Student talking with a professional
Story Student Success

Looking for a Job? Here’s How to Get Noticed

Michelle Baik

When you meet a prospective employer, you’re essentially marketing yourself. Here’s how to showcase the “brand” of you.

Student talking with a professional

What kind of first impression do you make when meeting a potential employer? Photo courtesy of CSU Channel Islands


​​​​​​​​​​​If you're a student or recent graduate who's sending out resumes to potential employers but getting little or no response, chances are you're really frustrated.

Recruiters don't have it much easier; they're often inundated with applicants, yet struggle to select qualified candidates from a pool of those with similar educational and professional backgrounds.

So how can you stand out from the pack, whether you're a student or an alumnus/a of the CSU?

One way is through a social media platform called Portfolium that's designed specifically for students and alumni to present their work in a way that's compelling for potential employers, says Lori H. Brockett, associate vice president of alumni engagement & university events at CSU San Marcos. Seventeen CSU campuses have partnered with Portfolium, offering the digital portfolio platform at no charge for both current students and alumni.

"A resume is just words on paper. [Portfolium] is a visual showcase of those words. It's also a creative way to showcase skills that might not translate from a traditional resume," says Brockett.

The portfolio is particularly useful for students who may lack professional experience but can show outstanding ​projects that highlight skills employers are looking for, such as creativity and strong communication skills. ​

How Well Do You Tell Your Story?

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Getting an interview is just the first step, of course; once you've got it, then you've got to ace it.

When discussing your work experience or academic projects, "it's not just about what you did or how you did it, but why it's important," says Mine Her, employer relationships specialist at the Career Center in CSU San Marcos.

Her suggests focusing not only on your academic and professional achievements, but also highlighting lessons learned when things didn't go as planned.

"Discuss the soft skills you gained from your experiences," he adds; these include communication, organization, negotiation, and time and resource management.

A good interview should go beyond your educational and professional experience, though.

"The interview process is always more about who you are as a person than what skills you bring to the table," says Travis Nelson, manager of the College of Business and Economics' Career Development Center at CSU East Bay. "You are essentially marketing yourself."

That means thinking in terms of branding yourself—succinctly describing who you are, the work you've done, what you're good at, and what your values are.

You can prepare for a job interview in much the same way that companies differentiate their products in the marketplace. Be prepared to answer or address why you're passionate about the industry you're interviewing in. What motivates you to get up every morning? Why are you the best candidate for this job?

"Personal stories are powerful and resonate with people," notes Nelson. "What's so great about our students in the CSU is that they're so motivated by their life experiences to get their degree and to become better. They just need to share where their passion is coming from."

"Don't be afraid to talk about your background," adds Her. "Many CSU students are first-generation college students. Tell your story and show that you have grit, stamina, resilience and resourcefulness. Show employers that you have long-term goals and are able to forge your own pathways."

So how can you become better at differentiating yourself, especially in a stressful situation like a job interview?

"The only way to get used to telling your story in a meaningful way is if you practice it over and over. The earlier, the better. Your career exploration and preparation should start as soon as you enter college," stresses Nelson.

Mine Her concurs, noting that on-campus resources can give you a tremendous leg up: "Connect with employers through your campus career center to gain insight into your field and even find a mentor who can coach you through your career search."

Click here to read more stories in the "College to Career" series.