How to Develop a Professional Online Presence

In today's world, employers can learn a lot about you with the click of a button. For the well-prepared, this can be a great thing -- with a little bit of initiative and a solid strategy, you can control (to a large extent) exactly what they'll find. But for those who don't take control of their presence, the results can be disastrous. Are you putting your best face forward?

To help you develop a professional online presence, we asked a panel of college career counselors the following question:

For many students, transitioning their online presence from a social one to a professional one can be challenging. What is one piece of advice you would provide students to help them make a smooth and effective transition?

Their answers are below. As always, we hope you find their perspectives helpful, actionable, and inspiring.

Jesse Ohrenberger

- Assistant Director of Counseling and Programs, Boston University Center for Career Development

jesee ohrenberger

The first step in transitioning your online presence from social to professional is to take an inventory of your current online presence. What does it say about you? This may mean looking at your Facebook profile and conducting a Google search of your name. However, for some students who may be active on other social sites (like Pinterest, Reddit, Twitter) or have their own blog there may be more material to look over.

Clean up these sites by deleting inappropriate posts, photos, comments, and posts that you would not want an employer to see. When in doubt - leave it out. While privacy settings are important - if it is on the internet (even in the most private of Facebook accounts) an employer may see it. You may still use these sites in a social way, but continue to monitor what is posted and delete any new posts that don't flatter you.

After cleaning up past posts, begin building your professional presence. Establish a LinkedIn profile and be active on the site. Join groups in your industry, comment on posts, and post interesting articles relevant to your field. Keep your personal posts off of LinkedIn. You may also want to consider strengthening your professional online presence by establishing a blog about your field, creating an online portfolio, or commenting on articles written in your industry.

Amanda Peters

- Career Development Specialist, MIT

amanda peters

If you have been using Facebook and Twitter only for social purposes, and are not sure how to make your online presence a professional one, never fear. You can make yourself look more professional online quickly.

1) Check your privacy settings on Facebook. Ensure none of your posts can go viral to friends-of-friends, and that you cannot be tagged without your knowledge. Delete old posts and photos that may be inappropriate ‘for the office.’

2) Think before you post- what kind of image are you projecting?

3) Set up a Linkedin account and ensure it is complete. This is often the first thing that will come up in a Google search and you want to make sure it is professional, with a smiling photo of your face, and is only used for professional communications and connections. Share updates, perhaps one a day, on topics related to your professional interests.

4) Set up Reppler. This service screens your posts for possible ‘red flags’ for potential employers.

5) Google yourself. What comes up on the first three pages of hits? Depending on what you find, can you 1) make your professional image more prominent- i.e. write blog posts on your professional area of expertise, add connections to Linkedin; 2) ask for offending posts to be removed, i.e. by friends who may have tagged you in photos; 3) bury the offending results, similar to #1.

Andrew Crain

- Career Consultant, Terry College of Business, The University of Georgia Career Center

andrew crain

Depending on which study you read, it is said that 70-90% of employers now assess online content at some point during the screening process. For most students who have had Facebook profiles and other online accounts for many years now, the biggest concern with this situation is simply knowing what is already out there. I highly encourage students to conduct their own “digital background check” before they jump into the job market. You should start by entering your name into Google (use quotation marks, i.e. “Andrew Crain”), and see what comes up – most importantly, what appears on the first page?

If there is an email address you are using for your job search (for example, the one on your resume), then enter that into the search engine as well and see what comes up. Email addresses or other contact information (cell phone, street addresses) that you have used for a while may be connected to some search results that you don’t necessarily want employers to find. Don’t forget to look at images, too.

Overall, you just want to review your online presence and make sure there isn’t anything offensive or unprofessional about your image. Don’t just consider content, consider your communication style as well – tone, grammar, and punctuation. Remember that everything employers see online affects how they perceive your intelligence, judgment, and overall “likeability” as a candidate. Were you complaining about a past job or boss? Do you regularly go off on political rants? Perhaps you Tweeted a few frustrated expletives last weekend when your team lost the big game? You can evaluate any questionable information based on the “grandmother” rule, as in: “Would I be ok with my grandmother seeing this site/photo/status update?”

After reviewing your digital footprint, then you can start to assert greater control over what is out there. Learn more about controlling your Facebook privacy, remove or delete any sites you no longer want to be associated with, and create a LinkedIn account to generate something positive and professional. And last of all, contact your campus career center with any concerns – usually a career counselor can help you troubleshoot any issues you encounter!

Britney Fields

- Associate Director, Recruitment & Alumni Relations, Emory University

britney fields

The key to a professional profile is to remember your audience. Yes, you may have friends on your network, but you will also be adding contacts from potential employers, alumni, and friends of friends. None of these network members need to know how many rum and cokes you had last night, your political affiliations, or the cute trick your cat did last night. Save the witty tales for your social memberships, such as Facebook. And even there, be careful with the info that is available to the public, as more and more recruiters dig around Facebook to get to know you better.

For more professional sites such as Linked In, keep your updates, if you write any, focused on professional topics. This may mean you do not link your Linked In to Facebook. Also, make sure your profile picture on Linked In and similar sites stays within certain boundaries as well. This isn’t a place for keg competition highlights, group pictures, or shots on the beach. A simple headshot, whether taken by a professional or not, will do.

Matt Ishler

- Assistant Director, Career Counseling, Pennsylvania State University

matt ishler

I don’t know that an online presence needs to be a distinctly social or a professional one. Students should be aware that information online can be viewed by employers, and may influence an employer’s first impression of an applicant for employment. A question that I would ask students is, “What type of information do you want employers to know about you based upon your online presence?” Students can influence control over their online presence by monitoring and carefully setting privacy and viewing settings on social media.

Opportunities exist for students to support their career goals and interests through their online profiles. For example, students can create a personalized website and post samples of academic papers and projects related to career goals, or post work-relevant samples of community or leadership experiences. Online profiles can also provide examples of a student’s technological and communication skills. Here are some additional tips that I have found to be useful while assisting students with their online profiles and career applications:

1) Keep online content positive in tone. Although the internet may be a tempting place to vent or share frustrations, be aware of how these comments may be interpreted by employers.

2) Use the internet as a place to update your resume. When employers see a recently updated profile and resume, this contributes to the impression of you as an organized and proactive potential employee. Beyond the resume, consider adding a goal statement, profile, or a summary of your skills to your profile.

3) Does your desired career goal lend itself to an online or internet format? For example, if you are an aspiring educator, posting lesson plans and notes from students / mentor teachers may be a great way to enhance the career relevance of your online presence. If you are a musician, recording a segment of your performance can offer employers the chance to hear or view your work.

4) Work with your college, university, or local public library to develop your own personal website. Adding new professional content to the web can potentially supplant web content that may be less professionally relevant.

5) Use LinkedIn to connect with groups and organizations, current and former colleagues and contacts, and build new networking connections.

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