As college students prepare to graduate and enter the professional world, they have a challenging and competitive journey to embark on. As with most things in life we must crawl before we walk, which in this case means students should consider putting a metaphoric suit and tie on their social presence prior to sending out resumes.
Crawl Now, Walk Later
Digital District has joined forces with George Washington University's School of Media and Public Affairs to get a better understanding of how students perceive their public presence and build professional, yet personal brands across the Web. Before students can effectively build a personal brand, it's important to first become cognizant of what hiring managers and recruiters will most likely find first. Once awareness is in place, the next step is cleaning up what shouldn't be available and hiding or setting privacy controls on things that don't exude the professional persona you are going for.
As a non-profit organization focused on improving digital literacy, it may sound odd to recommend making accounts private; however, an obvious exception should be made for students transitioning into the professional world. As a student, most are less aware or concerned about privacy settings and the information that's made publicly available, some that may have years' worth of content to go through and locking an account may be a temporary, yet necessary measure. There is nothing quite like a set of photos of you doing keg stands to raise an eyebrow or two.
The Web never forgets
Rule 1: If you share something online, be under the impression that it's public and will live forever. Regardless of privacy settings, self-destructing messages (SnapChat), and the current state of your college sweetheart's relationship, anything and everything you post will never truly be private. Add more friends into the mix, and all those photos from Friday night could end up on the first page of results when an employer searches for you.
You control your brand, so do it
As a student, a majority of questionable content can be controlled directly. Facebook comes with a plethora of privacy settings, Instagram accounts can be made private, Twitter accounts locked, etc. While not every employer will be concerned about what you do with your spare time, it's up to each person to decide how they would like to first be perceived. Think of your Web presence as the first impression before your first impression. The key for students isn't locking accounts, but becoming cognizant of what is tied to their name and how to alter it to their benefit. The easiest places to start are with the largest social media sites, which often rank above the fold on your first page of Google search results.
Cleaning up Facebook
With Facebook there is no way to actually hide your profile completely. Under privacy settings you can request that search engines won't index it, and you can remove your last name in place of your middle name; however, that doesn't mean it can't be found. Therefore it's more important to clean, monitor, moderate, and place emphasis on content you want people to find. Win a student award or scholarship? Highlight it on your wall. In addition to first impressions, employers look for personality and cultural fit, so optimism never hurts.
- Always require approval for tagged images, status updates, and comments. This alone will make it easier to control your Facebook presence.
- Your updates may be private, but what about the comments and posts you leave in public groups? Be aware of where and what you post, regardless of the network.
- Utilize all available privacy tools. Take a look at what public users can see on your profile as compared to those you are friends with.
Twitter, though simple, also has its own set of privacy features. It may be easy to simply lock your account, but if you are seeking a position that has any connection to social media an employer may wonder what you're hiding. Similar to cleaning up Facebook, just be optimistic, reframe from sharing unprofessional photos or videos, and don't converse with accounts that may contain awkward terms. Exhibit A: Oreo during the Grammys.
- Have a real photo of yourself, no comics or avatars
- The link on your profile should point to something positive about you
- Remove any unprofessional photos or videos that appear on your profile
Get on LinkedIn Immediately
When I was in college I had no idea why I was on LinkedIn. I connected with a few professors and colleagues, but I wasn't sure what it was for. Fast forward to two job offers after recruiters found me on LinkedIn, and I've become a firm believer of how important the network is. Though a hiring manager may peak at your Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and other networks, the go-to option is usually LinkedIn.
With entry level jobs being difficult to find, it's up to you to highlight why you would be a worthy time investment to an organization. Ask professors and project partners for recommendations, triple check your grammar and punctuation, and find some interesting groups where recruiters and hiring managers may be likely to engage with you.
- Use a professional photo
- Sell yourself, but be honest
- Never be afraid to ask for recommendations
Building a personal brand is progressive, not immediate
While cleaning up your social presence is only the start to building out a professional, personal brand, it's the easiest to control. You can even use Pinterest to build out a portfolio and link everything in one place.
The last tip I'll leave you with is not only great for job seeking students, but even brands who want to pay attention to what is being said about them online. Use Google Alerts. It's free, takes two seconds to setup, and anytime Google indexes something with your name you can be alerted immediately.