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Trying too hard to be "professional"

Today Seth Godin writes about college students in SIFE being more worried about playing dress-up than doing something remarkable in free enterprise. Here are five more examples of young people trying way too hard to be professional, to the detriment of their professional success. (And, yes, sadly, these are all things I frequently see firsthand.)

1) They freak out about having to wear a suit to a career fair but never seem to have anything to say to employers. Yet anyone worth working for would prefer a student wearing jeans who could actually convey that she is interesting and intelligent.

2) They end a first message to me, perhaps asking for my advice or help, with a line like the following:

"Thanks and I look forward to building a great relationship with you."

It sounds so weird to tell me that we're going to build a great relationship when we haven't even met. Even if we have met, you don't need to describe exactly what you're trying to do. Just do it.

3) They give you a handwritten thank you note immediately after you meet with past-tense language about the meeting that just ended 30 seconds ago like "Thank you so very much for meeting with me. It was such a pleasure!" I'm flattered that they were predicting it would be a pleasure, but the impossibility of preparing a post-meeting comment before the meeting itself pretty much negates the brownie points they were trying to earn with a handwritten thank you. Even an e-mail the next day would be better than this.

4) They create massive e-mail signatures, trying to seem super-important like professors do even if they're college freshman.

Robert C. Jones
Class of 2009
Elite University
Department of Chemistry
(555) 555-5555

Department of Chemistry? Most freshman haven't even really declared majors yet. And they certainly haven't built up a level of expertise that would enable them to represent the department in any way.

5) They put their full names (Robert C. Jones) on the top of their resumes even though they always go by a different name altogether (Charlie Jones). It's hard enough to get someone to spend more than 10 seconds looking at your resume, so it's not very smart to make employers confused about whose resume it is.

For all of these reasons and more, I tell college students and young professionals that one of the best ways to put their careers on the fast track is to move beyond trying to be too professional to just being normal. Only then can you try to, as Seth would advise, be remarkable.

Posted by Ian Ybarra on 30 March 2006