Personal Branding for Employability

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Tuesday, March 24, 2015 11.520AM /Olufemi Awoyemi at  University of Lagos, Akoka-Yaba, Lagos, Nigeria

  •         The Vice-Chancellor of the University, Professor Rahamon A. Bello – the Chairman of the occasion;

  •         The Olor’ogun Dr. Sonny Kuku, OFR - Chief Host and President of the UNILAG Alumni Association; and

  •         Professor Tunde Babawale - Host and Dean, Students’ Affairs Division;

  •         Distinguished members of the academic and non-academic faculties, Students and Guests.


All Protocols Observed,


The very fact that we are focussing on the theme “WORKPLACE READINESS AND EMPLOYABILITY” for the 2015 class by Unilag Alumni Session is in itself a commentary about the curriculum / body of knowledge graduate schools are exposed to ahead of a job market facing a higher year-on-year unemployment rate since the early 1990s, as well as stiff competition from a significant pool of young professionals who have been laid off or returning from the Diaspora; not to talk of citizens of other countries – China, India, Poland, Ukraine and African nations who will be competing with you for jobs and entrepreneurship openings.


In the current fast-paced business environment, one can be excused with a conclusion that the pursuit of a graduate programme appears increasingly soulless; given that the benchmark has moved towards a minimum that begins with a post-graduate degree.


From the evidence of what I have seen in practice and my sparse involvement with the school of post graduate studies, more and more people are investing time and resources in postgraduate education; and especially from those currently employed or in private enterprise; yet few have a conscious knowledge of the role of personal branding.


The times will not get any better and if anyone needed any imagery to exemplify this reality... one only needs to recall the regrettable and sorrowful events that occurred a year to this date on March 15, 2014 that led to a preventable loss of life for twenty-three (23) Nigerian graduates who went job-seeking and had left their homes to sit for the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) recruitment examinations.


Not until recently did we revisit the issue as a nation, when we provided some irritable succour to the families of those that did not return home alive, trampled to death in their prime; even as we scarcely remember their names nor do we recollect scores who were seriously injured.


A few take-aways from the event therefore should allow me contextualise the marriage of two worlds which the organisers have entrusted me to rationalise.


First must therefore be the image of graduates in their ‘recruit’ white shorts and vests, overcrowding the venues spread across the FCT, Port Harcourt, Minna, Gombe, and Benin venues of the examination. From news reports, the Abuja National Stadium alone had over 60,000 applicants turning up for the recruitment test.


Second must be the unspoken truth about the disconnect or widening gap between the maximum needs of the employment market and the graduate output in the country – a direct contributory factor to the growing unemployment situation in the country; one of the top 5 highest in the world.


It is not my intention to deploy the skills well worn by clergymen to win souls but it is my thinking that properly situating the reality of your impeding graduation may make you appreciate the few words I intend to share with you.


In the course of preparing this speech, I took it upon myself to hold a few focus group sessions with my employees, my relatives and some graduates I interact with in order to glean from them their realities. The tales are all too familiar - very few are/were well prepared for life after school.


A few statistics will help jolt our understanding of this after-school-life you seek to engage in:


·         The high end sectors of the organised private sector comprised of financial institutions, oil & gas, and telecoms sectors are not employment intensive sectors, though are the highest payers;

·         The professional sector – engineering, accountancy, law, architecture, medicine and the likes and costly academic pursuits that unfortunately has a negative yield curve for freshers;

·         The sciences which should otherwise be an oasis for a society’s development have few openings where donor funds are in place, but are less attractive to today’s youths;

·         University education as distinct from technical education does not appropriate an apprentice mindset today as required in today’s labour market – just as we see in the technology field where the criteria is not solely on degrees but practical skill sets acquired (and for which universities are adjusting their curricula to cope with). NB: it may be trite but since the financial market crisis of 2008/9, most schools of economics have overhauled their course offerings globally but we are yet to do that in Nigeria...ditto the financial training courses.


However, and before you sink into further despair, it might interest you to know that that in relative terms, the situation was no different from our generation.


Not having all the information available to your generation now, ignorance was bliss for us then ... we trudged on, believing that if we worked hard enough and took time to model ourselves for success as defined by those who came before us, and what we learnt; we stood a chance.


The principles remain the same even though the route to getting there has changed.


So what has changed?

I assure you, I do not intend to bore you with ‘another lecture’. Stay with me and you might learn a thing or two....


Indeed, I will spend fewer minutes talking about what you already know and devote more time to ‘experiential’ learning by way of questions and answers; at the end of this discourse, if time permits.


So what do we already know?


1.    We know that ‘packaging’ matters and that is why schools like COVENANT University insists that students dress up in a corporate manner to attend lectures. This is not something new, law students and medical school students have been doing it for decades. They must know something about branding long before the word was invented or they simply understood corporate culture better or internalised the colonial teachings far better because the trend they set has not changed since despite many changes in the profession.


This need for corporate culture alignment means that even if you wear an appropriate dress on the day of your meeting or interview; if we can see that it is not in you –because you have not internalised the nuances that goes with the job responsibility; it will hurt you. But if you can pull it off – you have one leg in; yet your personal branding assessment continues.


Don’t get me wrong, a few will stand out for exceptional qualities other than how they appear or conduct themselves; and this brings me to the next point.


2.    We know the maxim – “dress how you want to be addressed” might appropriate the requirements for a job prospect as we know it but the issue related to personal branding in the 21st century goes far beyond clothes and grooming... is much more about your personal networth (not in financial terms) but the collective body of work that defines you i.e. your final year thesis, the subject(s) you choose to comment on or post on social media; the books you read which comes out through interactions with you, your diction and your world view.


Branding today goes beyond the physical – whether you seek employment or apprenticeship, the totality of your person defines your brand which will be weighed against expectations of today and tomorrow by your employer.


I will not go into the issue of social media today but it will serve you well to know that employers or recruitment agencies will take your name and search your footprints on social media..... that is the first place to vet your personal brand in today’s world. For all those eager to respond to their first stimuli, to type what comes to your head immediately, to post that sassy meme or/and to spit out in anger (especially what we see during this election season) – opens your employability in ways your hardly imagined.


3.    Even with all you have done well in 1 and 2 above, you may get a culture shock while working with some multi-nationals who operate a dress down culture. The new found office culture, perhaps a fad does not insist in formal clothing if you are not working in high finance as casual formal wears are the new in-thing.... so again, it’s not about clothes’s about you. The question is, what is your identity?


Identity here is qualitative, it resonates well in helping you communicate what your aggregate personal qualities are…. Are you a forward thinking person, are you someone just looking for a job or are you someone that has a goal in life? Don’t make a mistake about it – new behavioral and psychometric tests are available to help employers make that decision.


It will help if you took time to do a PROFILING ASSESSMENT TEST that tells you a lot about who you are and good enough, these tests are available online. You should try it out.


4.    Now, it gets a bit boring – but for one key point and I plead with you to endure - The Employability skills for the future (DEST 2002a) – an extensive research finding undertaken by the Business Council of Australia (BCA) and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) in 2001. This report identified personal attributes required for today’s employees, as well as eight employability skills.  

‘Employability skills are defined as skills required not only to gain employment, but also to progress within an enterprise so as to achieve one’s potential and contribute successfully to enterprise strategic directions.’ - (DEST 2002a)


These skills were seen to have relevance to both entry-level and established employees. It was also recognised that the skills would be prioritised and adapted to suit various job-roles. The eight identified skills are:


1.    Communication skills that contribute to productive and harmonious relations between employees and customers;

2.    Teamwork skills that contribute to productive working relationships and outcomes;

3.    Problem solving skills that contribute to productive outcomes;

4.    Self-management skills that contribute to employee satisfaction and growth;

5.    Planning and organising skills that contribute to long-term and short-term strategic planning;

6.    Technology skills that contribute to effective execution of tasks;

7.    Life-long  learning skills that contribute to ongoing improvement and  expansion in  employee  and company operations and outcomes; and

8.    Initiative and enterprise skills that contribute to innovative outcomes.


For each of the eight skills, a number of elements or facets were identified.  These provide an indication of the ways in which the employability skills may be further adapted for specific industries and job roles. 


The Employability Skills Framework is widely acknowledged as evidencing what employers need in the workforce.  Consultation on this project reinforced the framework as articulating what is important to employers from organisations of all sizes, industries and locations.  Although it describes clearly what skills employers want, the Employability Skills Framework is also consistent with university educational objectives. 


The class of 2014/15 must, even if it is not in the curricula, learn how to horn these skills framework to develop the personal branding required to deliver their employability goals


5.    One other skill required in the 21st century not included above must be the skill/ability to speak at least one additional global language of business.


Imagine how you would be considered for work in a Dangote Group with extensive business interest spanning the globe; or with First Bank, UBA, Zenith Bank, Access Bank or indeed Ecobank Plc where the Alumni president is the Chairman of its Nigerian operations – all having business operations in Spanish and French speaking entities as does Glo, Oando and many others?


Being a POLYGOT therefore is an essential criterion for competitiveness in the new world. It’s a global village for a reason....language is the key, your qualifications will come in secondary when it comes down to a decision.


Even for a budding apprentice or an entrepreneur; learning a second language is key to getting a head start out of the rat race – and it definitely enhances and re-enforces your personal branding.


6.    Now, let’s summarize i.e relocate the discussion back to its focal point - Personal Branding; and without sounding too technical, this is all about “soft skills” – the ability to create a form of identification for some feelings, experiences, or expectations that enables you to stand out among peers.


The nexus between employability and personal branding is thus a question of how well or how effective a person is able to present himself or herself and how others see you.


It is important to be aware of how you are viewed.  Therefore, understanding personal branding will provide advantages to your personal and professional lives, which at this time should matter very much to you.


A close before the close


Since I started the talk around the immigration interview situation to demonstrate one aspect of the subject; it is only fitting that I conclude this exposition with the same example by asking you all whether those who applied for that job had any need for personal branding as the requirement did not place emphasis on such; or did it?


If you interrogate closely – you may find out the clue in the earlier statement about white vests and shorts – the symbol-ogy of “recruits” which required a set of attributes that bothered as much on the physical as it did on the academic/intelligence.....


While the screening could have been done using online technology to test academic and intelligence quotients, the real test post-screening would have required personal branding to excel.


At this next stage, for example, a candidate that could speak English and French stood a better chance to be employed to provide buffer if not resource for the immigration duties required.


In essence, what constitutes personal branding is in effect the X factor you bring to the ‘table’ beyond your academic qualifications.


So where does branding and employability converge?


For those who have immediately tuned the “it’s not my fault” button, it will serve you well to know that there is an expiry date for blaming anyone else for what happens to you or what you become in life.


It might be excusable, under the finger pointing environment we live in to blame your University for poor academic training or even your parents, but in today’s competitive world, no one has time for your sorrowful epiphany. (it will not suffice to say that your president does that effortlessly at every occasion)


You need to take charge and take responsibility and the time to do that is now.


So what are the opportunities available to you that eliminates the ‘excuse’ factor?


·         Make yourself available for volunteer service/intern/ to acquire soft skills in areas of your career focus;

·         Enrol for professional training in your chosen field for example, accountancy, taxation, investment/securities advisory, IT specialisation courses, and so on;

·         Seek professional career advice for expert opinion on your best possible route to achieving you goal;

·         Network with industry practitioners to establish links of entering into your chosen career choice; and

·         Finally, have a mentor who you can always reach out to for directions.



In ending, a bit of  light humour would be helpful as I am beginning to sound too serious for my own good. I could get into trouble for speaking my mind – too openly, even in an academic setting but that would not hurt my brand – one founded on a belief in open exchange based on here we go.......


Has anyone been following the social media commentary about President GEJ and General Buhari during this election season?


If you have; have you noticed the focus on personal branding and how the emphasis has always been on this aspect of their job responsibilities?


Whichever divide you are on, learn this by heart – you will be judged by your academic qualification as well as your personal brand worth....even as the president of Nigeria.


That should drive the point home but alas it may resonate only with a few......


Ladies and gentleman, I must close here with a quote from Daniel Newman in his work “Why Personal Branding?” published on June 13, 2014 and though it does not relate to school graduates directly, it captures the essence of this session.... that this lesson on personal branding is not for today alone...


“In a world that has gone from companies offering employees lifelong employment to a society where individuals need to develop skills for lifelong employability, the absolute worst thing you can do is to quit investing in yourself. I have seen far too many people who finally land work and then they repeat the same mistake that they made before; they completely entrench themselves in the company they work for and build no additional identity for themselves.


This is exactly why building your personal brand is an ongoing endeavour; your resume alone isn’t enough. 



In today’s socially connected society, we on average hold more than 250 social relationships, and it is from these relationships that our best opportunities will come. Those that continue to build their personal brand will build stronger networks, and will find a greater number of great opportunities even when they may not be looking for them.


There is nothing wrong with giving your all to your employer. In fact, dedication in some organizations will earn you a brownie point or two. However, if you ignore your personal brand and development, don’t be surprised if you find yourself continuously struggling to get the raise, promotion or new opportunity you are searching for.”



Now, If you fail to do that, you might just as well give meaning to Obiageli Ezekwesili’s 2006 prediction where she said that “By 2020, we may have a significant population of highly trained, skilled and motivated criminals.” parading as graduates seeking jobs.(emphasis mine)


I reject this in God’s name.


Thank you for inviting me and you for being such an obliging audience.


Long live Unilag, Long live your Alumni and Long live the Federal Republic of Nigeria.


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