What happens when a potential employer searches for your name on Google? What they find are sites and references to you, to your online presence. This presence, or identity, is made up of online profiles and other information you have made openly available. An article by CEO, Inc. cites a study that found "90% of recruiters regularly use Google to search for additional information on candidates." The Wall Street Journal also recently addressed an increase in employment recruiters' use of social networking sites. You can take steps to manage the online presence you may already have (based on past and existing online activity) and plan a thoughtful approach to your future online activity as you pursue higher education and career advancement.
Understanding Online Presence
I've written here before about using sites like LinkedIn and Twitter to help build your professional network. Your participation on these sites also impacts your online presence. As an online student it is important for you to consider your online presence as it relates to future employment and know that there are steps you can take to manage it. This is particularly critical in a tight job market where you want to be as competitive as possible for available positions. Take a professional approach – thinking and planning ahead to begin building a positive online presence as a student.
Your online presence can include a multitude of items and files such as personal websites and blogs, comments you've made on other websites and blogs, and profiles you have set up with various Internet services including social networking profiles like Facebook and Twitter. Make it a professional presence. Read more about predictions that your online presence may be more important than, or even a replacement for, your resume in the future.
Establishing Online Profiles
When you register for just about any web-based service these days, you are either required to or have the opportunity to set up your own user profile with the service. These profiles can be a great way to market yourself as part of a job search and encourage networking with other professionals in your field that are using the same service. These profiles can also become time consuming, both to establish and maintain as your information changes – especially if you are active on multiple sites.
- Consider adding a photo to your profile when you have the option to do so. Use a close-up of a professional nature (not a casual shot with family and pets.) Once you have a photo ready, it may be a good idea, and convenient, to use the same one for all of your online profiles.
- Consider the pros and cons of setting up separate profiles. You may be planning to share some accounts with professional and school groups, while others might be reserved for family and friend connections. Privacy settings are key here. Also consider what might emerge via search engine, whether it is private or not.
- Consider homepage access options like about.me and flavors.me. Free versions allow for a lot of personalization and customization. Used like an online business card, these sites can serve as a one-page hub for access to all of your profiles and professional sites.
- Don't set up a profile if you are not planning to use it. You'll want to keep everything up-to-date and having more open profiles makes updating a bigger project than it needs to be.
- Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your parents, your teachers, your neighbors to see. Be conservative with the information and images you include as part of your profile and account.
- Don’t forget that your profile is under your control and reflects directly on you and your choices.
- Don't post negative or derogatory comments as part of your profile's status update. This also applies to Twitter. Stay positive!
Protecting Your Privacy Online
According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, you can expect "…no such thing as 100% private" where the Internet is concerned. I've also seen advice to not put anything online unless you would also want that information on a billboard. Strict perhaps, but the permanent nature of digital information warrants caution. As you have likely seen in recent political scandals, information on the Internet is subject to scrutiny.
Privacy is part what you decide to share and part how you decide to share. Privacy settings and features should be included in your decisions about what to post. You may upload information for example that is not of a professional nature, but something you want to restrict to friends or family. Protecting your privacy online is an ongoing effort. Facebook is just one example of a site that changes the options and default settings periodically. A recent change involves the addition of face-recognition software that could identify you in photos that other users have posted without your approval. Allowing this kind of photo tagging is a new default setting that you will need to change in your account.
Online privacy is also perhaps an unrealistic expectation. You can choose to not upload personal information, but what you do provide can be potentially accessed by anyone. Blogger and elearning author Jane Bozarth advises "if you want it to be truly private, don't put it online" in her post, It's YOUR privacy: Own it. As you move forward with your education and career goals, consider how you own your privacy and online presence through the decisions you make along the way.