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Your online brand

Building and managing an effective reputation on the Internet

By Priscilla March
October 2, 2007
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Most students have already Googled their own name. Employers considering you for employment will probably Google you, too, using name searches as well as deep web searches to gain insight on you. These approaches mean that when employers find you online, you need to make a great impression. For, as savvy job seekers know, their online presence is their "professional brand."

Your presence online can take multiple forms. Let's take a look at the major ones.

Online resumes

Thanks to the Internet, there are several ways to post your resumé online nowadays. Here are the three main ways:

Text-only resumés - With the same content as traditional printed resumés (which you'll probably always need), but with no graphics, columns, or indents, these versions can easily be proofed, spell-checked, and cut and pasted into online applications or e-mail messages to save retyping. Use ALL CAPS sparingly for emphasis rather than bold or italic type, and use hyphens or asterisks instead of bullets. Select a plain font in which letters don't touch each other, such as Arial or Times New Roman, so the resumé will also be readable by scanners that convert resumés into database records searchable by keyword.

Job board resumés - Because it's easy, students love posting resumés on major job boards. But, frequently, this approach generates only one or two employer e-mails about jobs students really aren't interested in. Even so, they may waste time exploring these leads only to be disappointed because the jobs have no connection to their career goals. Remember that, once it's live, you can't tailor an online resumé to a specific company or job, lessening the chances that employers you really care about will notice it.

Also remember that your resumé is accessible by many, many people - some of whom may want to con you out of money or steal your identity for fraudulent purposes. So, never post the following information on a public job board:

  • Full name (first initial and last name only)
  • Address and phone (e-mail only)
  • Social Security Number
  • Birth date

Insulate yourself from scams and spams by establishing a disposable e-mail account to use only for job searching. Never send bank account numbers or other financial information to employers who contact you via e-mail. Employers should never ask about your finances. (In fact, always check printed financial statements for a customer service number to call and verify any online request.)

To further protect yourself in a publicly posted resumé, consider making employer names generic. For example, instead of saying you were employed by "Ace Metal Fabricators, Medford, Massachusetts," say you were employed by "A New England leader in manufacturing metal components."

One exception to these rules exists if you're uploading your resumé to your college's online recruiting system. These systems, usually tied to on-campus interviewing programs, require you to upload resumés to apply for jobs within the system. Because you control which employers see it, this is a generally good place to upload a resumé. But still leave out your Social Security number, birth date, and financial information.

HTML resumés - Posting an HTML resumé - i.e., putting your resumé on your own website - may make sense, especially if you're in a technical or media-related field and want to showcase your skills. You'll need a host or domain, and you'll need to add metadata to help search engines find you. (Read about increasing your site's visibility on Google's "About Google" page.)

An HTML resumé lets you link to other web pages that highlight your experience and skills. For example, you might link to a PDF summary of a research project, or to a PowerPoint presentation, or to JPEGs of academic projects. This approach transforms a resumé into the hub of an online portfolio. Just be careful not to overdo it (avoid gratuitous graphics and animation) and keep links focused on professional rather than social or personal interests.

A word about keywords

Identify a job's keywords by reading the job description and build those keywords into every resumé where they make sense. Keywords might include software names and versions; majors, minors, and concentrations; skills (e.g., drafting, grant writing, lab procedures); and career-specific acronyms (e.g., IEEE for electrical engineers, PRSSA for members of the Public Relations Student Society of America).

Other online tools and resources

Beyond resumés, there are a number of other ways that you can get your name and qualifications on the Internet where they can be seen by potential employers:

Blogs - One source of talent and information for employers is job blogs. These sites let professionals interact online about topics related to their careers. Particularly if in technical or media-related fields where being tech savvy is expected, students should read and comment on blogs pertaining to their professional interests. Find blogs by Googling "job blog" and your field of interest (e.g., engineering, accounting, etc.). Once or twice a month, comment on posts so that blog readers see that you're engaged in topics important to your profession. Include areas of career interest, mention your related projects, and perhaps link to an online resumé. Just be sure not to post information that will come back to bite you: no bad-mouthing, no poorly written entries.

Professional networking sites - Employers are also exploring online professional networking sites like LinkedIn and ZoomInfo. LinkedIn is particularly geared to professional networking, so consider building a profile here. These sites help employers find candidates who are already proving their value working for someone else. Interns and co-op students fit into this category.

Social networking sites - For better or worse, your FaceBook or MySpace pages may also tell employers about your ethics, activities, writing skills, and more. Don't tarnish your brand here. Recruiters have rejected candidates based on what they've seen on social networking pages. Don't let your online presence jeopardize your professional future!

Other websites - Other ways to build an online brand include developing websites for activities or projects in which you're involved. Are you the secretary of the Marketing Club? Get a website up about the group, and remember to list yourself and other officers! On the Dean's List? Send the information to your local newspaper - it might have a searchable online edition.

Developing an online brand is a great way to use the Internet to get your name out there and sell your qualifications for employment. Just take care to make sure your online brand is unforgettable for all the right reasons.

Priscilla March is a career counselor in the Office of Career Services at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. This article is adapted from material produced by and available in UMass Lowell's Office of Career Services and is used here by permission.

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