How to develop the right professional image to build your graduate career

Jun 26, 2017

You have a professional image. We all do. But if you don’t manage it well, it could develop into a monster and damage your graduate career.

The professional image you project can either open or close doors to your graduate career. Leaving it to chance is like neglecting your personal appearance. Just think, what would you look like if you never washed, cleaned your teeth or brushed your hair every day? Not very nice. Well, your personal image is much the same. It needs to be carefully cultivated if you want to give off the right impression to build your graduate career.

I’m guessing that you’d rather not turn up at an interview looking like an unkempt monster but would prefer to influence the way employers see you for the better, so here’s some advice to help you to project a professional image.

How do you want to be seen?

First off, think about how you want employers to see you. As a creative person, an enthusiastic go-getter, a decisive leader; a person who takes well-calculated risks, is courageous and adventurous? Perhaps as a person who oozes calm, confidence and carefulness? Of course, you will have a hard time trying to project an image that’s totally at odds with your core personality so think about what your natural strengths are, the things that tend to attract people to you – and then enhance and add to these.

Who do you want to emulate?

We often admire qualities in other people and adopt them as our own. Sometimes we do this without realising it. Perhaps you admire Nelson Mandela’s style of leadership, Steve Job’s inventiveness, Lord Alan Sugar’s straightforwardness, Gordon Ramsey’s eccentric creativity or Bill Gates for his philanthropy work. You may even admire a person for a quality without really liking them at all! Sometimes we admire others for quite odd things. Recently I heard a man give a tribute to his late uncle who he admired for not just being a hard-worker and also a left-hander! Think about the qualities you admire in other people and how you can emulate these.

What image do you conjure up as a communicator?

Work on the image you project as a communicator. How do you come across when you speak? Do you stumble over your words or can you explain yourself clearly? Do people see you as a good listener? A great and practical way to help yourself develop a positive communication style is to record yourself speaking naturally. This might be during a presentation, speech or conversation (with the permission of others involved, of course!). Recording yourself will help you judge how you sound – are you loud, do you talk too fast, is your voice boring and monotone, do you have a stuffy nasal tone or high pitch, and is your speech peppered with loads of erm’s, ah’s, um’s and y’knows? You’ll soon know when you listen back!

Is your body language hindering your graduate career?

Body language plays a huge role in the image we give off. In fact, it says so much more than what we say with words. Could your body language be sabotaging your graduate career? Do you stoop and slouch, sit awkwardly or walk with a slow, hesitant gait? Perhaps you have a perpetual look of worry, sadness or anger. These may make you seem lacking in confidence – or make people run as far away from you as possible! Posture says a lot about you without you uttering a word so always stand tall, strong and project an air of confidence. Doesn’t matter if you don’t feel it: practise and you will.

Watch what you post on social media

What you project on social media matters. Gone are the days when our personal and public lives were less visible. Nowadays a potential employer can easily find out things about you that might jeopardise the nice professional image you cultivate at work, and without even trying much either. You may just pop up in his or her feed. So make sure your name is associated with ethical and honest behaviour consistent with what you project at work. Don’t criticise colleagues or even friends or post anything about a person you would not want said about you. The way you treat and interact with other people says a lot about you. If you’re always caught up in the middle of controversy or hear-say then your boss might come to the conclusion that you’re the common dominator! Instead, use your social media to promote your positive image as an ambitious, competent, trustworthy and respectable person.

Quick-wins for building a positive professional image

Finally, here are a few overall good qualities you can work on to help you cultivate the kind of professional image that will help you get far in your graduate career:

1. Friendliness – don’t wait for others to talk to you, say hello first.
2. Smile – not Cheshire-cat type of grinning, but a warm smile that makes you appear approachable and trustworthy.
3. Eye contact – especially while speaking or listening shows that you’re interested in the other person.
4. Names – use a person’s name when addressing them and they will give you their full attention.
5. Do your homework – on people, especially when going to an interview or meeting a person for the first time.

I hope you will find the advice shared here on how to cultivate a professional image to build your graduate career useful. Start simple, keep working on it and soon you will have a set of admirable qualities that will make others want to be just like you.

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