Best gift for the College Graduate- Advice and the P4’s

By Peggy Noe Stevens  – author of Professional Presence

As my son nears his high school graduation, I am reminded of the feelings of excitement and anticipation  I had as a teenager for the next chapter of college life.  I am confident with my “big fat Italian family”; he will be gifted with many great expressions of congratulations – an investment of sorts, all with the hopes of wanting him to succeed for the future.

My most treasured gift when I graduated from college was a grey leather portfolio with a monogrammed silver plaque that my parents gave to me.  It was the real deal, a professional piece (my first) for which I had planned to carry on every interview.   I was eager to break out into the world with my degree in tow and land that incredible paying job with a big title.  Inside, a blank pad of clean legal paper , ready for that first brilliant idea to be written.   Looking back, I wish it could have been filled with advice, a road map of sorts that would have prepared me for the relationships, conflicts, time management, work-life balance, employee reviews, interviews, travel tips, etc., that you literally learn from doing.

When we graduate, we walk out the door with education that reflects our degree. Landing your first job will more than likely also offer on the job training to fit the company’s needs.  However, it was the other side of the fence I wish I would have learned earlier on that pad of paper- the ‘soft skills’ needed to manage the day to day communication and business etiquette that is essential for professional presence and moving forward successfully.

Professional presence is difficult to describe, but you sure know when you see it and interact with someone who has possessed those skills and someone who does not. Where do you begin? If you were to assess yourself now, where are you?

At Peggy Noe Stevens and Associates we believe a great place to start is to eat the elephant one bite at a time and assess four areas – the P4’s o f Personal branding:  Personal, Professional, Protocol and People. Each category is a platform from which you evaluate and gauge your level of knowledge to build your professional brand/image.  The first 2 are critical for the new entrants and I give examples of each.


  • Overall image of dress – What is the snap shot impression that you make with your overall appearance and dress?  DO you look the part for the interview.  Have you matched your dress with the culture of the company for which you interview? Have you transitioned from college student to young professional with the quality and fit of your clothing?
  • Grooming – Are hair and make-up distraction-free, accentuating your best features.
  • Time management for Work/life purpose – Can you articulate a balanced view of how you have managed to juggle multiple tasks and succeed with results.  It is not enough just to list on your resume activities, how did you master results?


  • Poise – Do you enter the room with confidence and ease?
  • Handshaking – Can you properly shake hands using eye contact and a confident grip?
  • Eye contact- Do you display good eye contact when asked questions, so you appear focused and engaged in the conversation?
  • Knowledge of dining etiquette – If the interview is during a meal, can you navigate the china, glass and silverware during conversation?


  • Knowing your team
  • Interacting with colleagues
  • Communicating with transparency
  • Conflict management
  • Understanding how your performance is measured


  • Making presentations
  • Speech
  • Establishing credibility
  • Delivering messages with impact
  • Micro messaging (non verbal skills)
  • Diplomacy
  • Running effective meetings
  • Active listening

Although I will indeed go out and buy my graduation gifts for my friend’s college graduates, I plan to give them something longer lasting- the gift of mentorship and advice on soft skills.  For now, the graduates may scratch their heads and wonder what kind of gift is this, but somewhere and some occasion where they need to use a soft skill they may look back and knowingly smile because it will be then that they will see its purpose.

Peggy Noe Stevens has over 25 years of industry experience. Today she runs a global image branding business, helping companies develop exceptional talent by teaching confidence, self-awareness and professional presence. She just released her book Professional Presence.  More information can be found about Peggy and her boon on her website