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Life is filled with memorable moments, and what’s more fun than sharing them with cyberspace? While you may want to highlight your experiences on the Web, it’s also important to think about who might be viewing your posts and what they’re gathering from them. In this day and age, your online persona is fair game if prospective employers want to find out what you’d be like as a member of their team.  So let’s take a moment to adjust the focus of your digital lens and make your image sparkle.

The Walls Have Eyes

The Internet offers opportunities to stretch, grow, and reach out-but also many places for outsiders to sneak a peek, including employers and schools.

A 2012 survey by Career Builder® of over 2,300 hiring managers and human resource professionals found that 37 percent of companies screened social media sites when researching potential employees. Sixty-five percent of respondents that used social media for these purposes searched Facebook. According to the data, the number-one reason employers browsed profiles was “To see if the candidate presented himself/herself professionally.”

Thirty-four percent of professionals surveyed found things online that prevented them from hiring the applicant in question. In today’s competitive market, that’s likely a risk you don’t want to take.

Say “Cheese”

“Employers are reviewing your profiles to see what kind of person you are, who you’re connected to, and how you present yourself,” says Dan Schawbel, author of Promote Yourself: Rules for Career Success, in a 2011 Forbes.com story. “Each gives clues to how well you can fit into their culture.”

Jeff Kaplan, vice president of data science at Kaplan Test Prep, says admissions committees want to see who you are beyond your curriculum vitae and grade point average. Your essays and letters of recommendation show the best version of you. Admissions officers can find a more “raw” version online.

Prospective employers and programs are asking themselves two key questions:

  1. “Is this someone we want working at our company or enrolled in our program?”
  2. “Will this person be a good reflection on us?”

Ultimately these add up to, “Does this person have the characteristics we’re looking for?” Make sure that when they peep in, they like what they see.

Touch-Ups

What does your online presence say about you? Let’s start with pictures.

Snapshots of you with friends at the beach: You know how to relax and have fun.

You in a very skimpy swimsuit at the beach, in a compromising position: Maybe you’re not very mature.

Highly detailed blog explaining the intricacies of particle physics: Wow, you’re smart!

Blog laced with profanity that would make a sailor blush: You don’t know how to self-edit. Plus, I don’t want you near my impressionable five-year-old.

Also be careful where and when you voice your opinions.

For example, I once read a post on LinkedIn by a man who was encouraging people to support prostate cancer prevention. A great cause, sure, but it wasn’t quite the right forum for sharing his colonoscopy experience!

From blogs you follow and Web groups you join, to photos that demonstrate questionable judgment and tweets composed in anger, it’s safe to assume that if it’s on the Web, someone who’s looking will find it.

Tara L., an online student at Ohlone College, says, “Anyone and everyone can stumble onto my [page]. It is important to maintain a [professional] appearance. It is like dressing yourself up for a job interview every day. Make sure it’s clean, concise, and professional.”

It’s time to airbrush that online image of yours. Leslie G., a recent graduate of Ashford University online, says, “Just as we clean our computers and our dwellings, we have to clean and sweep our online images regularly.” Here’s how:

The Mom Test
Take down anything you would only want your closest friends or family members to see or hear. Shelby R., a graduate student at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, says, “I usually filter my photos and posts online for people I know. I have my social networking sites set to private. I keep in mind that my parents can potentially see what I post, so I keep it G-rated.”

Be careful with text messages and pictures sent from your phone, too. You never know where they could wind up.

If your friends or family like to tag you in posts, ask them not to, and to remove those already up. You may also want to talk with them about their own  online images. Vicki B., a sophomore at The Alamo Colleges in San Antonio, Texas, points out, “What your friends say online influences how others view you, even when you don’t agree with what was posted.”

There are online image cleanup tools available. Contact your school’s career counseling office or conduct an online search to find out more.

Protect Your Privacy
Check the privacy settings on all of your accounts. “Security through obscurity,” jokes Marcel G., a junior at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta-but he makes an excellent point. Don’t assume things are private; many sites’ standard settings are pretty open.

Tweak the Saturation

Using the Web judiciously may be the key. Maybe you’re everywhere-Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Tumblr-you name it. About 90 percent of respondents to a recent Student Health 101 survey said they have a Facebook or Google+ profile, while 28 percent tweet and 30 percent use LinkedIn.

Shelby says, “I have used the Web to apply for scholarships, jobs, and supplemental education. I [actually] secured my current job online by using [my school’s] job site.”

Set Up an Advantage
Spreading a wide net can help you showcase your work and stay current. Jesse M., a second-year medical student at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, suggests, “Having a presence online might make you stand out in a good way if you post thoughtful, intelligent comments.”

Tara also uses the Web to further develop her career. “It helped me to expand my photography career into the sports field. I have been pursuing it ever since [someone] recognized my work and decided to [hire] me,” she says.

If you take a more sparing approach, while there’s little to nothing for you to clean up, you may be viewed as behind the times. In the Forbes.com article, Schawbel notes, “If you don’t have an online presence, you won’t appear to be relevant and will be passed over for more savvy applicants.”

So you’ve scrubbed the walls, made sure your Internet pearly whites are sparkling, and finished the last round of photo editing. Now you can sit back as the acceptance letters and interview requests come rolling in.

Pointers on using online tools to promote yourself

Showcase Your Skills Online

Here are some tips for enhancing your online presence, with an eye on reaching potential employers, clients, or schools.

Create a blog or Web site.
Showcase your skills and talents and use them like a virtual résumé. Just make sure to keep it up-to-date, and appropriate. When you make a post, tweet a short blurb about it or create a note on Facebook. Make sure you include a hyperlink. When you’ve published an article, achieved something, or done anything that puts you in an impressive light, share it.

Set up a LinkedIn account.
Populate it with any information that communicates your skills and goals. Make sure your profile pictures are clear and professional. (For example, a photo of you in a tank top and shorts is not a good option.)

A guide to creating a student profile on LinkedIn.

Leverage Twitter to your advantage.
Follow people whom you admire or who are leaders in your field and tweet your opinions about their posts. You’ll be seen as staying current and it will be noted that you are smart enough to weigh in intelligently on what’s going on. Remember, though, that if you’re a follower of your favorite celebrity and you’re re-tweeting his or her off-color remarks, you may be seen as having poor judgment or worse.

Take Action!

  • Remove any photos or comments online that you wouldn’t want your mom to see.
  • Check the privacy settings on all of your profiles.
  • Create a profile on LinkedIn and other professional networks.
  • Use Twitter and other services to follow advancements in your field of interest.
  • Start a blog or Web site. These are great ways to show yourself in a positive light.

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