Mobile phones, tablets, e-readers and laptops put the internet at the tips of our fingers nearly every second of every day. This constant access makes it simple to add things to our online profiles without much thought. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other websites are full of pieces of your life, but how do those pieces reflect on you?
Potential employers don't make hiring choices based just on your interview skills. Chances are, they've already formed an opinion on you before you meet face-to-face, based on what they've seen on your online professional profile.
According to Polly Wood, director of special projects at Reputation.com, companies often conduct internet searches on potential employees, and what they find makes quite an impact.
"Recent research shows that 33 percent of people click on the first organic Google search result, 18 percent click on the second, and by the time you get to the tenth result, just 2.4 percent of people are looking," said Wood. "So if a hiring manager or a recruiter doesn't see something impressive in the first few search results, that's a risk for you and it results in missed opportunities."
Wood suggests you search your name to find out what they'll see. "Self-audits are step number one. Search yourself on the major search engines (Google, Bing and Yahoo, at least) and don't forget to do a second search for images. An unflattering photo can be the visual that torpedoes your chances. Take note of what you find and start thinking about what you'd like to find," she said.
Your social networking accounts are probably used for socializing, but put a professional spin on them to make sure potential employers know you're serious about your career. "Start new Facebook and Twitter accounts — all with a professional focus. You want people to find these profiles and check out all your sharp insights on industry topics, right?" Wood asked. "Create a profile on resume.com and similar sites, which tend to rank well in search results."
Believe it or not, the internet is more than just your social playground. Use it to your advantage by spending time on sites that make an impact. "LinkedIn is a great social site for professionals," said Wood. "Make sure your LinkedIn profile looks amazing — fully fleshed out, crisp descriptions, compelling recommendations from former colleagues, managers and mentors. But use it to expand your network too."
It's not just you companies see when they look at your profile. "Remember, companies are hiring you, but your digital Rolodex can be a great selling point," she added.
Heather Taylor, social media manager for MyCorporation.com, says your profile picture has the ability to impress. "I recommend keeping your profile picture or avatar as updated as possible, especially if you attach your full name to these profiles. Companies looking for you will be checking out your skills, experience and endorsements, but they'll also be curious about what you look like," she said. "You can go for a slightly more casual photo on sites like Pinterest or Tumblr and use a head shot on LinkedIn or your own portfolio site. Avoid using avatars that aren't you on the professional sites especially — your LinkedIn profile picture shouldn't be of a model from a fashion editorial."
ZoomInfo is a site that automatically collects data about people online from different sources on the internet, and many employers check ZoomInfo to find information about candidates. Cheryl Palmer, president of Call to Career, says utilizing this site is key in controlling your online profile.
"Sometimes there will be erroneous information on ZoomInfo under your name because the site confused you with someone else with the same name. Also, there may be information that is omitted about you that should be included," said Palmer. "You can go to ZoomInfo for free and claim your name and correct any mistakes there may be. You can also post your picture to your profile if you choose to."
It's no secret that nothing is really private where the internet is concerned. Be careful what you post to any site, because once it's there, you can't take it back.
"Remember that anything you post online has the potential to be seen. So be wary, regardless of your privacy settings," said Jennifer Barbee, CEO of Jennifer Barbee Inc. "Always act as though what you publish on the internet will be seen by everyone, because it could be! It's always better to be safe than sorry, because internet infamy lives forever."
Barbee recommends carefully examining your online profiles and taking action to make sure they reflect positively upon you. "If there's something inappropriate or inaccurate about you online, take steps to have it removed. If it's a legal or defamatory issue, contact Google and/or the other search engines to see if it warrants removal. If it's a negative comment, photo or video that's inappropriate or something else that's just unflattering, contact the poster and see if you can find a mutual resolution."
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