All across the United States this month a few million college freshmen will be heading off to college for the first time … and one thing they probably aren’t considering is how little time they have to perfect their online reputation.
Yes, four years can seem like a lot of time. But before most of these students realize it they will be applying for jobs and sending out resumes. And that is when employers start checking them out online.
If you’re a college freshmen – or if you know one – now … right now … is the time to start thinking about how to perfect that online first impression.
From social media posts to pretty much everything else that goes online about a student a lot of "stuff" can build up online. Whether it is a positive or a negative impression can depend on what happens between now and about 3.5 years from now.
So what should all incoming freshmen do?
Here are a few tips gleaned from a presentation I will make to freshman at the Rochester Institute of Technology (where I teach in the School of Communication). It will be part of a “Digital Self-Defense” session for all 2,900+ freshmen and owes a debt of gratitude to an earlier presenter Hannah Morgan (aka the Career Sherpa):
Before Year 4: College Students Must Think About ...
In other words: "You are what Google says you are." Stay on top of how you look to others in search results. And make sure you are doing the search of your own name on a device that either has no record of your preferences or you should select the "globe” symbol to the top-right of the search results page … that way you see what the world sees, not what Google thinks you want to see.
2. A better you: Your goal is to dominate Page 1 of Google search results with positive links about you. First, be sure that any "bad stuff” you have control over is taken off the web. This can be harder than it seems since removing material from a website may not remove it from a search engine's database.
Then, to improve both how high up your best links show up in search - and perhaps bury the ones you don’t want to be so easily found - there are numerous tools worth checking out. I’m a fan of Brandyourself which offers a decent set of tools for free and, obviously, a broader range of tools for those willing to pay a monthly fee. For more on other services see my earlier blog post: Professional Reputation Management Services.
3. Own your name: If you don’t already own it you should buy the URL of your name or one with a version of your name in it. If you don’t own wwww.yourname.com someone else will. Then use it with one of the great free website-building sites (Wix, Weebly, Wordpress, among others) to create a simple website that tells your story and shows off your talents and experience.
4. All of you: Make sure you own your name on the biggest social media sites – even if you have no immediate intention of using them. A good place to start is Namechk.com to see if your preferred social media handle is available across all the networks you’d like to be on. Best practice? Keep looking until you find a name that is available everywhere and use that everywhere so you control it.
Also, be sure to have at least one professional-sounding email address that you use for business communications. Yes, you’ll get a school (.edu) address right away, but will that stay with you long after school? A Gmail address or something similar is fine as long as it sounds professional and is not like email@example.com – I once really did receive a job application from a 22-year-old who listed this as their email address.
5. Connect – a lot: It goes without saying that you need to create and manage a solid Linkedin profile. It may be thin on details initially, but it is the primary professional network and provides the opportunity to build a long-term group of professional connections and to develop an online identity and reputation among the people you know. It can also serve as an online portfolio of your work. More and more employers are using LinkedIn to find and hire employees.
Then be sure to volunteer, join clubs, and to be active in campus groups and professional organizations while in school. This will provide things that can flesh out the picture of you online in places such as Linkedin.
6. Guard your image: Stay on top of how you are portrayed by others. This means keeping track of where your image appears and your name is mentioned. Start with some basic Google alerts so that if your name shows up on the web you will know it. Then recheck all your privacy settings across all the social networks you’re on and don’t forget the cardinal rule: When something goes online it likely is online forever.
7. Stand out – for something: Last, but not least, find a way to differentiate yourself from the millions of other college students who will graduate at the same time you will. Ways to do this include blogging on a topic you care about, sharing stories or images on various social networks that relate to causes you support (just stay away from the two toughest ones – politics and sex).
It helps if your public interests online align with your career goals, but it is not essential. I had, for example, an accounting student who blogged about making milk carton-furniture and that blog helped land her her first accounting job because, as the hiring manager said, “it shows you have interests beyond number crunching.”
Overall, this seems like a lot to think about, but freshmen have four years (well, maybe a little over three years) to get this sorted out. They should start now.
Was this helpful? It wasn’t my usual social media-heavy type of column, but I hope it helps.
The Importance of Personal Branding for College Students #infographic
Hey baby, not on social media? This might help …
Hey baby, not on social media? This might help …