Over the last month, it’s been widely rumored that Time magazine’s person of the year is once again, not going to be a person, but Twitter. Social media has taken the world by storm and has quickly become an essential networking and recruiting tool. A recent study by CareerBuilder.com showed that 45 percent of employers use social networking sites to screen applicants—double the number from 2008. As job and internship seekers, it’s important to keep up with the latest technology by learning how to use social media sites to your advantage. Of the employees that use cyber-stalking as a screening tool, 35 percent of them eliminate applicants based on what they find online. Use these tips to learn how to best brand yourself on the web so that your online presence can be used to your advantage.
Are you on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter? If you aren’t on all three of these, you should be within an hour of reading this. But don’t have anything on these sites that you wouldn’t feel comfortable pulling up at a moment’s notice to a potential employer. This includes your main photo, status updates, and personal information. Keeping your photos private isn’t good enough--I’ve heard more than once of a job applicant asked to sign into Facebook during an interview. A good rule of thumb: Would you want grandma seeing you in that costume or shotgunning a beer? If the answer is no, you probably wouldn’t want the hiring manager at your dream internship to either.
Develop an expertise in an area you are interested in. A big misconception among students is that because you are still in school, you can’t have authority. This isn’t the case, says Dan Schwabel, an expert in personal branding who encourages college students to develop a voice online. “Future employers are interested in finding out who you are, what you represent, and your opinions on the industry,” he says. Choose a topic or career field that you are passionate about, and use that interest to become a knowledgeable expert in that field by staying on top of the current news and thought leaders.
Make a one sentence personal statement. Identify what you do and who you serve to separate yourself from the rest of your competition, says Schwabel. Look at this as a message to promote yourself, just as a brand develops a slogan to promote itself. Think of your strengths, knowledge, and what you can bring to a company. Make sure this message is conveyed clearly on social media sites, and any other Internet presence you create.
Don’t think you need to compete with Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) for Twitter followers. You don’t need thousands of followers or to be featured on multiple Twitter lists, but you should follow relevant industry leaders, companies you are interested in working for, and peers in the field. Keep in mind Twitter is highly ranked in Google, so if you are updating with mundane comments about sleeping late and how long the line for Starbucks is (which I don’t recommend anyway), then lock your tweets. Although everything you say doesn’t have to be about one topic, your page should be tied into a general theme. Use your bio as a selling tool for why people should follow you (i.e., interests, major and school or profession, goals, and what you tweet about).
Make your LinkedIn profile “100% complete”. Join groups relevant to your interests, write your positioning statement and career goals in your ‘summary’, and ask former employers and internship supervisors to make recommendations on your behalf (it’s the 21st century version of a reference letter). If you have them, you should bring printed copies to interviews and job fairs, or wherever you are giving your resume to a potential employer.
Start a blog! A blog is a great way to show off your strengths and area of interest. Wordpress and Blogspot are easy platforms to use and can be created in a matter of minutes. While it is a good thing to blog about the field you want to go into, NEVER blog (negatively or positively) about a current, past, or potential employer, even if they aren’t mentioned by name. This includes being an anonymous blogger writing about your internship experience. You will get caught (See here and here.) If you spill the beans on a former employer, it can make a future employer reluctant to hire you if it seems you can’t be trusted. If you really can’t resist journaling about the three times in one day that you were sent to Starbucks for skinny vanilla lattes, do it the old-fashioned way—in a diary.
Create a website to serve as your online portfolio. Include your resume (make it available as a PDF so it can be easily printed out), links to the rest of your web presence (i.e., social networking sites, clips, press, basically anything job-relevant that would show up in Google). Brand-Yourself, a start-up (by college students) is one of the leading websites to develop your personal brand by helping to create your own website and establish a marketable web presence.
Consistency is key. Sync your personal bios and pictures on social networking sites and websites you contribute to. Use the same or similar usernames for each of these sites for people to easily remember. Using your first and last name is best, but if you have a common name that is already taken, either create a nickname for yourself (like the Career Diva or Intern Queen), or choose something relating to the field you’re interested in. This will help create a stronger and more memorable web presence.
Dan Schwabel, founder of studentbranding.com and author of “Me 2.0: Build a Powerful Brand to Achieve Career Success”