We have all heard of some of the worst-case scenarios that can happen when you are not careful about your virtual-image and what you or others post to the internet. At my institution there was the now infamous case of the “Saugeen Stripper”. An 18 year old, who performed a striptease in a dorm room, resulting in digital photographs of the party being uploaded to the Internet. Now, over 6 years later, the story of the Saugeen Stripper is documented on Wikipedia. It is not just the young woman who will have to deal with the fallout from that night, but all of the young men in the photos are implicated as well.
Hopefully, in the past 6 years, we are becoming more aware of the long-term implications of one bad decision, but students still need to think carefully about what they are posting to the web and what impact it may have on their or their friends’ careers.
More and more employers are using social networking sites for recruitment purposes. In fact, according to research from the Society for Human Resource Management, 76% of companies said that they use or plan to use social networking sites for recruitment. Although companies do have to be careful, as they do not want to be facing complaints of discrimination based on marital status, religion, politics etc. I would not want to throw caution to the wind and think that they won’t Google me.
So what should and shouldn’t you do?
Set up a LinkedIn Account – Of all of the sites I have used, this one seems to be the best and most-used for professional networking. Take time when you are setting up this account to ensure that the information that you are adding is eloquent, accurate and error-free. This is essentially an on-line resume so you want it to be good. Work towards ensuring that your profile is 100% complete.
Set up an About.Me page – This site is free and easy to use. As long as you create a professional page, that highlights your skills and abilities in a warm and friendly manner, you are set. In addition, they will provide you with an offer to get free, super-sharp business cards printed that can help you with face to face networking.
Be careful about who you add to your network – You want to have people you trust in your network. Prospective employers may base opinions about you on the company you keep, the groups that you join etc. Also, if you have friends that are not as sensible as you, they may think it funny to post embarrassing photos of you to their pages and then tag you in them. If this happens, be sure to ask that they remove them.
Upload a professional business headshot – It is worth spending a little money to get a professional photo taken. You want one that shows your work image, so be conscious of what you are wearing and what is visible in the background. You also want the image to be inviting and relaxed, so be yourself. You don’t want it to look like a mug-shot or an always terrible passport photo.
Take time to understand site culture and etiquette - Some sights are geared more towards making friends, dating etc. and you can add people randomly. Others, such as LinkedIn, are more for business and you need to be able to demonstrate some sort of connection with people before adding them. Do not be pushy or overly persistent in trying to add people to your network. This can backfire and end up making people want to avoid you rather than connect with you.
Follow your dream-employer on twitter – some companies will have a channel or feed that is dedicated to communicating job openings.
Write recommendations for others – It is always great to have recommendations and if you write a recommendation for someone else on LinkedIn when they receive your recommendation it asks them to return the favor. Nine times out of ten, they will. So rather than just going and asking people to write a recommendation for you, you are doing them a favor and just hoping that it will be returned. Reciprocity is essential to good networking.
Post anything on a public forum that you would not want a prospective or current employer to see – Your posts, tweets and comments are public information that just about anyone can access. If you are bragging about going out partying on a Thursday night, a prospective employer may view this as an indication that you party too much and may not be relied upon to show up for work on time.
Make negative comments about your current employer – What you do now is considered to be a good indication of what you will do in the future. Posting complaints about business practices, company politics, or your coworkers may feel good for airing out your frustrations, but it will certainly come back to haunt you. Prospective employers will likely feel that you will do the same to them if they hire you and, therefore, you are not worth the risk to their corporate image.
Upload photos of you at the bar last night drinking with your friends – For many this will be common sense, but the number of embarrassing photos that I see is still staggering. Maybe you realize this now, but didn’t when you were 18. If that is the case, take some time to do the best damage control you can on what has been posted in the past. Ask for images to be deleted, set stricter privacy settings etc.
Discuss controversial topics and information – whether it is in your profile, your comments on blogs etc. you want to try and avoid things like politics and religion that can be divisive. Keep those conversations private by having them off-line or in protected areas with close friends.