The Best Gift for College Graduates: Personal Branding Advice
Written by Peggy Noe Stevens
As my son nears his high school graduation, I am reminded of the feelings of excitement and anticipation I had as a teenager for the next chapter of college life.
When I graduated from college I was eager to break out into the world with my degree in tow and land that incredible paying job with a big title. My most treasured gift was a grey leather portfolio with a monogrammed silver plaque that my parents gave to me. It was the real deal—a professional piece (my first) that I planned to carry to every interview.
Inside was a blank pad of legal paper, ready for me to write down my first brilliant idea. Looking back, I wish it could have been filled with advice, a road map of sorts that would have prepared me for the relationships, conflicts, time management, work-life balance, employee reviews, interviews, travel tips, etc., which you must literally learn about through experience.
When we graduate, we walk out the door with an education that reflects our degree. A first job will more than likely also offer on the job training to fit a company’s needs. However, it’s the other side of the fence—the ‘soft skills’ needed to manage the day-to-day communication and business etiquette that is essential for professional presence and moving forward successfully—that I wish I would have been given to me on that pad of paper.
Professional presence is difficult to describe, but you sure know when you see it. If you were to assess your professional presence now, where would you start?
At Peggy Noe Stevens and Associates we believe a great place to start is to eat the elephant one bite at a time and assess four areas – the P4’s of Personal branding: Personal, Professional, Protocol and People. Each category is a platform from which you evaluate and gauge your level of knowledge to build your professional brand/image.
· Overall image of dress – What is the snap shot impression that you make with your overall appearance and dress? Do you look the part for the interview? Have you matched your dress with the culture of the company for which you are interviewing? Have you transitioned from college student to young professional with the quality and fit of your clothing?
· Grooming – Are hair and make-up distraction-free, accentuating your best features?
· Time management for work/life purpose – Can you articulate a balanced view of how you have managed to juggle multiple tasks and succeed with results? It is not enough to just list activities on your resume. How have you mastered results?
· Poise - Do you enter the room with confidence and ease?
· Handshaking - Can you properly shake hands using eye contact and a confident grip?
· Eye contact- Do you display good eye contact when asked questions, so you appear focused and engaged in the conversation?
· Knowledge of dining etiquette - If the interview is during a meal, can you navigate the china, glass and silverware during conversation?
· Knowing your team
· Interacting with colleagues
· Communicating with transparency
· Conflict management
· Understanding how your performance is measured
· Making presentations
· Establishing credibility
· Delivering messages with impact
· Micro messaging (non verbal skills)
· Running effective meetings
· Active listening
Although I will indeed go out and buy graduation gifts for my friends’ college graduates, I plan to give them something longer lasting- the gift of mentorship and advice on soft skills. For now, the graduates may scratch their heads and wonder what kind of gift this is, but somewhere, on some occasion when they need to use a soft skill they may look back and knowingly smile because it will be then that they will see its purpose.
About the Author: Peggy Noe Stevens has over 25 years of industry experience. Today she runs a global image branding business, helping companies develop exceptional talent by teaching confidence, self-awareness and professional presence. She just released her book, Professional Presence. More information can be found about Peggy and her book on her website: www.peggynoestevens.com.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.