Before you read this, I want you to do something. Make sure you are alone with a computer and in a private place; it’s kind of a dirty request. All set? Great, now Google yourself. What’s the first thing that pops up, maybe your Facebook profile? While that picture of you doing a keg stand in your underwear might impress your friends, it could be the difference between getting your dream job and living in mom’s basement post-graduation.
In this day and age, finding information on people you have never met before is easier than ever. If you don’t think an employer is going to take 10 seconds to enter your name into a search engine as part of the vetting process, guess again. Here’s the good news: not only can you make sure that you don’t tarnish your name, but you can actually make your online presence work to your advantage.
Keeping a well-managed and professional online profile helps you to stand out from a crowd of other recent graduates when applying for competitive entry-level jobs, and can also allow you to network with other professionals in your field.
Making new contacts online is an excellent way to at least get yourself an interview for a company that would have otherwise put your application in the “shred immediately” pile. However, it’s also important to consider what kind of information you are putting out there. Remember that you want this to be publicly accessible information on the web, so putting your phone number and a list of your fears might not be the best idea.
So what can you put up to impress the bigwigs? A copy of your resume, a detailed work history and a list of interests and achievements is a great start. If you have any school projects that you are particularly proud of, throw them up as well. Despite what mommy might have told you, selling yourself really is the best way to get noticed — so long as you are selling to the right crowd. Add contacts from prospective companies and ask questions about job openings and requirements. Even if they cannot answer the questions for you, they will generally be more than happy to lead you in the right direction.
“Creep-proof” the ’Book
I don’t think it too big a generalization to say that most people who are on Facebook use it to facilitate their social life. This is perfectly fine, of course; just be sure to manage your security and privacy settings. Even if you think your account is already secure from the public, go back and check. I have friends who are good enough at creeping that they could probably make a case for opening a business as private investigators. A helpful hint: hide your friends list on the off chance that someone decides to filter through friends’ photo albums for photos of you. Suddenly, the “duck-face” MacBook album isn’t so funny.
Don’t be a twit, tweet
Just because Facebook isn’t necessarily the best tool for networking with professionals doesn’t mean that other social networking sites should also be tossed to the side. Twitter can be a great tool for getting in contact with employers and learning about a company and the people who run it. If you already have a Twitter account that you use in the same manner as Facebook — that is, to creep on people who you will probably never meet face to face — then there is a simple solution: just create another account. Seriously, it only takes two minutes. Make sure that your account name is nothing obscene and you’re good to go.
Another option is to use a Google+ account as a place to establish your professional profile. However, the number of users is still quite small relative to other choices, and it may be difficult to connect with smaller local companies this way.
Get LinkedIn with the big players
Finally, set up a LinkedIn.com account. This is non-optional; immerse yourself in its social-networking goodness. It’s designed specifically for establishing a professional online profile. You can connect with companies, as well as their employees and executives, get updates on job postings, and post your resume and work-related skills. If you only take one thing away from this article, please let it be that LinkedIn is essentially everything you need in one convenient package.
And for now for that more personal touch . . .
The best thing about establishing an online presence is that you don’t have to pick just one method. Actively using any combination of the aforementioned social networking sites is the best way to make as many contacts as possible.
Now, if you’re an ambitious individual and not strapped for cash, another option is to pay someone to build you your own personal website. This gives you the option to post whatever information you choose and will set you apart from the sea of social networkers. A good place to start is in the department of computer science. Many students do freelance web design and would be happy to set you up for a fraction of what professional webpage designers would charge you. But be sure to take a look at their previous work; if their portfolio consists of webpages of cats dancing against a flashing neon background you, might want to consider someone else for the job.
So, now that you’ve set up your professional online profile, Google yourself again. Twice in one day might seem a little ridiculous but just bear with me. Hopefully by now the poorly photoshopped Facebook pictures of your head on David Hasselhoff’s body have been replaced with a more professional online persona. Think less Baywatch, more Mad Men.
Remember: you want to promote yourself in a way that will allow employers to get to know you and your skill set while limiting the amount of information they find on what you ate for breakfast, how much you drank last night or whatever else your latest status update might say.
Managing your online profile is the first step towards living the Don Draper lifestyle.