Creating an Online Presence: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Make a carefully constructed online presence part of a productive job search strategy

By Michael Michalisin, Regional Managing Director

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It’s likely you know that there is extraordinary pressure right now for companies and their executives to be knowledgeable about interactive media and to show that they are capable in this area. So you’re probably thinking that you need to dive into the digital world and start building an online presence for yourself rather than risk being left behind when it comes to important job opportunities.

However, while you may read and hear a lot about digital job search techniques, be wary of the many pitfalls along the way and realize that an online presence should be only part of your overall efforts to make your search for a new position more productive.

A revealing experience

Start by doing a Google search on yourself. If you’ve never done this before, it will be a revealing experience. The items that show up in the search results – good, bad and indifferent – are also what a potential employer will see when they search for you on the Internet.

Search results may include social media, such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter; videos you may have posted on YouTube; and pages where your name is mentioned on the websites of employers, associations and trade publications.  If you’ve posted any blogs (on your own or on behalf of your employer), those will also appear.

If you’re surprised by the size and scope of what turns up in your search, you shouldn’t be. Most of what happens on the Internet, stays on the Internet. However, you should look for any problem posts that you can correct or delete, if possible. There are numerous documented cases where employees have lost their jobs or weren’t considered for new positions because of inappropriate or unprofessional items that were posted on social media sites.

In fact, a frequently quoted 2009 study by Proofpoint, an Internet security firm, showed that 8 percent of companies with 1,000 or more employees reported having actually dismissed someone for their behavior on sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. That was double from the year before and no doubt the numbers will continue to rise.

Don’t avoid social media

This doesn’t mean you should avoid social media. Sites like LinkedIn give you the opportunity to post your profile and promote your capabilities in a discreet and professional way. At the same time, you can connect (or reconnect) with former coworkers, industry peers, suppliers and even customers. Just use common sense and be cautious about the information you post online.

It’s also a good idea to keep your personal and professional lives separate. For example, you might want to use your LinkedIn postings to reflect your professional activities and reserve Facebook for personal posts and photos. Think twice about posting anything that seems even remotely inappropriate. Also, caution your family, including your children, about posting anything about you on their Facebook pages without your permission.

While social media is great for enhancing your visibility, understand that if you set up pages and profiles on social media websites, you need to be more concerned about what appears about you online than someone who hasn’t.  Check your sites daily for items that could be a problem.

When it comes to mass email, it’s best to avoid it. We are seeing firms being hired to market candidates or who promise to mass email your resume to thousands of potential employers. Frankly, this is a big mistake and a waste of money. This type of email is often caught in spam filters and what gets through is easily deleted with a single click.  If you do send email (perhaps to a known contact in your network), take the time to write a well-researched, personalized cover letter. Convert your resume to a PDF before you attach it to avoid any worries about computer viruses.  Also, while emailing a link to your personal website may seem like a good idea, most employers won’t open it. First, they may be concerned about the possibility of viruses, and second, they don’t have the time.

Posting a video biography online can be a good way to position yourself as a potential candidate but be careful about appearing too smug or boastful. Your video should talk about your accomplishments and capabilities without bragging. Enlist the services of a professional production company and avoid the temptation to take the do-it-yourself route. Make sure the script is relevant to the role or position you are seeking.

Do your homework

While building an online presence can enhance your chances as a candidate, don’t be fooled into thinking that your online efforts are a satisfactory substitute for the hard work that it takes to land a new job.

While search firms can help, candidates need to be more productive in how they go about their own search. They need to be more diligent in learning about employers.  They need to network more and be active in associations in order to be more visible. And they also need to look at and measure their prominence in social media and on the Internet to see what kind of message goes out when someone searches for them.

When you apply for a position, one of the things you need to do is read and understand exactly what the company is looking for. You may have read that the candidate needs to be a good leader so you write a cover letter telling the employer what a great leader you are. But you may have missed the part about having metal-bending experience, or an accounting degree or managing a team of 500 employees.

Once you understand the job requirements, be diligent and do your homework. Make phone calls and research the company to see if you’re really a good fit. Too many candidates are not doing that. As a result, employers are flooded with responses and sometimes delete the good ones with all the rest. Often, they then turn to us for help and we go directly to the people we know.

Again, don’t forget about face-to-face networking. Become active in trade organizations and associations. This is a great way to get your name out there and become more visible. You can also use face-to-face networking to help build your online network.

Finally, if you’re between positions, try picking up the phone and making cold calls. It’s a good way to introduce yourself and make a personal connection. In fact, cold calling is used so rarely these days that I will normally call the person back just out of courtesy. It’s certainly worth a try.