A digital profile is the new first impression: Potential employers often see it before they meet you.
Your online presence shows a glimpse into your personality. And, more importantly to potential employers, your digital profile offers insights into your accomplishments and – this one’s important – insight into your judgement.
Since virtually anyone can access social media sites, or find their way around security settings, organizations want to make sure that potential employees can uphold the company’s image and reputation with their online presence.
Violating a company’s social media policy has cost people their jobs. It can also screen out potential employees from moving further in the hiring process.
Is your online presence helping or hindering your job search? Here are some tips for ensuring a professional online presence no matter the type of role you are seeking:
1. Google it! The first step in reviewing your online presence is to search for yourself and to do an inventory of your digital footprint.
What comes up when you Google yourself (both in web and image searches)?
Consider deleting any questionable content or old profiles and check your posts, tweets, snaps and photos.
Don’t forget to see if a friend, colleague or family member tagged you in any posts or photos in which you don’t want the world (or even friends of friends) to see.
Use the "mother test" here – if you wouldn’t want your mom to see it, delete it now.
2. Privacy check. Pay special attention to the privacy and security settings on all your profiles. For your personal accounts like Instagram and Facebook, make sure your settings are airtight.
For LinkedIn, you want to choose a slightly more lenient privacy setting, especially when you’re in job-search mode. Stringent security on this site can make you look like you’re being less than forthcoming, and can also make it difficult for employers, recruiters and your contacts to find you.
3. Picture perfect. Your profile photos on social media sites are the first glimpse employers have of you. What do they see?
For networking sites like LinkedIn, opt for a headshot (professionally taken if possible). It’s difficult to see your face in a full body shot. You should also be alone in the photo – pictures with multiple people can be confusing, and unless you’re a graphic designer, your cropping skills are probably not top notch.
Make sure you look current and presentable, and try to capture your professional image. On more social sites, your profile picture can be more casual, but forget about the shirtless selfies or pictures with a cocktail in your hand. Casual doesn’t mean careless.
4. Check your dates. If the last time you updated your LinkedIn profile was when you created it years ago, or when you started your last job, log on now! Make sure your company names, job titles, and dates of employment are correct and match your resume.
Any inconsistencies could cause a potential employer to question your honesty or integrity. At best, you look sloppy and disorganized.
5. Watch what you "like.” You should also avoid "liking" posts and photos about provocative subjects.
While you may think it is harmless to give a thumbs up to a meme with snarky content, think again. Those who are following you can see your “likes” on their feed – and often, so can their connections. Keep it professional.
Questions about content
Your content presents "you" to the rest of the world – recruiters, potential employers, and members of your professional network. Keep them in mind when you are using social media.
Content do's: On LinkedIn, be sure to give a clear and concise picture of your professional identity. List your job titles and give a brief description for each position, including the accomplishments relevant to your current (or target) job.
It’s also a good idea to include references and links to published work or professional blogs to demonstrate your knowledge and professionalism. Make sure you belong to several groups that represent your chosen field or industry.
Finally, try to post content a few times a week, and use your profile to showcase your career expertise. Recruiters love this type of profile: You make it easy for them to “sell” you as a candidate.
Content don’ts: No matter how private your settings are, stay away from any controversial topics on LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media sites while looking for a job.
You may have strong opinions on political, religious, or social issues. However, these are scorching hot (and extremely subjective) topics: Others may disagree, think it’s inappropriate, or respond negatively. Post about these topics at your own risk.
The bottom line
A messy digital footprint could be more than a faux pas. It could negatively impact your job search. Having honest, accurate, and appropriate information on your profiles can help you land your next position. Being invisible is not the solution – many employers ignore people they can't find on Google or LinkedIn. So, be visible – very carefully and professionally!
Think of your online presence as your own professional brand. Build it and care for it so it can take you to the next level in your career. See Job-Hunt's free Guide to Personal Online Reputation Management for more resources.
Elizabeth Webster is a senior staffing manager in the Accounting, Finance & Administrative division of WinterWyman Contract Staffing, while Meghan McFee is a principal staffing manager in the Technology division. Both are contributors at Job-Hunt.org.
This article originally appeared in a slightly different form on Job-Hunt.org.