All present and correct

“You never get a second chance to make a good first impression”, so the saying goes. In other words, you need to get your initial ‘presence’ correct first time, so that you construct the best version of yourself, otherwise you will have to work hard to undo any negativities you might have inadvertently created the first time around. I say this because, more and more, I see PhD and postdoctoral researchers being encouraged to network by career professionals (including myself) and so it’s important, before you start revealing yourself to people, to make sure you’re presenting yourself at your best.

For example, if you go looking to connect with people on LinkedIn, or if you’re researching the profiles of professionals whose jobs are of interest to you, or if you’re invited for interview, the likelihood is that they will look back at you. They may Google you, click on your LinkedIn profile or look you up on your university website. Whatever means they use to view you, the questions you need to ask yourself are: What will they see? Will I look professionally ‘attractive’ to them?

Things have changed over the past decade or so. Gone are the days of in-person only networking opportunities where conferences and invitations were the only way to meet people of interest. Now, networking is much more democratic, with influential people being more accessible at the global level and at the click of a button. However, it’s easy to become frivolous and blasé when working in virtual reality, and even those who are intending to participate in a real physical conference can be complacent and miss the opportunity to present themselves at their best (I’m thinking here of shabby T-shirts and flipflops).

Every time you meet someone new, whether it’s in-person or on-line, you are showcasing your ‘brand’. This may sound a bit ‘markety’ and not relevant to your average researcher going about their everyday business. However, we all create impressions of ourselves wherever we are, so imagine what people would say about you behind your back after they’ve met you: Ask yourself whether you were professional, confident, took yourself seriously, made a good impression within the realms of the types of roles, jobs and skills that interest you relative to your career ambitions. Are you known for your great social skills, tech expertise, student engagement, empathy, leadership, positivity, etc.?

So, to avoid the pitfalls of a mis-managed personal brand, here are some tips to help you to get it right first time:

  1. Take control: Don’t rely on your institutional profile to promote your ‘brand’ as this is sometimes limiting in terms of showcasing your experiences and skills. Many PhD and postdoctoral researchers are only listed on their university websites, with no detailed accompanying profile, so you may need to create your own profile elsewhere to ensure you are showcasing yourself more fully.
  2. Be consistent: Consider your brand. Are you interested in a functional/practical/technological type job or are you looking to move into communications, policy, enterprise, management, etc? Whatever your personal and professional career goals, your brand should reflect this. Therefore, make sure that all your on-line profiles are consistent with the CV you are creating for yourself as you move on to your next position.
  3. Include a photo: When creating your online presence, ideally, try to include a professional looking photo. It can be more or less formal according to the type of platform you’re using (e.g. Twitter tends to be more informal than LinkedIn), but a photo tends to make you appear more accessible and approachable. You may also have the opportunity to create a background image too, reflecting your work environment or interests. If you’re uncomfortable with using a real photo, consider exchnaging it with a graphic instead. There are many ways to create an image of yourself and on platforms such as Twitter, many people use alternative images.
  4. Write a profile with impact: It’s great to see so many early career researchers on-line, but without a profile their impact is limited. It’s difficult for someone who is looking to find common interests or trying to determine whether they might be suited to their company if there is no information about, for example, their interests, skills, passions and values. I recommend that you look at other people’s profiles and us them to help you build your own. My profile has changed over the years to reflect my changing and evolving expertise and interests and yours will too. Don’t think of it as a static entity and revisit it regularly to make sure it’s reflecting your ‘brand’.
  5. Engage with people: As described in my blog ‘Get engaged’, it’s important to be active on social media. It’s not just about linking with people and trying to leverage your network. Consider contributing content, reacting to others’ posts and learning new information and skills. In this way you start to establish yourself within particular communities, especially those who are looking at entering non-academic careers.  
  6. Dress to impress: Different occasions call for different dress codes. You wouldn’t wear a scruffy T-shirt to a wedding and, equally, you should aim to dress professionally for conferences or other in-person events. I’m not saying you should wear a suit and tie, but if you look at what the more senior academics or staff are wearing during the event, aim to reflect their level of professional attire as you are more likely to be taken seriously.
  7. Take control: It amazes me how conference organisers can sometimes sabotage their own meetings. For example, for many years I attended conferences where our name badges were attached to such long lanyards it was impossible to read the name of the person to whom you were speaking. Trying to dart your eye down to their name badge seemed rude and, when conversing over lunch with the name badge tucked under the table – impossible! You can get around this very easily by tying a knot in your lanyard to elevate you name badge so that it’s readily readable by all. So simple!
  8. Sign off: We all use email to communicate with each other. However, how many times have I received an email from a PhD or postdoctoral researchers asking for information, advice or help regarding their careers without the requisite signature sign off at the end of the email? This is not only frustrating – not really knowing who this person is – but it’s’ also practically unhelpful. Make sure you create a signature for yourself with the relevant address, contact information and links to social media.

It cannot be denied that networking is a vital activity to secure your next position. However, unless you present yourself correctly, both professionally and consistently, the outcome of your endeavours could be severely disadvantaged.