Google pretty much has the answers to everything, even to yourself—at least when it comes to your present and future employers. Now imagine that the first result that comes up when they search your name is a Facebook photo of you from three Halloweens ago, in your Playboy bunny costume doing a keg stand. Let’s take it further and say that photo links to an album of other incriminating photos from that night, like one where your best friend dressed as Snow White affectionately places their face near your chest (You both are super silly when you’re smashed!).
Now, sure, those were fun times. They were also old times. But by having such scandals attached to your name and nothing else of value amongst those Google returns, can you really be taken seriously? According to a 2009 New York Times blog, a study conducted by Harris Interactive for CareerBuilder.com found that 45 percent of employers used social networks to screen job candidates, and 35 percent of those employers decided not to offer candidates positions based on what they uncovered about those candidates through their social networks.
It’s easy to overshare on the Internet these days and frankly, at the rapid rate certain social networks are changing their user interfaces, it’s scary to think about what you may or may not be exposing to the rest of the world. However, you can do so much more in controlling your online identity just by showcasing your strengths as a professional. By building your own website, creating a blog, and utilizing social media in a proper fashion, you can bury those photos from Halloween 2010 (At least put them on page 67) and bring your customized URL to your polished freelance photography/fashion design/[insert expertise here] portfolio to the top of the page when your name is Googled! Check out these tips on how to get started (Plus, notes from my personal experiences), and get ready to be noticed on the Internet the right way.
Get an email address with your actual name in it. Simple enough, right? But I bet some of you reading this still use email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. Honestly, I don’t really blame you—I still use my stupid, dessert-related email address when I register for mailing lists. But when filling out an online job application or typing your contact information in your resume, don’t you honestly get a little embarrassed by having to use email@example.com? Hey, anyone can get an email address for free, so take a little time to sign up for another one—this time, free of any cutesey/drug/gangster references and just using your real name. This is the email address you should use when filing job applications, creating resumes, or listing as contact info on your snazzy new website (Which I’ll explain more in my next point!). If it’s too much of a hassle to check a second email address, you can check your mail settings on your primary email account to see if the mail can be forwarded from that address and into your primary account (There should also be an option to toggle between the email addresses you can send mail from, so you should be able to write from your professional email address while logged into your personal account). Just, please, if I were an employer, I’d want to know an email is coming from you and not your S&M club persona justcallmebigdaddy@…Damn, I’m all out of common email providers.
Create a personal website showcasing your work, interests, and aspirations, and register the domain. And you don’t even have to be an expert in HTML to do so! Website builders like Wix and About.me provide templates for easy content creation and blogging platforms like WordPress and Tumblr work just as well, if not better. Having your own website is especially of importance to those in creative fields, as you can give potential employers or collaborators insight into what kind of work you do. Even if your industry is a little more conventional, you can still give employers more details about who you are by including items like a biography, your resume, and your educational, work, and volunteer histories. The domain portion is key for yielding better Google results: Yes, it’ll take some money out of the pocket, but it shows that you own your name. Domain registration is usually in the $10-12 range, plus another yearly fee for mapping. You can register with a Web hosting service like Dreamhost or simply register with whatever site you use to create yours, if that service is available. At my website (Karen-Datangel.net – shameless plug!) that I built on WordPress, I feature samples of my work with every publication I’ve worked with and have detailed sections regarding my work history across various fields. I like to think of it as an expanded resume, and I think that’s how people should treat it when going through this step for their purposes. I also use the blogging function to let people know when I’ve taken on a new gig, or for website updates, such as when I add a new section or new materials. I link it everywhere and include it in job application materials, and the link is definitely in my email signature too.
Start a blog and blog as much as you can. As a journalist looking to find full-time work, blogging has not become a hobby, but rather serious business. I started my blog Karen-On.com in 2010 as I was further realizing my love for writing about film, music, TV, celebrities, performing arts, and pop culture. I wanted to show potential employers that I was capable of doing it, even if my professional experience was limited. You don’t have to be a writer to start a blog that will get you noticed. Of course, if you want to be a current events journalist, start one on current events. If you want to be a sportswriter, start one on your sport of choice, or all of them. But perhaps you don’t want to be a writer, but a chef—so why not share some of your favorite recipes and tips? Or maybe you want to work for a non-profit—why not write about why the cause is so important to you, and share some relevant links? Or you can simply blog about your life. Talk about your commute woes, what it’s like to be a college student or a parent (or both), or what cool new place you discovered in your city or town today. I would say even doing a Photo a Day challenge qualifies for making a blog! By starting a blog, you not only sharpen your Internet savvy skills, but you also show people what you’re truly passionate about. If your blog is compelling enough, perhaps you’ll even develop quite a following. But unless you’re looking into getting into a field that requires little filter (i.e. radio shock jock, lingerie model), remember to treat this as a social network and don’t air out your dirtiest of dirty laundry. You don’t want to talk smack about your last boss on here, for example.
Sign up for social networks—and learn how to use them! So, because there are quite a few to talk about, these are going to be in bullet points:
- LinkedIn: If you ever plan on getting an actual job, you need a LinkedIn page. It’s pretty much your resume in social media form and Facebook without annoying status updates and inappropriate pictures. Instead of “friends,” you make “connections.” So for example, maybe you’ll find out that your old co-worker in the entertainment reporting industry used to work with a veteran reporter who graduated from your college (This is a true story). I can contact that veteran reporter and say “Hey, I don’t know you (But my old supe does), and this is crazy, but here’s my email, so give me advice maybe?” (This is also a true story, but nothing came out of it and this was before that Carly Rae Jepsen song came out). It won’t always work, but you get the idea. Instead of spewing out some hipster BS bio on your Facebook page, you get to boast about your employment history and shout out to the world what kind of work you’re looking for. You also get to follow companies and see their job postings. On the downside, if an employer never calls you back, it’s a heartbreaking way of finding out that someone else now has the position you once pursued. However, following companies on LinkedIn might especially be useful if you’re writing a cover letter and instead of writing that dreaded “To Whom it May Concern:” opening, you can find the HR manager or department head and use an actual name. LinkedIn is a pretty grand place if you’re aiming high in life (And obviously, you are if you’re reading this). Build your network strategically and carefully, as these people may lead you to your next great opportunity.
- Facebook: As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, you don’t want to make pictures from two Halloweens ago public. Things you do want to make public include the latest article you wrote for that website, a flyer for the benefit event your organization is throwing, or on-field photos from that football game you had to cover. Even so, you’d likely want to put them on a Facebook fan page rather than a profile. With a Facebook fan page, you can most certainly keep the content you want to make public from the ones you want to share only with good friends. Plus, a fan page shows that you’re business—you want to be known as an Entertainer or an Athlete, for example, or you want to make one to engage your blog subscribers. Of course you can keep that personal profile and all your drunk photos. But remember that it’s possible to limit who can see that content, and you can definitely combat anything that might slip through the cracks by creating and monitoring a Facebook fan page for content you’d like to share with the general audience.
- Twitter: Twitter is by far my favorite social network. It’s great to have conversations on it and even better for trying to get attention from celebrities—in 140 characters or less, of course. Unfortunately, my page became a hot mess when baseball season arrived. But before that, I used it to retweet my favorite links from the Web as well as Tweets from others and share links to my articles and blog posts. I still do that about 30-40 percent of the time. I think everyone should get a Twitter because you get information in real-time, and that’s pretty cool. And if you follow the right people and pages and Tweet some useful/funny/witty things, you’ll solidify your place in an awesome Internet community. Talk, talk back, share the things that make you laugh or matter to you, and let your thoughts be heard. Also, while I definitely understand wanting to have a locked account (I have one myself, but hardly use it anymore), at least set up a public one that you utilize regularly so you have your name out there and can interact with the general public to offer your thoughts and advice on whatever it is you’re good at—maybe at selecting a good type of cheese to serve at @JoeSchmo‘s cousin Maybelle’s engagement dinner. One of my biggest Twitter pet peeves is when I’m scrolling through my timeline and I see someone try to compliment an actor on a job well-done on the latest episode of Glee, or someone trying to get in on the trending hashtag of #BrazilLovesRandomTeenPopstar, not knowing their attempt to bring light to their favorite cause is absolutely meaningless with that little lock graphic next to their user name. Unless you’re one of the 800,000 people Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, or Barack Obama‘s PR people decided to give a follow back in 2008-2009, they are certain to never see your love/hate Tweets, especially with all the other mentions they get. They probably wouldn’t even see it with your public account, but at least the chances are much greater than when you mention them in your locked account. So if you want to be seen and heard, no need to protect—just keep it fun, smart, useful, and open to discussion and conversation, and register for a separate incognito account for when you get the urge to go all Kanye West.
- YouTube: Whether or not you have aspirations to be the next Jenna Marbles or Kingsley, definitely sign up for a YouTube account. You’ll never know when you’ll want to start making video blogs during your eventful weekly walk to the grocery store, montages of your favorite ship on TV set to an old Evanescence song or want to post that iPhone clip you captured of the alien invasion. And even if you end up uploading nothing at all, what better way to show the world your love for cute cat videos by favoriting all of them?
- Tumblr and Pinterest: These are both good social media channels to have accounts with, but not entirely necessary. I’ve never known anyone who gained fame through Pinterest, but man are some people serious about Tumblr. If you’re a big fan of shows like Doctor Who and comic book film adaptations like The Avengers and their casts plus have the talent and time to create pretty graphics and GIFs, then Tumblr is your network.
Comment on blogs and articles and participate in online forums and communities. Honestly, when I’m keeping up to date with hard, entertainment, or baseball news, sometimes I scroll right down the article and read the comments first. Readers and media consumers have just as much of a say on topics as content creators do. Sometimes they even sound smarter than those who actually put out the article. Also, on the writer side, I appreciate it when people are vocal and invested about what film or album I’ve reviewed, even if they disagree. The next time you’re reading up on the latest update on the presidential election or which teams sports analysts are predicting to make it into the World Series, give it a try—sign in, leave your thoughts in the box below, thumbs up the spot-on comment above yours, and call out that troll six spaces down. Getting involved in such ways shows that you care about something, that you know your stuff, and are willing to share. If you do it enough, you’ll get noticed, and maybe you’ll make a few real-life friends. Additionally, if it’s relevant to the topic at hand and if commenting guidelines or forum rules allow, you could promote your own website or content through these venues.
Get business cards printed out with your website info/social media links on them. Now that you’ve completed all of these online steps, it’s time to go out to the real world and let its inhabitants known that you’re that guy or girl on the Internet—the semi-professional photographer with a gorgeous portfolio for viewing and a Tumblr blog featuring your favorite works from your inspirations. Or maybe you’re the wannabe musician with a YouTube channel of acoustic cover songs. Whoever you are, print it out on a business card, and add those new spankin’ URLs of yours along with your title and traditional contact info so people can check them out. MOO.com and Vista Print offer beautiful and easy-to-use templates for cards to be customized, printed, cut, and shipped to your address. Attending a mixer and running into another fellow aspiring professional—or a reporter or PR rep that might need your help or vice versa—is in your future since you’ve done everything listed in this post, so these cards will be handy.
(And if all else fails, just hand one to the next attractive man or woman you meet.)