First impressions are critical, particularly in a professional setting.
Since your career can grow or stagnate based on these perceptions, shaping your online presence is especially crucial. The internet and social media can be powerful tools –positively or negatively affecting your career. Assuming that you, along with many other professionals, are looking to grow professionally, you should be aware of what your online presence is saying about you.
As a professional Recruiter, I am exposed to more people on a monthly basis than many people will interact with in any given quarter, or even in a year. I speak with people in person, on the phone, through email, and online. As a result, I see the good, the bad, and the ugly of individuals more than the average Joe (or Jane). What I can tell you is that first impressions are critical, particularly in a professional setting. In this day and age, many of our initial encounters are not in person, but occur over the phone or most often, online. When we meet others online, perceptions are formed based on the information that is readily accessible to anyone with an Internet connection. Since your career can grow or stagnate based on these perceptions, shaping your online presence is especially crucial. The Internet and social media can be powerful tools –positively or negatively affecting your career.
While not everyone is looking to ascend the corporate ladder at lightning speed, I would challenge you to find someone who truly wishes to stay stagnant in their career. Imagine the following scenario: You get promoted into a cushy Director role with a corner office. However, instead of looking to continue growing your career, you decide that you want to stay in that exact role, with those same responsibilities, at the same company, in the same office, at the same desk for the next 20 years until you retire. Sure, you might get a gold watch and a pat on the back – that is, if the company doesn’t decide on a layoff or corporate restructuring. Meanwhile, your colleagues have been moving on to bigger and better things, into new and exciting departments. And all this time, you have simply put your career in park; being passed over for promotions, raises, and new opportunities. I highly doubt that this is a scenario many of you envision as your reality. And based on my own empirical research, you are not alone – most people don’t want to remain stagnant in their careers. Of my 900-plus professional contacts on LinkedIn, almost one third of them started a new position in 2011. From my experience, I’d imagine that another third is actively pursuing a new role in 2012, and the remaining third is currently enhancing their experience and building their resume in order to position themselves to ‘take the next step’ in their career in the future.
Consider these facts: “Every one of the Fortune 500 has employees on LinkedIn; 499 have employees at the director level or above. The average LinkedIn user is 41 years old and earns more than $110,000 per year. LinkedIn members are 64 percent male and 36 percent female. LinkedIn has become a must-have tool for ambitious professionals, whether they’re currently looking for a job or not. In just a few years it’s grown into the largest and strongest business network in the world.” Additionally, LinkedIn “can be an ideal way for professionals to present an online profile of themselves...Unlike social networking sites, [with] LinkedIn you're outlining all your credentials; presenting the professional rather than the personal you. Considering the sheer vastness of the digital space, the potential for building up a solid base of contacts and fostering new business relationships is boundless." Assuming that you, along with many other professionals, are looking to grow professionally, you should be aware of what your online presence is saying about you. The picture it paints, if not up to snuff, can be detrimental to your success, even if you are not proactively searching for your next role. Your goal should be to create a powerful and POSITIVE presence online, through LinkedIn, Facebook, other social media outlets, as well as what can be found through a simple search engine, which will aggregate any and all information about you into one location with a minimal amount of clicks and effort to the chagrin of many employees and the delight of many employers.
These potential employers will use search engines such as “Google” or “Bing” to research prospective candidates or to monitor current employees. A useful exercise to perform is to search for yourself online – you might be amazed at what you find. “Your professional life exists on the Internet, whether you realize it or not. Just do a Google search for your name, and you’re likely to find all types of references you may or may not have known even existed. You can use LinkedIn as the dashboard that drives your Internet presence. Carefully crafted, your LinkedIn profile will be among their first search results whenever someone prowls Google to find out more about you. Since you create that LinkedIn profile, and you can link it to more of your own good work, you gain control over what people are most likely to learn about you from searching the Web.” As such, there are certain ‘rules of engagement’ or guidelines that will assist you in putting your best foot forward online.
When crafting your LinkedIn profile, consider the positives and negatives of your online profile in the chart below.
Professional information that is current and up to date.
Reasonable ways to be contacted – i.e.: email address or LinkedIn profile address.
Articles published, awards won, and recognition gained.
Volunteer activities and causes that are close to your heart, i.e.: Susan G. Komen 3 day Walk for the Cure participant and fundraiser.
A professional photo of yourself for business purposes.
Objectives: career opportunities, consulting offers, new ventures, job inquiries, expertise requests, business deals, reference requests, and/or getting back in touch.
Inaccurate or misrepresented job history with incorrect dates.
Out of date or inaccurate contact information.
Political or religious statements, information about drinking, drugs, arrests or illegal activities.
Negative statements about your employer, trade secrets, or private company information.
Graphic photos, racist or insensitive statements, information or pictures that can get you fired from your job or kicked out of school.
Private medical information or private family moments, including fresh-from-the-womb photos.
Crafting your profile is a crucial step in the process of creating your online presence – think of your LinkedIn profile as your online resume. Your career progression should be clear and concise, with thorough details regarding your actual responsibilities. Uploading your resume is a simple way to populate the fields initially, and then take a step back to reevaluate what you are attempting to convey. It is important to express your ambition without seeming aggressive – allow your accomplishments to speak for themselves. I suggest taking your profile history back approximately 15-20 years, if you have that kind of work history under your belt. Showing promotions is a positive thing – you’ve worked hard to get where you are and there is no shame in sharing that progress.
Once you’ve constructed your profile, it’s time to think about growing your network. On LinkedIn, you are able to contact directly anyone who is up to 3 degrees removed from you. You will see as you add connections that your extended network will grow dramatically. You will see that I do have a large personal network of over 1000 direct contacts, but what is amazing is the exponential growth as I step two and three degrees away from myself. One step removed from my immediate contacts, I have access to over 440,000 people. When I go one step further, I can directly contact almost ten and a half MILLION people. If you didn’t believe it before, you can see how amazing your network can be for you professionally.
You will find that this network is imperative to your career growth. In tracking my own recruiting efforts, I have learned that the majority of individuals have found their current job through their professional or personal networks, whether those networks were cultivated in person or online. LinkedIn and Facebook, along with any other social media sites, are communities – involving a give and take; an interaction that is mutually beneficial for all members. The community you create and nurture can assist you, and in turn, you can support others. When building your “community”, your network should include colleagues from your current and previous jobs. You should consider clients and external individuals as well as alumni from your bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate programs. Personal contacts are acceptable as well – for example, I am connected on LinkedIn to my brother, my husband, and my best college friend. Their contacts and connections have helped me in my career more than once.
After expanding your network, you should take an opportunity to consider requesting recommendations. A great function of the site is the ability to ask a contact to write you a recommendation for your profile. One word of advice is to ask for a recommendation immediately after completing a project. Strike while the iron is hot – while your strong performance is front-of-mind is a perfect time to tap a contact for assistance. Your recommendations can come from a superior, a colleague, or an individual from another company – I rarely suggest asking someone who reports into you for a recommendation, since it can be viewed as being coerced. Also, when asking for a reference, be sure to ask the individual if they can provide you with a positive reference, since a negative reference can be more damaging than helpful. You will have the option of proofreading any recommendation before it goes public, and you may find that you have contacts whom you think highly of, and you’d like to repay the favor for them.
As a professional who hires individuals on a regular basis, I look for a few key things when I am reviewing a LinkedIn profile. I look for a completed profile with comprehensive job descriptions and at least a few recommendations from trusted professionals. I notice if you have more than merely a handful of contacts, and if you have become a member of relevant networking groups. To know that you have made an effort to utilize the LinkedIn community and to see that you have “paid it forward” to other individuals shows me what type of a person you are. I also look to see if you and I have any shared contacts. The ability to do a “back door reference” is critical – if you and I both share John Doe as a contact, I will certainly call him to get the inside scoop on you. Another thing that any potential hiring manager will notice is grammar, punctuation, and spelling. When you are being considered by an organization, they want to know that you are capable of representing yourself and the company well. Text speak is a massive strike against you, even as we have moved to more of an online interaction in the past 5-10 years. These are simply things to be aware of as you are working within social media sites.
In case you were wondering, I would like to note that I am not an employee of Facebook or LinkedIn, and I receive no compensation from any entity to discuss these sites. In my experience as a professional Recruiter, I simply have found them to be the most widely used sites for personal and professional networking, respectively. “With 135 million users, LinkedIn is ahead of its competitors Viadeo (35 million) and XING (10 million).” Even since the writing of that article, LinkedIn has grown dramatically. As of February 9, 2012, LinkedIn reached a milestone and announced 150 million members. A book that is a great resource and I quote in this article “How to Find a Job on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and Other Social Networks,” was written in 2009 and references only 35 million users on LinkedIn. You can see the dramatic growth and the exposure your profile will have once it is completed.
Most importantly, please note that I have always been, and will always be, a proponent of personal connections as a preference to online interactions. There is NO substitute for face to face contact - it should remain your PRIMARY form of networking. However, in our global economy, you will find that much of your contact will also include a significant amount of online interaction. As such, I am an advocate of LinkedIn for professional networking and Facebook for personal networking. The sites give each and every one of us the ability to craft an online presence that represents us accurately. However, keep in mind that “as much as we enjoy and admire LinkedIn, the site is a tool that can greatly enhance your job-hunting experience, but it won’t necessarily answer all your career-building needs. Offline strategies for communicating with employers and job hunting in general may seem antiquated in view of your newfound power, but they still should take a vital place in your job search.” You are your own best advocate when you can look a contact directly in the eyes, smile, offer your hand, and say “Nice to meet you,” and truly mean it.
SEARCH for yourself online – make sure that you’re aware of what potential employers may find when they search for you. You want the primary search items to be related to your professional life.
COMPLETE your profile – there is a function that allows you to import your resume and will parse it out (most times accurately) to make the completion process simpler. Be clear about your title and your responsibilities. Ensure dates are accurate, and that you are not misrepresenting yourself in an effort to look more accomplished. Proofread your profile for accuracy, grammar, spelling and punctuation. Remember, this is essentially your online resume, and as such, it should represent the caliber of work you are capable of.
BUILD your network – Start by connecting with professional and personal contacts you know and trust. When you connect with individuals (whether you think they are valuable to your future career or not) let them know that you will be sending them an invitation to connect on LinkedIn and that you’d appreciate the connection. You never know when someone can help you in the future, so it’s better to have their contact information available to you. It is in human nature to want to help. Do not send invitations out at random, or without clarifying to the invitee why you would like to connect with them.
CONTRIBUTE to the LinkedIn community – Visit the site regularly. I am on the site all day every day, but I know that my situation is unique. I’d suggest checking the site at least weekly, if not daily. Offer to provide introductions for others, share industry articles, pass on job information to those in your network, etc. Genuinely think of this as a community. Ask yourself what you can do to help others in your community, knowing that, in turn, you will be asking for their assistance at some point in the future.
KEEP it clean – The best rule of thumb is this: Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your mother, your grandmother, your child, or your boss to see. That inappropriate picture from the college frat party shouldn’t be online; nor should the video of your child’s home birth. As beautiful as it may be to you and your spouse, things like this are meant to be kept private. Additionally, religious and political statements, no matter how benign, can offend others unknowingly. Always ask yourself – “Would I hire this individual?” If the answer is no, then clean it up.
UPDATE your profile – Do this as needed when you take a new job, get an award, earn a promotion, change your email address or cell phone number, etc. Current information is necessary, or you lose the opportunity to network. If you took a new job in 2007 and still haven’t updated your profile, now is the time to do it.
JOIN Groups – Facebook and LinkedIn have special interest groups that may be relevant to you and your career. By joining these groups and becoming an active member, you will have insight into industry news and connections with others who have similar skill sets and interests.
UTILIZE the tool – “LinkedIn has been described by online trade publication TechRepublic as having "become the de facto tool for professional networking."” When looking for a new job or looking to hire for your own team – consider LinkedIn a primary resource. Track down an old colleague or mentor with whom you’ve lost touch. The tool is only as good as those who use it. Over a hundred million professionals are taking advantage of the opportunities it provides. Are you? If not, you should be.
Bridgid Nelson, Recruiter, Greythorn
Published in DIA Global Forum 2012 www.diahome.org
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