Hello and congratulations, recent college graduates! Barring some really bizarre unforeseen circumstances, you’re almost definitely reading these words on the Internet. Welcome! There’s lots to do here. But I’ll assume you already know about “websites,” Google, and “social media,” and cut to the chase.
You don’t have to cancel your Facebook, lock your Twitter, or start distributing your blog in print as you venture into the professional world, but you should definitely take stock. Think of your social media identity as your digital hair. College is a cave from which you stumble forth into the bright daylight of the job market… now you’ll have to tame those Ron-Perlman-in-Quest-for-Fire locks. You don’t have to go bald, but you can’t stay caveman.
Here are a few easy pointers to help you give your social media presence a haircut.
1. Privacy settings are your friend, but they aren’t your bodyguard.
Definitely, absolutely take a look at your privacy settings, on every platform. Hopefully, you’re smart enough to take down all the beer pong photos, but you can never control everything – and you shouldn’t have to! – because no one is trying to find them.
You’re allowed to have friends, they’re allowed to have photos, and you’re all allowed to go to bars. No hiring manager is Googling you looking for the beer pong photos. They know what that looks like. Just don’t make them easy to find.
The key here is to acknowledge that you can separate professional and personal. Do this: on your Facebook profile, click the gear, then “View as…” and then “public.” Do you see anything you don’t want a hiring manager to see? Fix it. Repeat.
2. Make sure you’re visible as a professional.
In a recent Forbes column, Molly Cain writes, “What [hiring managers are] looking for is your online professional presence. And in today’s world, you need to have one out there for them to find.”
This goes fourteen times over if you’re applying for anything with “Social Media” in the job description anywhere. Simply not presenting anything offensive or amateurish is just going to make you uselessly invisible. You want to be connected – so start connecting.
Your best friend in this arena is going to be LinkedIn. Cain’s article is an excellent way to form a sense of how to use that particular service. There are also other social networks aimed at professionals, such as BranchOut and Monster’s BeKnown, which you might think about joining, and plenty of social spaces to share your work.
3. Cancel anything you don’t use.
Although you may have forgotten your passwords, spend an afternoon digging into old emails and doing whatever it takes to at least try and cancel any web presence you have that you aren’t reasonably planning on logging into ever again. If you don’t take the time to do it now, you’re just going to forget the password more permanently, or lose your email access forever.
4. Take control of your search results.
Once you’ve made sure a search is going to turn up Professional You and not Dorm Party You or Fourteen-Year-Old You, start cultivating a visible, believable middle ground that highlights your personality and your brain, but isn’t a professional profile.
Start blogging about a current and relevant passion of yours. Register an About.me to put your best foot forward and highlight your favorite social accounts [bonus points for integrating your Smarterer scores!]. Bone up on some Twitter best practices, such as Hollis Thomases’ Twitter guide for Inc., and start working on a web presence that sounds like the best version of the real you.
“As Twitter has grown,” Phoebe Connelly Phoebe Connelly wrote last week in GOOD, “it’s become a place for serious debates about policy and breaking news without shedding its role as a personal microblogging site.”
The same lesson extends to all social media – to stay current, you have to use it, but you want to strike a balance between content and flavor. Be real. You have real interests and real things to say. Don’t shed your college experience and close off completely, but make sure that what you’re showing is your potential – not your pong skills.