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Life is filled with memorable moments, and it can be extremely fun to share them with friends through social media. However, while you may want to highlight your experiences online, it’s also important to think about who might be viewing your posts, and what kind of impression your words and photos might be making. Social media profiles are extremely easy to find, and can be viewed by both your college friends, and prospective employers. This is exactly why it’s important to take a moment to adjust the focus of your digital lens and ensure that your online image is .

‘Casual Friday’ Online

The Internet offers opportunities to stretch, grow, and reach out; however, it also provides schools, employers, and other professional institutions a glimpse of your character.

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.

It can be best to think of your social media profiles as “Casual Friday” areas. While it might be alright to dress casually, you don’t want to present yourself as doing, or saying, anything that you wouldn’t say at the office.

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 if someone that you would like to work with looks at your social media profile, 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 playing a sport: You know how to relax and have fun.

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

Blog laced with profanity: You don’t know how to self-edit. Always avoid using profanity when communicating online, you won’t have to worry about potential employers reading your posts, and you’ll also sound more intelligent!.

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. While this is certainly a great cause, LinkedIn is not the most appropriate forum for this type of information.

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 be able to 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 , 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 images that are 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.”

If you think you might need additional help cleaning up your online image, there are online image clean-up tools available as well.

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.”

By keeping your online image clean, you can ensure that, no matter what the angle of your profile picture, you are always showing your best side!

Pointers on using online tools to promote yourself

Showcase Your Skills Online

Here are some tips for enhancing your online presence, with an focus 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 professional. When you make a post, tweet a short blurb about it or let others know about it 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, be sure to share it with others.

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.

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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