Back in the good-ole days, my teachers were constantly warning my classmates and I to be careful what we posted online. ‘Not your addresses, personal information, or anything related to your password hints should be shared,’ they warned. Long lectures, stories, and even cringey low-budget videos often accompanied these warnings, which cautioned us to think twice about everything before we posted it, and assured that we fully understood the dangers that both the internet and our accompanying online presences posed.
I don’t doubt that it’s important to be safe on the internet; in fact, I believe it’s imperative. But with as much as they shoved these warnings and cautionary tales down our throats, none of them ever explained how we can utilize our online presence to our advantage.
What do I mean? I’m so glad you metaphorically asked.
Nowadays, almost every job candidate is going to have some sort of online presence. Whether it’s an obvious social media account or a buried news article from your 3rd grade science fair, your name is almost guaranteed to be visible online in some form or another; this means that—whenever your name is run through a search engine—your potential employer can find all of these hits as well.
In some ways, this is incredible news. After all, a résumé, cover letter, and even a portfolio can only fit so much information, and it’s hard to demonstrate all your amazing skills and qualifications in such a small amount of space and make your application stand out among the others. Therefore, the benefits of having a positive online presence when the hiring manager (inevitably) turns to the internet for help can be immeasurable.
That leaves us with just one question: How do we create a positive online presence for ourselves?
Step 1: Create a Portfolio Website
Imagine you’re surfing the web and you come across a website. The site is amazing, packed with a ton of intriguing information and photos that leads you from page-to-page, captivating your attention and leaves you wanting to read more.
Now imagine if that website was your website. Nice, right? Even better, because to a hiring manager, a portfolio website can instantly help you stand out among the competition and give them a clearer idea of just who you are. After all, a website gives them the opportunity to interact with your portfolio, rather than just skim over it on an application; instead, they can read samples, look at concept pieces, or watch videos of science projects you administered. You instantly become memorable to them, and that’s exactly what we want.
When creating a portfolio website, think of it as a bigger, better, more interactive version of your résumé, where you can fully highlight your talents and skills to potential employers, and not just cram the basics into a small piece of paper that’s only going to be glanced over. Luckily, to help you create a successful portfolio website, you can check out this post from Samanthability, or listen to the podcast episode on the topic (it’s episode 19 😉) from The Offbeat Grad!
Step 2: Utilize Social Media to your Benefit
Most people think of social media as a way to keep up with friends or track what their favorite celebrities are doing. But have you ever thought about using it as a tool in creating your online presence?
No? Okay then, let’s get down to it:
Just as a you should have a portfolio website to strengthen your positive online presence, you should also have active social media profiles (that are featured on your website) that do the same thing. In fact, consider them almost as supporting tools to your website. While a portfolio website can be more of a static tool (because it may not be updated often, especially if your work consists of bigger projects that take several months to complete), your social media profiles can show active updates and interest in your area of work.
For example, if you’re a writer trying to strengthen your online presence, your portfolio website may highlight some of your writing pieces and publications your work has been featured in. However, your portfolio website may not change too often. Instead, to show continual involvement, your social media profiles can give live updates on what you’re working on. You can tweet about your word count for NaNoWriMo or post photos of your desk set-up just before you start writing for the day. These posts on social media—no matter how quick or short they are—can showcase both your work style as well as your dedication and interest in what you do. To a hiring manager who is trying to learn more about his/her candidates, this is especially intriguing.
Another example is an architect or interior design major. (That’s me!) My class projects can take months—sometimes even semesters—to complete, due to multiple steps and demands of each project. Since my portfolio sight wouldn’t be updated too often, I can post photos on Instagram showing my progress and the different steps I’m taking to complete my project and/or work out any issues I’ve come across. Similarly, I can take part in Twitter chats about design, or tweet live updates on my project. A potential employer may not see any updates on my portfolio website until a project is completed, but they can see what I’m currently working on in real-time through my social media accounts.
Additionally, social media can connect you with others in your field, helping you to network and make connections in your industry. It may even land you a job!
Step 3: Clean Up Your Online Presence
Creating a positive online presence isn’t just about creating portfolio websites and catering social media accounts towards your career of interest, it’s about tearing down and deleting anything that would instantly turn your positive online presence into a negative one. That’s right, you heard me. If you’ve posted (or someone else has posted) something that could be perceived as negative about you, it’s time to delete it.
How can you tell what should be left and what should be taken down? The best way to is to look at each post and ask yourself if it (the post, photo, tweet, etc.) would reflect negatively on you if your future boss saw it. It only takes one nasty tweet about your last boss or a photo of you goofing off at work to instantly make someone doubt your work ethic and slap a big fat “DENIED” stamp on your job application. That is exactly what we don’t want, so cleaning up your online presence is a major key to your success in creating a positive online presence.
Step 4: Market Your Online Presence Towards the Job You Want
Having an online presence can make you stand out to hiring managers, but you want to make sure your online presence is marketed towards the job you’re applying for, just like you would want your résumé to.
For example, I’m an interior design student at college. Yes, I could have a portfolio website and social media accounts, but they’re marketed towards interior design jobs. But if I decide to go into fashion design instead (it’s a stretch, but just go with it), then the online presence that I had built up would be irrelevant. After all, my online presence is marketed to careers in a completely different field!
To a hiring manager, this could disqualify my application as my experience and educational background would seem irrelevant. Instead, I would need to re-market my website and social media accounts towards my new career goals, write a post on my website discussing how interior design relates to fashion design, and maybe even another post on my qualifications in fashion design.
The internet is an extremely powerful tool, and when it comes to our career prospects, it becomes even more powerful. The internet isn’t just used for the job search and application itself, it can show off our skills and capabilities in ways that few other people are doing, thereby allowing us to truly use the internet to our advantage. After all, it’s no secret that hiring managers are often turning to the internet to narrow down the applicant field, and having a positive online presence built up not only helps us when our name pops up in a search engine, but it can instantly make us memorable.
Have you used the internet to build up a positive online presence for your career? And are there any other tips I should share? Let me know down below, and be sure to follow along on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook!