wherever you are, today and tomorrow. As you pursue school, here are a few important personal branding and reputation management tips to help you develop a career path for after graduation:
Be careful of what you post online
Everything you type into a computer, tablet or smartphone is public. SnapChats, Instagram pics and comments on Facebook are memorialized for everyone -- including your professors, peers, parents and future employers -- to see.
Be careful about the photos you're tagged in, too. Just because you can wear a Speedo bathing suit, doesn't mean you should... Just because you support a particular liquor brand doesn't mean your future boss will love that you advertise it on your t-shirt.
Keep the comments and jokes you make among friends (which an employer might frown upon) in person and not online. What's funny today could be offensive to someone important to you tomorrow.
You are building your brand, your reputation. What others see about you online -- the passions, interests, causes and issues you take up -- reflect on your values and morals. Don't leave it up to interpretation what you stand for and believe in. Be consistent and intentional.
Remember, if you don't want your mother to see it, don't post it online.
Learn from the others
You've been surrounded by professionals your whole life. As you go through these college years, you're becoming an indication of the civilian professional you will be for the rest of your life. Are you serving as a good role model for your peers and those coming behind you?
During schooling, you may engage in internships and community service as you develop your talents, goals and interests. In these roles, you are interacting with people who can teach you great things -- about life, professionalism, vocation and work ethic. Watch them and learn what's working for them: Are they acting a certain way that attracts opportunities and success to them? Do they repel people because they are perceived as hard to get along with? Are they expert at networking and relationship building? Learn from others, and when you find ones that are doing things right, stay in contact with them.
Learn how to network
Become the person other people look up to and admire and who people want to be around. When you can learn the art and skill of effective networking, you can create relationships that will provide you with many things you will need after graduation: You'll have advocates who will advise, guide and coach you into your first, second and third job; you will have information sources who will give you resources and insight that give you a competitive advantage; and you'll have a support network of cheerleaders and advisors who can give you a shoulder to lean on and a pep talk when you need it most.
Build a network of contacts around you who will endorse, refer and vouch for you, even when you question yourself (which you will). Those of us with big networks of contacts started small. We formed relationships with key people and made sure not to take more than we gave. Watch us and learn how networking can become an invaluable asset in your career toolkit.
Portray the image you want
Dress, act and speak the way you want to be perceived. If you seek a reputation as someone who is credible, professional and trustworthy then choose clothes and behavior that support these qualities. If you want to be seen as a creative free spirit, then present yourself creatively in all situations. Others will learn to trust who you are, in part, by the image you portray. If you take care of your image, you show self-respect and confidence in your offer to the world.
Commit to lifelong learning
Your years in college are about learning and exploring. That shouldn't stop after school. The job market is competitive --- in good economic times and in down markets. Keep learning and then learn some more. Learn all you can about your field, your customers and audiences and how you can apply all that knowledge to reinforce the values of your personal brand.
Don't be afraid to ask for help
As professionals in the business community, we're counting on you to bring new ideas, talents and ways of doing things to industry, science, art and media. We need you to be resourceful, independent, talented and confident. But you won't always feel that way... and that's ok. None of us did. When those feelings of doubt hit, ask us for help, guidance and support. We know what that place looks like.
I remember a sign on the door of a facility that provided services to curb child abuse. It read, "Asking for help is a sign of strength." The message was to those parents who felt overwhelmed and didn't know where to turn... so they took it out on their kids instead of reaching out for help.
We're asking you to let us help you. The bravest thing you can do is to identify your weaknesses and reach out for assistance to someone who is knowledgable. This makes you stronger and more powerful than trying to go it alone.
In closing, get clear on what makes you happy, what you'd fight for and what you enjoy. You will be viewed as credible when you can articulate your values and the demonstrate action that is consistent with those values. This will help guide your career choices after college and throughout your post-military life.
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Lida Citroën, a branding expert based in Denver, has made a career of helping people and companies create new or enhanced identities. She is donating her time, expertise and effort to help returning war veterans learn how to compete in a civilian, particularly corporate, career. Lida works closely with Philadelphia-based, Wall Street Warfighters Foundation, is a volunteer member of ESGR, and has produced numerous programs and materials to help military veterans with reputation management after service. If you have a transition question Lida can help answer, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.