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Post-secondary school is filled with making memories, and what’s more fun than sharing them with cyberspace? But this is also a time to think about what might come after school, and your online persona is fair game if graduate programs and prospective employers want to find out what you’d be like as a member of their team. So let’s take a moment to adjust the focus of your digital lens and make your image sparkle.

The Walls Have Eyes

The Internet offers opportunities to stretch, grow, and reach out-but also provides many places for outsiders to sneak a peek. According to a recent Student Health 101 survey, 70 percent of respondents believe that potential employers, academic programs, and others look at applicants’ online profiles and images-and they’re right.

A 2012 survey by Kaplan Test Prep found that 27 percent of admissions officers from the top 500 U.S. colleges and universities searched for applicants on Google, and 26 percent did so on Facebook.

Thirty-five percent said they saw things that raised red flags. In today’s competitive market, that may be enough for the powers that be to move on to the next applicant.

Say “Cheese”

“Employment background and reference checks have always been a part of a rigorous hiring process. The information made available online is just another way to gather information about new recruits,” says Anuvinder Singh, founder of Wowjobs.ca.

Jeff Kaplan, Vice President of Data Science at Kaplan Test Prep, adds that admissions committees want to see who you are beyond your curriculum vitae and grade point average. Your essays and letters of recommendation show the best of you. Admissions officers can find a more “raw” version of you online.

Prospective employers and programs are asking themselves two key questions:

  1. “Is this someone we want working at our company or enrolled in our program?”
  2. “Will this person be a good reflection on us?”

Ultimately, these add up to, “Does this person have the characteristics we’re looking for?” Make sure that when they peep in, they like what they see.

Touch-Ups

What does your online presence say about you? Let’s start with pictures.

Snapshots of you with friends at the beach: You know how to relax and have fun.

You in a very skimpy swimsuit at the beach, in a compromising position: Maybe you’re not very mature.

Highly detailed blog explaining the intricacies of particle physics: Wow, you’re smart!

Blog laced with profanity that would make a sailor blush: You don’t know how to self-edit. Plus, I don’t want you near my impressionable five-year-old.

Also be careful where and when you voice your opinions.

For example, I once read a post on LinkedIn by a man who was encouraging people to support prostate cancer prevention. A great cause, sure, but it wasn’t quite the right forum for sharing his colonoscopy experience!

From blogs you follow and Web groups you join, to photos that demonstrate questionable judgment and tweets composed in anger, it’s safe to assume that if it’s on the Web, someone who’s looking will find it.

Alexandra V., a third-year student at the University of Guelph-Humber in Toronto, Ontario, says, “I’ve always been warned by my parents and teachers to be aware of what I post online, and am constantly reminded that party pictures  may get in the way of landing a job. It’s definitely important to have a clean and safe image online.”

It’s time to airbrush that presence of yours. Stacey A., a fourth-year student at York University in Ontario, agrees. “Sometimes you might forget about a not-so-pleasant picture you’re tagged in on Facebook,” she says. “[From] time to time, it’s good to clean up your profiles and delete all that is unwanted.”

The Grandma Test
Take down anything you would only want your closest friends to see or hear. “I’ve been told to post only what would make my grandma smile,” says Olivia I., a second-year student at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario. “If my grandma approves of my social media pages, then I’m sure any employer would be happy, too.”

Be careful with text messages and pictures sent from your phone, too. You never know where they could wind up.

If your friends and others like to tag you in posts, ask them not to, and to remove those already up. Singh points out that it’s easier to ask your friends to refrain from tagging you than it is to clean up pre-existing posts. He says, “Once a piece of information gets online, whether it’s a photo, tweet, or text message, it will not go away easily. Prevention is far better.”

Some schools now offer students online image cleanup tools free of charge. Contact your school’s media lab or career centre to find out more.

Protect Your Privacy
Check the privacy settings on all of your accounts. “The best and easiest way to keep any unprofessional images away from employers is to simply make your online profiles private,” says Jessica G., a second-year student at Ryerson University in Toronto. She makes an excellent point. Don’t assume things are private; many sites’ standard settings are pretty open.

Tweak the Saturation

Using the Web judiciously may be the key. Maybe you’re everywhere-Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Tumblr-you name it. About 90 percent of respondents to a recent Student Health 101 survey said they have a Facebook or Google+ profile, while 45 percent tweet and 22 percent use LinkedIn.

Cameron G., a first-year student at Ryerson University in Toronto, says, “I’m all about social media and connecting with others online. The endless possibilities of networking are one of the greatest things [about] the Internet.”

Set Up an Advantage
Spreading a wide net can help you showcase your work and stay current.

Jesse M., a second-year medical student at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, suggests, “Having a presence online might make you stand out in a good way if you post thoughtful, intelligent comments.”

Susannah V., a third-year student at the University of Guelph in Ontario, uses the Web to share her skills. “I’m in studio art, so I post images of my work. This has helped me get internship positions and commissions for photo shoots,” she says.

If you take a more sparing approach, while there’s little to nothing for you to clean up, you may be viewed as behind the times. The Internet is a great place to connect with potential employers. As Singh notes, “It could be in the form of a well-researched blog post, Web sites that show samples of work done, or even tweets on the recent industry trends.”

So you’ve scrubbed the walls, made sure your Internet pearly whites are sparkling, and finished the last round of photo editing. Now you can sit back as the friend requests and acceptance letters come rolling in.

Pointers on using online tools to promote yourself

Showcase Your Skills Online

Here are some tips for enhancing your online presence, with an eye on reaching potential employers, clients, or schools. 

Create a blog or Web site. 
Showcase your skills and talents and use them like a virtual résumé. Just make sure to keep it up-to-date, and up to code, if you know what I mean. When you make a post, tweet a short blurb about it or create a note on Facebook. Make sure you include a hyperlink. When you’ve published an article, achieved something, or done anything that puts you in an impressive light, share it. 

Set up a LinkedIn account. 
Populate it with any information that com- municates your skills and goals. Make sure your profile pictures are clear and professional. (For example, a photo of you in a tank top and shorts is not a good option.)

A guide to creating a student profile on LinkedIn.

Leverage Twitter to your advantage. 
Follow people whom you admire or who are leaders in your field and tweet your opinions about their posts. You’ll be seen as staying current and it will be noted that you are smart enough to weigh in intelligently on what’s going on. Remember, though, that if you’re a follower of your favourite celebrity and you’re re-tweeting his or her off-color remarks, you may be seen as having poor judgment or worse.

Take Action!

  • Remove any photos or comments online that you wouldn’t want your grandma to see.
  • Check the privacy settings on all of your profiles.
  • Create a profile on LinkedIn and other professional networks.
  • Use Twitter and other services to follow advancements in your field of interest.
  • Start a blog or Web site. These are great ways to show yourself in a positive light.

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Get help or find out more
The following resources offer guidance about using the Internet to your advantage.

Contact your school’s media lab or career centre to find out if your school offers online image clean-up tools free of charge.

York University, Career Centre, Effectively utilize your online presence

University of Toronto, LinkedIn and Your Online Presence

Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, Protecting your Privacy Online

Kaplan Test Prep, 10 Ways to Manage Your Social Media Footprint

LinkedIn, Building a Great Student Profile

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