07. Laugh Like There’s No Tomorrow, But Study Like There Is

Your academic record, and the reputation of your school, will be an important part of your personal brand, and of your résumé when you’re applying for jobs. Here we present suggestions as to the type of story you might want to tell about yourself, as well as opportunities you could seek out in order to fill in any deficits in your academic profile. The worksheet in this module has you describe your academic background, an exercise you can draw on when writing cover letters, résumés, and essays for school and job applications.

Whether you’re a first-year, a senior, or a Ph.D. candidate who is all-but-dissertation, you should pick your classes and make other educational choices based on what you need to accomplish your goals, what your interests are, and what you enjoy. But in mapping out an educational career, you should also keep your future—as a job applicant—in mind. Ask yourself, how can you have your education enhance your brand?

First, consider how your level of education and place of education will impact your reputation. Does your academic history indicate that you complete what you start or that you lack focus? (If you’re worried it’s the latter—say because you changed majors five times and are taking a long time to graduate, think about how you can address that in interviews or spin it as a positive—you’ll work as long and hard as it takes to create the right result, and once you found the right major for you, you graduated with honors, for example.)

Does the college you are attending have a strong academic reputation, does it have the reputation of turning out well-trained business majors, or is it known as a party school? 

Knowing the college’s image—is something that you can build on too. For example, if you go to a “party school” take from that experience what you can and emphasize the positive. You have probably made a lot of friends and are a well-trained networker. Maybe you rose to a position of leadership in a fraternity or sorority or planned parties whose proceeds benefited charities? Sell the leadership, social, and people skills that were fostered by your education.

While in school, think about the story you want your academic record to tell.

Also, consider that you want to stand out from the crowd. Adding formal or informal educational programs can help you do that—and help you add another level of respect to your résumé. Many high-profile universities offer certificate programs shorter than academic degrees and still let you claim a degree from a prestigious university.

Think about the requirements you need it to include.

For many professions, certain certificates or credentials are the door openers to new opportunities. For example, an accountant gains certain credibility when he or she obtains the Certified Public Accountant (CPA) status, and distinguishes him or herself even further if he or she goes on to become a Certified Fraud Examiner or a Certified Management Accountant. Are there similar programs in your field, and can you start preparing for them while still in college? (If you want to go into medicine, for example, perhaps you can get EMT training and certification—or even just CPR certification—while still in school.)

One strategic way to plan your education is to see what kind of academic and training background people you admire to have.

Ask yourself who has the job—or life—you want in 10, 15, or 20 years, and then do a little sleuthing to see what you can learn about their path through a Google search or by studying their profiles on LinkedIn. While looking at their profiles, ask yourself, “What training or education do they have that I don’t?” That question will naturally lead to, “What more can I do with my education that I haven’t done?” and “What skills or assets do I have that I haven’t been using?”

Get a snapshot of where your academic history is now, and what gaps you’d like to fill in by answering the following questions—they’re broken down into areas that will be useful in writing your résumé.

Module 7 | Laugh Like There’s No Tomorrow, But Study Like There Is: How to Use Your Educational Accomplishments to Build a Desirable Brand

Academic education

Credentials and certifications

Additional professional development