On last Thursday, I had the honor of being asked to speak to two different groups of college students at area colleges on the topics of branding, marketing and professional development. While I am no “expert” in these areas, I consider it a great privilege every time someone reaches out to me and asks for my advice. And while I am never shy to share information with people, I also like to make sure that others have access to this same information – even if you weren’t a part of the original conversation.
The students asked lots of questions, and it is hard to capture it all, but I did want to share a few things with you that were some underlying themes in my conversations. So, with that said, here are five pieces of advice that I shared with some of the college students on last week. This advice is in no particular order, and runs the gamut as I spoke on different topics at each college.
- Your appearance is your brand. In the world of branding and marketing, I often tell people that organizations never own their brand. The organization’s brand is whatever the consumer says it is. You can claim to be “best in class” or whatever other positive message you develop, but if one person has a negative experience with you, then guess what? Yep, your brand image takes a negative hit. The same can be applied to your appearance. So many people want to have certain positions within their respective companies or organizations, but half the battle is “looking the part.” We’ve all heard the term “dress for the job you want and not the job you have”, right? It is so true. People begin to size you up as soon as you walk in the room, and now because of social media, people will search you before they even have a conversation with you. Forbes did a study on the seven ways people judge you and appearance was number one on that list. It is imperative that you position yourself to always be “on point.” Your appearance is not just about how you dress, but it’s about your character, your posture and how you address others. Are you approachable? Do you sit with your arms crossed often? Are you a team-player or a me-first kinda person? Do you follow through with what you say you’re going to do? All of these questions and more are at the root of your appearance. In order for you to succeed, you have to have the right appearance.
- Invest in a tailor. There is nothing more unattractive that seeing someone walk around with clothes that are too small or too big. We know that not everyone is blessed enough to be in top physical shape, but that doesn’t mean you should walk out of the house with just anything on. Research shows that people who dress nice leave a more positive impression on others. When we talk about dressing nice, we are not talking about buying name brand clothes. We are talking about finding the right clothes that fit your body shape. Certain styles of clothes and patterns can give off the right illusion. If you are slightly overweight, wearing pinstripes will make you look thinner. If you have gained some weight or lost some weight, quit trying to wear the same clothes you’ve always worn. Take them to a local tailor and get them fitted to suit your body. If you don’t have a lot of money to spend on clothes, you can still shop at discount retailers like Walmart and TJ Maxx, and then take those same clothes to a tailor to have them fitted. The cheapest off-the-rack suit can look custom made with a visit to a tailor.
- There is no success without sacrifice. I was asked the question of “what is my biggest sacrifice that has lead to my success”, and while I have sacrificed different things for different situations, I think my biggest sacrifice is commuting to Lexington four days a week. I could have stayed in the comfort of my old position, but I knew that in order for me to grow I had to go through some uncomfortable situations. It involved changing the routine of how we drop off and pick up the kids. It involved getting up a little earlier in the morning to make time for my commute. It involved driving 140 miles roundtrip. It involved working in a brand new city, as the only African-American in the organization. It involved changing up my normal workout schedule at the gym. So many things had to be sacrificed and changed in order for me to get to where I am. I can’t kick it on the weekends all the time like I used to, and I can’t do after-work cocktails on a regular basis, but what I have noticed is that after I made these sacrifices, I found new ways to still do all the extracurricular activities that I was doing in the past.
- Be a leader and not a manager. One of the students asked me what I love most about my job, and I told them that I love being in the position to lead people within an organization. I’ve seen many organizations fail, as they start to produce more managers and less leaders. I vowed to myself that when I got into a position to where I could really affect change, I would do so in terms of my management style. I am the opposite of a micro-manager. I told my current team when I first got to Lexington that “you were hired to do your job, and if you weren’t smart enough to do it, then you wouldn’t still be here.” I let them know that it is not my job to check up on you…that’s your job – check on yourself. If you aren’t doing the work, then I am going to find out one way or the other during our conversations and meetings. I also let the team know that while we set goals for the fiscal year, if we don’t reach them, then it’s okay. Failing to reach goals gives us the opportunity to reflect on what went wrong and how we can fix it going forward. Maybe the goal was unrealistic to begin with. I aim to involve the team in as many decisions as possible, while still maintaining the authority to make the final decision. Leading people is about putting them in the right situations to be successful, and that is my priority.
- Use your connections. In today’s economy, a good job is hard to come by, but if you have the right relationships then that search becomes a little easier. I told the students a story about how I started a new job with a new company back in 2005. Six months into that job, I was fired for reasons unbeknownst to me. At the time, I was considered an at-will employee so they could fire me for any reason at any time. I had also just got engaged two months prior and Shannon and I were planning a wedding. So here I was, college-educated with a fiance, no job and no money. I was able to reach out to a mentor of mine Carl Brazley who offered me some contract marketing work to get back on my feet. Working with Carl allowed me to keep my skills fresh while seeking full-time employment. After several months there I was able to land sales job with a local tv affiliate. I also talked to them about my last position at the Louisville CVB, and how the President of the Lexington CVB reached out to me about an opportunity for the position I currently. She and I were friends and knew each other through our respective careers in tourism. She was also good friends with my boss at the time at the Louisville CVB. One conversation led to another and here I am. It is also important to note, that I was not looking for employment as I loved what I did at the Louisville CVB, but I was preparing myself for an opportunity, I just didn’t know where it would come from. I went from standing in the unemployment line collecting a check to Vice President of Marketing in the the span of 10 years. The old adage of “it’s not what you know, but who you know” still rings true.
I hope that this was beneficial to you. If you liked it, I simply ask that you share with others who may be looking for some advice or inspiration. Thank you for reading – be blessed.