Whether you realize it or not, your online presence plays a larger role in your job search than you think. Employers and recruiters now routinely search online to see what candidates are really like — not just what they present in a resume and an interview. And yes, it’s legal. So how should you approach your cyber life? Here’s a three-step process to get you on your way.
Step One: Assess where you are
You can’t fix problems you don’t know about. So to begin, conduct a comprehensive review of all of your online accounts — including the ones that you set up way back in college (or the early days of the Internet, if applicable!) that you haven’t used in years.
Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, YouTube, MySpace, Flickr, and the dozens of others that have come and go in popularity and use over the past 15 years are living out there in cyberspace telling a story about you. And it may be a story you don’t want told!
Remember: first impressions count, and are hard to reverse. Google yourself with keywords pegged to different times in your life, such as schools, cities or previous jobs and organizations, to see what others may see about you.
Step Two: Clean up the mess!
First, don’t panic. Methodically comb through your current and formerly used accounts to determine how they need to be fixed. If you haven’t used an app in years, correct any mistakes and delete embarrassing information, then delete the account entirely. You will at least have set the record straight before the account disappears, and you’re also able to take a screenshot of the corrected site in case an embarrassing issue becomes public.
Second, streamline! Determine which sites are useful to your personal and professional lives and eliminate the rest. For instance, if you’re a Facebook user, review your pics and posts and delete the ones that you don’t want a potential employer to see — or better yet, make your profile private so only friends and real contacts see it. And go back as far in the past as you can for this review! You may have been able to get away with a silly post when you were in high school, college, or even a first job, but look at it in the context of what it says about you today; your judgment, demeanor and attitudes may be more mature today but those can be easily undermined by one inappropriate post.
Now do the same with all your accounts! Some, like Twitter, are easy to review and revise. What’s important to remember is that you must be thorough, because your potential employer certainly will be.
Step Three: Move forward consistently
The best way to ensure your online profile won’t raise any alarms is to be consistent, not only in what you post but also in how you appear.
Simplify by having one professional photo as your ID on all your pages ensures potential employers will see the real you. Update contact and other necessary and appropriate information and stats. For LinkedIn,which is now the go-to site for professionals, cull and condense older positions that aren’t applicable to where your career is today, and add professional organizations and memberships you enjoy and awards or acclaim you’ve won.
Post only those items and thoughts that will enhance your appeal to a potential employer. Be aware of the comments and likes you’re providing, and what they say about you. Better yet, create your own guidelines for appropriate topics and stick to them so that “of the moment” comment won’t come back to bite you.
Moving forward, try to brand your online life as your own. Get your own domain name and utilize that email account; sign up as yourself or a single identity (no cute names!) on your social media accounts, so potential employers see what you’re posting and commenting on. If it makes sense, sign up for Klout so potential employers see the benefits of your online presence. Raising your profile the right way pays dividends.
Your online presence can enhance your job search, or it can kill it before it even begins — that’s up to you. You can clean up and repair past mistakes, but it takes diligence and a commitment to ensure you’re always putting your best foot forward.