Don’t let social media undermine the promise of graduation

It’s June, and graduation season is upon us. If you’re a recent college graduate, you may be thinking about what steps to take to turn your degree into employment. If you’re a recent high school graduate, college and internships beckon. As part of your career journey, you should be taking a moment to consider your social networking presence.

As part of the generation that has grown up in the presence of computers and the Internet, you are undoubtedly aware that things have a way of leaking out and going viral. But a lot of us may feel that our actions are not so noteworthy that they will get that much attention, and so we tend not to censor much. But since prospective employers or schools may now be scrutinizing your online existence, this is a good time to consider what they might see when they start searching.

Filtering and privacy

As a quirky and outspoken lady living in a town full of quirky and outspoken people, I am the last person who would tell anyone to tone down their self-expression. That said, it is important to consider your audience. Now might be a great time to develop a separate personal and professional social media presence, if you have not dine so already. There are a variety of ways you can do that, either by setting up filters by groups, or by setting up separate profiles whenever that option is available on the social network of your choice.

It’s a bit difficult to get into the specifics of which social network to use for what purpose, as trends and settings on specific sites tend to shift like the winds. That said, the general idea remains the same: Your professional profiles should focus on your accomplishments and career-related interests, and generally be more carefully curated. Your personal account can showcase your own personality more fully, but remember that there is no such thing as total anonymity on the Web. Unless you would be comfortable explaining your post to your grandparents or your future employer, it is best just to leave it off the Internet. The best way to avoid having to fix social media problems is not to cause them in the first place.

Here a few suggestions for how to see what potential employers would see, in three areas they are likely to look for you when checking you out:

1. Search Engines

The first place employers are likely to look for information about you is on the major search engines like Google and Bing. Be sure to do the same, searching for at least your name and email addresses, paying particular attention to the links in the first two or three pages of results. Don’t forget to look at image results from searches, these can be quite surprising, and sometimes revealing.

If you run across any results that you would not want a potential employer to see, start by talking with the site’s owner. If this does not get the offending result removed, you may be able to get help from the search engine directly or use other techniques to get the result removed. Barring that, you may at least be able to get it buried deeper in the search results (by increasing the number of positive results about you).

Abine, the makers of the DoNotTrackMe tool have posted detailed instructions for how you may be able to get help if the site owner is unresponsive. Readers in Europe may have additional legal recourse against defamatory links due to the recent “Right to be Forgotten” ruling, though at this time Google has been so swamped with requests through its automated request tool that this is unlikely to be useful in a timely fashion.

2. Social networking sites

The first thing to do with your social networking profiles is to adjust your privacy settings. You will want to have some sort of visible profile, so you can showcase your professional skills and accomplishments. Whether you do this on a professional networking site such as LinkedIn, or with a profile on a more general site such as Facebook, Google+ or Twitter, will depend on a number of factors, including in which industry you wish to seek employment. Some industries have more of an expectation of a presence on one site or another. (Networking with people within your industry should help you learn which one to favor.) Again, don’t forget image and video networks where you may be over-sharing.

If you choose a more general site, and use it for both professional and personal purposes, you will need to be more cautious. Setting up individual and group permissions for your posts is important, but check the privacy settings for friends’ posts that tag you too. One unfortunate post from a friend could quickly undo all the hard work you have put in cultivating your online persona. Facebook in particular will allow you to see what a specific individual would see when your profile is viewed; it is a good idea to check this against people in your various groups, periodically. (At the time of writing, this feature is under Privacy Shortcuts: “Who can see my stuff?”)

3. Comments online, in newsgroups, and forums

One area that many people forget to consider when sanitizing their digital presence is comments they have left in various places on the Web. If your name or email address is associated with comments on any sort of publicly accessible site, including newsgroups and forums, you want to check if there is anything visible that might cast you in a bad light (e.g. that fairly extreme thing you said that one time you posted a late night rant). Removing unwanted comments or posts may be trickier than removing links from a search engine, but the idea is much the same: First contact the site owner, and if that does not work and you still wish to pursue it, you may need to be prepared to take legal action.

Accentuate the positive

Lest we get too bogged down in the negative aspects of our online presence, it is equally possible to create positive impressions in these three areas too. One good way to make yourself stand out to prospective employers, when you are in a sea of qualified applicants, is to make sure that your online presence includes plenty of examples of your skills and knowledge. This should include your own description of your skills, along with recommendations from others, but it is important to let your actions speak for you too. Make sure there are plenty of links available to search engines that help create a professional, flattering view of you including blog posts, tweets or other creations, along with comments in newsgroups or forums for your industry. This way, even if your online persona has some blemishes, you can diminish them by showing people why you would be a valuable employee.

Author Lysa Myers, ESET

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