The time when job seekers relied solely on the newspaper for job ads has passed and now jobs are often found through online sources such as job boards. The obvious benefit is the ability to find jobs on any given day or time of the week, along with information about potential employers. What job seekers must always keep in mind is that potential employers can also learn about them with a quick search using any search engine.

What can be found is a digital footprint and that is what needs to be monitored on a regular basis. It is possible to sabotage your career potential if you don't monitor your online presence and control how you interact with and participate in social networking websites. While this applies to many people in careers where their online presence is closely scrutinized, it is especially critical for those who are in the process of a job search.

Leaving Behind an Online Footprint

Have you considered that your interactions online, including what you post, can leave behind a digital footprint? Most people have a general idea of what this means, some people understand its significance fully, and others have learned its importance the hard way. What you post online may be found and viewed by more than the intended audience, which can include the companies that you hope to gain employment from in the future. An online footprint extends beyond social media as people post comments across multiple platforms. This is not meant to minimize the impact of what is posted on social media as many people are becoming very comfortable sharing a lot of personal details, views, opinions, and other details they would not typically share with an unknown person – someone they would pass by at a grocery store for example. Sharing personal photos is also a popular trend and can lend itself to establishing your online footprint.

Self-Assessment of Your Presence

If you are conducting a job search, or plan to in the near future, this is a good time to assess your existing online presence. If you are actively engaged in social networking websites you will need to devote enough time to conduct a thorough assessment, much more so than someone who occasionally interacts online. You can begin by itemizing the websites you visit and interact the most with over the past six months. Take time to reflect upon the types of interactions you have had, the blogs or articles you may have commented on, and the posts you have made (in general) through the use of social networking websites.

In addition, itemize the websites where you have uploaded and shared photos online. As you consider how you have engaged in online websites, and the types of interactions you have had through social networking, do you have any initial concerns? Do you follow a common pattern, such as posting highly emotional messages? What you want to determine is how this online presence represents you. You can check what is readily accessible by using a search engine and looking up your name. You may need to try a variety of combinations for your name and possibly narrow it down by location. The results may surprise you and/or serve as a call to action. What you find during your search is what a potential employer could find as well.

Tools to Manage and Be in Control

The following four tools will help you to develop a specific purpose for your online activity and create a positive representation of your career plan.

#1. Review, Clean Up, and Improve:

The first step to take in gaining control of your online presence is to conduct the self-assessment provided above. This means reviewing the comments, posts, and photos that you have shared online – either recently or those that are listed through the results of a search engine check. Ask yourself if any of those items are potentially questionable, inappropriate, or create a negative representation of who you are now as a potential job candidate. If so, remove any of those items that do not serve your best interests. Then once a month conduct a search again and utilize more than one search engine. After you have cleaned upon your online activity, it is time to work on improving your presence. LinkedIn is a very good resource as it serves as a virtual resume that can represent you in a positive manner – if you utilize its full potential. For example, you can join professional associations, request recommendations from colleagues and prior managers, receive skill endorsements, add projects and classes, and the list continues.

#2. Manage Your Brand

Both you and your name are a brand. Consider the brands that you are familiar with and what those brands or brand names stand for, such as quality, consistency, reliability, strong ethical values, etc. That is what you need to do with your name – treat it as a brand and associate it with a career field, subject matter expertise, contributions to a specialized field, etc. This will further demonstrate your interest in the field you would like to work in and help you gain the attention of potential employers. For example, if you have a project you've created you can list those within your LinkedIn profile. Google also offers a free platform that will allow you to develop an e-portfolio and this is another self-promotion tool if it is crafted in a purposeful manner.

#3. Manage Your Reputation

In conjunction with your brand you also need to manage your reputation. To accomplish this task you should consider what you want to be known for since words and photos represent you. Of course you are free to post anything you want to, within the limits imposed by the websites you visit, but will there be a potential for damaging your reputation and/or career? That is the question you want to be actively asking yourself as you interact online. This includes any affiliations or associations that you are a member of now as those memberships may appear in search engine results. What you want to do is to align your ethical standards to the goals you have established for yourself and your career overall.

#4. Develop an Online Presence Strategy

If you are unable to remove any posts, photos, comments, or anything else online that might be viewed in a negative manner, now is the time to develop an explanation and have it ready should you be asked during an interview. The best approach you can take is to acknowledge what you are asked about and then state what you have learned since that time and the plan you have created. From this point forward the question becomes – what is your purpose statement? If you want a place to post anything goes or to be less restricted, look for a social networking platform that is less public and allows you to establish strict controls. However, as a general rule you need to always monitor your privacy settings and determine if you do have control over what is viewable or visible to the public. For example, with Facebook you can limit who is able to post on your timeline, what is visible to the public, and who can share what you post. But again, maintain a watchful lookout for what can be found by potential employers and be intentional in what you post on all websites as part of your career strategy.

Now Become Proactive

The tools provided appear to involve a great deal of work and it will be – until you have fully implemented a well-developed career presence strategy. Your interactions and posts online may not all be easily found and viewed by others, and it is also possible you may not be able to completely eliminate your digital footprint. What you can do is take responsibility for what you have posted and now hold yourself accountable for what you post from this point forward. Make certain you have a career plan and align your online interactions with your goals. For example, if you are job searching and want to be viewed as a professional and ethical candidate, make sure your online presence matches it. The words and photos you choose to share online always hold a possibility of being seen by potential employers and it represents you, regardless of what you planned or intended to do. If you develop control of your online footprint it will likely improve your overall job search by presenting you as a positive potential candidate.

About Dr. J

Dr. Johnson has worked in the field of higher education and distance learning since 2005. He specializes in distance learning, adult education, faculty development, and online teaching. Dr. J's roles included Chief Academic Officer, Dean, Faculty Director, Faculty Development Manager, Dissertation Mentor, Faculty Workshop Facilitator, and online instructor.

Dr. J has extensive experience with curriculum development, having authored courses and curriculum for bachelors, masters, and doctorate programs. He also developed a Faculty Performance Model, Faculty Orientation Program, Faculty Training and Mentoring Program, Faculty Professional Development Courses and Workshops, and a Faculty Remedial Program.

Dr. J has a Ph.D. in Postsecondary and Adult Education, a Certificate in Training and Performance Improvement, and a Master of Business Administration, MBA. As a scholar practitioner, Dr. J was published in a scholarly journal and he has been a featured presenter at an international distance learning conference. He has also published over 200 online articles about adult learning, higher education, distance learning, online teaching, and career development.

About Affordable Quality Writing

Dr. J founded Afforded Quality Writing in 2003 to offer skill-based resume writing and strengths-based career coaching. Dr. J helps hundreds of clients each year by providing a well-written and highly effective resume, along with instilling in them a renewed self-confidence and sense of purpose.

Dr. J's Featured Resources

Dr. J's new book is available as a downloadable PDF, and as an eBook: Transform Adult Education: Expert Teaching Strategies for Educators

Dr. J also published the following resources:

  • Transform Online Teaching: Expert Strategies and Essential Resources Every Educator Needs
  • Appreciative Andragogy: Taking the Distance Out of Distance Learning
  • Getting Down to Business: A Handbook for Adjunct Faculty Who Teach Business
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