Navigating the job market is difficult for any job seeker, but can be especially intimidating to new graduates searching for employment. More than ever, college students are encouraged to create a “brand” for themselves to set them apart from their competition – something crucial to their current and future career success. Luckily, they have a wide variety of options that will help to shape their professional presence. They can promote their skills through social media, a blog, a personal website, or even post videos on YouTube. To do this effectively, they must also practice proper business etiquette, communicate professionally, and polish their message.
An understanding of the importance professional branding plays in the job search gives students the opportunity to be proactive in their marketing efforts to catch the eye of those who have the power to hire them.
Given today’s economic realities, first-time jobseekers must search for ways to strengthen their marketability. To assist in this effort, Nichols College has introduced an initiative to provide all students with the ultimate networking job search tool: business cards.
Business Card Initiative
The Junior Business Card Initiative was launched in 2009 by the Nichols College Career Services Department. It is primarily funded by alumni donors who understand the importance of building one’s personal brand. Career Services also partners with a local printing company for a reduced printing rate, which helps control the overall cost of the program.
All Nichols College juniors receive business cards featuring the Nichols logo and their personal contact information, including name, college major, address, phone, and professional e-mail address of choice. Black leather business card holders with an imprinted Nichols logo are also provided, which adds a finishing professional touch. Cards were distributed during early spring semester of junior year, prior to the annual career fair and spring recruiting season.
The intention of the initiative was to provide a tool to assist third-year students in marketing themselves to recruiters because, in the search for employment, it is never too early to make contacts. Since college students don't typically have business cards, Nichols students stand out amongst their peers. This also serves to strengthen the Nichols College brand with employers. When handing out resumes is not feasible, they have a unique networking tool to showcase. Besides placing students a step ahead of the growing competition, these business cards:
Provide the opportunity to distribute vital contact and career information immediately.
Can be handed out everywhere. Occasionally, professional settings and social gatherings are not an appropriate time for distributing one’s resume.
Make a professional first impression. If students are prepared to exchange business cards, it shows that they understand the importance of putting their best foot forward. Business card holders also preserve the appearance of the cards and uphold the professional image.
Create the ability to reconnect. If students are serious about making and keeping connections within their field, they need to be remembered – the exchange of business cards allows them to leave their contact information, while also gathering the same from the employer.
Develop a professional brand. Each time a business card is handed out, a professional image is being cultivated and marketability is strengthened.
Student and Employer Reactions
To gather feedback on the program, students were asked to comment on the use of their personalized business cards in a Career Services end-of-year exit survey. Based on the responses gathered, students reported feeling a sense of pride for their college accomplishments and felt distributing the business cards was a tangible display of that hard work. Nicole Bowden, graduating in 2011, reported: “The business cards were very helpful. I used them at both career fairs I attended. Recruiters were pleasantly surprised that I had a business card at such a young age! Having these cards makes me feel more professional and prepared at career fairs and in general, because you never know who you're going to meet in your day to day life.” Another student wrote: “Most companies that see a student still in college with business cards are normally shocked and thrilled to see the initiative that was taken. I think it is a great marketing tool. This is a good back up if in a tight squeeze – having business cards conveniently located in your wallet is a bonus.”
Some students reported receiving employment offers after having used their business cards during the interview process. Graduating in 2011, Alexandria Hallam stated: “I thought it was a great program! I actually walked into an interview the other day for summer work and before I left the owner said he would be in touch with me. I said “Here is my card,” and gave him one of my Nichols College business cards, and he was so impressed. We exchanged cards and I got the job!”
Looking to the Future
The job search process is all about getting an edge over the competition in an effort to increase your chances of employment. Your personal brand can be fostered through a sophisticated effort for a professional presence. Nichols plans to continue the Junior Business Card Project in the future and funding has already been secured for the next two classes. It has become something the underclassmen look forward to in their junior year. This initiative is one way Career Services can assist them in achieving a higher level of confidence – something that can benefit any job seeker.
Heather Maietta is the Director of Career Services and an adjunct faculty member at Nichols College. She received her Ed.D. from Central Michigan University in Higher Education Administration with an emphasis on Career Theory and Development. Heather is a frequent presenter and publisher on topics related to college student development, career development, and college student success issues. Heather can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jennifer Williamson is a 2010 Nichols College graduate, earning a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. She majored in General Business, concentrating in Marketing, Communications, and Human Resource Management. While at Nichols, Jennifer held the position of Class Secretary for four years and was recognized as a Nichols Honor Scholar for her academic achievements. Jennifer can be reached via email at email@example.com.