Social media permeates every aspect of our lives, seemingly 24/7. We almost all have online personas now, potentially creating a first impression of ourselves before we actually meet others in real life.
Unsurprisingly then, your online presence can be a powerful weapon in your job search. Equally though, an inappropriate presence—or none at all—can torpedo your hopes of employment in your desired field.
Facebook posts, tweets, YouTube comments, Instagram photos: they all form part of your digital footprint. Before you start your graduate job or internship search, it pays to scrub up your online history and to curate your online personality in order to distinguish yourself from other candidates.
There are no second chances on the internet!
Employers don’t just look at a cover letter and CV when it comes to making hiring choices. A 2020 recruitment survey of more than 500 employers found that 98% do some online sleuthing on candidates; 79% said they had rejected a candidate based on their social media content. Potential employers may flip your CV into their rejection pile if they find inappropriate photographs, evidence of drinking, discriminatory comments—some employers even reject candidates if they post to social media too frequently. Anything you have ever posted under your real name could show up in a search.
At the same time, a survey of more than 1,000 recruiters found that nearly half of employers would be less likely to interview a candidate with no online presence at all.
To have the best chance of finding an internship or job on graduation, you unquestionably need an online presence—and it needs to be smartly curated.
Here’s a simple guide to auditing your current digital presence, and then creating a fresh, professional one.
Google knows what you did last summer; it knows what you’re doing this summer and probably what you will be doing for summers to come. Recruiters won’t have access to all the information Google collects about you, but they will be able to see the same things you find when searching your name.
Using an incognito window (so previous searches don’t influence results), search combinations of your first, middle and last names. Go at least five pages deep—your potential employer will!—and do the same for “images” and “videos”. You might discover a MySpace page you haven’t used in a decade you’ll want to dismantle, or questions on a legal advice site you want to delete. If you find something that will jeopardize your chances with a stringent employer, you’ve got two options: Contact the webmaster of the site upon which the incriminating data is hosted, or contact Google itself, if the data in question is covered by Google’s Removals Policy.
You can also use the Salt Social Profile Checker to track down anything you might have missed on your own search. This is a secure service that will use your name, and keywords associated with your name, to search Google, Google Images and 200 social platforms.
Whether you see something about yourself that you wouldn’t boast about during an interview, or whether you come up squeaky clean, it’s time to build a “Chinese wall” between your personal and professional lives. You’ll need to decide which social media channels are for professional use, and which are for personal use, and adjust your privacy settings accordingly. You can always keep two accounts on one channel if you want to.
Maintain “chinese walls” between your online personal & professional lives
Adjusting your channels to be viewable only by those you approve will resolve nearly all issues. Remember though that even if your accounts are protected, people with access to your accounts can always screenshot anything you post and share publicly. Nothing you post to the net is ever truly private or ephemeral.
As part of moving through this process, you might wish to share a unique name for your handles on the professional side to make it easier for employers to find you. For example, Peter F. Smith or Peter Frederick Smith will be both more searchable and more memorable than just Peter Smith.
Here are a few key platforms to be sure you examine:
Follow directions here to tweak your privacy settings carefully. Ensure that anything left for potential employers to see is appropriate. Untag yourself from photos you don’t want to be associated with. Audit pages/products that you “like”.
Protect your tweets if you don’t want employers to see your tweet history. Then moving forward, don’t post information that you wouldn’t want shared with future employers, even with tweets protected. Factcheck what you share, reconsider who you follow and, to a lesser extent, who you allow to follow you. If you’re staying public, delete any questionable tweets from your history.
A picture tells a thousand words and, as far as prospective employers are concerned, those words should be “productive”, “upstanding”, and “respectable”. If other words might spring to an interviewer’s mind upon viewing your Instagram, then limit its visibility so only approved followers can see your photos. Bear in mind that, even if you have a private profile, other users will be able to see if you’ve liked another user’s photo, and comments are also public if posted beneath the photo of somebody with a public profile.
If some aspect of your online persona is incriminating and likely to be found by savvy employers, then you may wish to address it directly or indirectly while building your positive reputation on LinkedIn or a personal website. Demonstrate that you’re not the same person who made an ill-advised comment online ten years ago. The tendency to make mistakes is human and forgivable; but a determination to ignore them, deny them, or fail to learn anything from them will not endear you to recruiters.
At the same time, regularly produce positive online content so the older content fades further into search engine history. Google and other search engines tend to assign higher ranks to newer content (and web pages), as well as content that generates engagement (in the form of page views or comments).
If you need a hand managing your digital footprint, agencies such as Status Labs, My Reputation Management, Reputation One, and Online Reputation Management Australia specialise in helping people give themselves a positive online boost. Of course, such services come at a price.
As part of your audit, you will need to either create from scratch or re-examine your current LinkedIn profile. Love it or hate it, LinkedIn is the world’s largest network of individual professionals and the world’s largest database of organisations. If you aren’t already aware, LinkedIn is the social media channel where your profile is your CV. To employers, your LinkedIn profile is who you are. Don’t throw away this shot to impress them!
Remember, LinkedIn is not just for suits. Networking—and therefore LinkedIn—is helpful across sectors and industries, and can be absolute gold when it comes to landing your first graduate job. As of 2021, LinkedIn has more than 756 million total users, and 310 million active monthly users. That means that one in every three professionals is on LinkedIn. Only a minority of students and graduates are here though, so having a smart presence is a good opportunity to give yourself an edge over your competitors.
We cover in detail setting up a profile in How to Make the Most of LinkedIn, but in summary here are the steps to work through:
Make the most of LinkedIn, but also explore other social media channels, depending on your industry. People in more visual/creative industries might be found on Instagram; academics on Twitter, and so on. Consider creating your own website to show off a portfolio if you have one; if you have an area of expertise, newsletters are the new blogs! Try Substack or Tiny Letter. Writing regularly about something in your professional area, or about a topic that you are passionate about, shows an employer that you are dedicated and conscientious
Once you’ve done a thorough spring clean, maintaining a positive, attractive online presence isn’t hard to do. Remember, everything you post online contributes to your digital reputation, which is no less real, and no less important, than your in-real-life reputation.
If you’re interested in more information, check out the full 90 minute workshop on the topic available here: https://youtu.be/3gyVKYSMXpU