The Way We Work
October 19, 2010 by Erica Benton

Who you are online is vital to your career. Follow these tips to maintain a professional, positive appearance to attract the right attention from prospective employers.

PICTURES. Prospective employers today are Internet savvy and are checking you out by any means they can. If you have a LinkedIn account, Facebook page, MySpace profile, etc., you can bet they are being looked at before your resume goes from the inbox to the interview pile. Want to know what they're seeing? Google yourself a few times. If you can find personal pictures of yourself online, so can your prospective employer.

  1. Don't post any sexy pictures of yourself. Anywhere. Unless, of course, you are looking for work in the adult entertainment sector. (Seriously - six-packs, cleavage or bedroom eyes are not the way to earn a professional reputation.)
  2. Control your online image. Delete -- or ask friends to delete -- photos of you doing suggestive, crazy, unethical or just plain stupid things. (That hilarious picture of you dancing on the table during last year's holiday party is exactly what we're talking about.)
  3. Use a simple head shot as your profile picture. People want to see you, not you and your cat, or your sweet newborn baby. For profile pics on LinkedIn or any professional work hubs, like oDesk, it is vital that your profile picture be just you -- from the shoulders up and smiling. It's fun to switch things up on Facebook, we know. But if you are actively seeking work, you'd be wise to save the wedding pictures, the nostalgic school photos, etc., for another time.

OPINIONS. They don't call it the World Wide Web for nothing. When you say it online, you might as well be saying it to the world. As history has proven -- like the time some Facebook private messages accidentally went public -- it's really hard to ensure privacy online.

  1. Keep strong political views and religious zeal to yourself. Don't air them online unless you're willing to lose jobs over them. We realize you may feel certain convictions so strongly you are willing to take that risk, and you don't care who knows what Facebook groups you've joined. But, be aware that airing strong political or religious points of view on the Internet may cost you clients.
  2. Stay out of online bickering. Whether you are in a gardening forum or on your MySpace page, don't engage in angry debates. We're not saying you have to agree with everyone, we're just saying if you must disagree in public forums, do it politely. Which leads us to number three ...
  3. Don't attack people in public forums or private emails. This is true whether they are ex-friends, strangers, CEOs, or your mother-in-law. It just makes you look bad. On the Internet, the wisest rule of thumb is one of the oldest: If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.

LANGUAGE & COMMUNICATION. If you aren't taking your online language and communication skills seriously, you might be your own worst enemy when it comes to landing jobs.professionalism online one

  1. Don't use text lingo in any professional communication. This means job forums, boards, emails, or even actual texts between you and a prospective or current employer. While an occasional FYI or BTW might fly after you have proven yourself to be an amazing and intelligent contract employee, throwing around IMHO, OMG, and WTF (especially) will make you seem juvenile and less than the consummate professional you are.
  2. Watch your grammar and spelling. There isn't any excuse anymore for improper spelling (spell check every time). You can always copy and paste text into a Word document to run a spell check if you have to. When it comes to grammar, it's understood that when you are communicating in a second language, you may struggle. However, do your best to be correct every time by enlisting a fluent friend to double check your cover letters, emails, etc. If you don't have such a friend, study harder so that you can communicate well. It's important for your career.
  3. Don't use emoticons. They have no place in professional cover letters and communication. After you have established yourself as a reliable client, your contract employer may indulge you in an occasional :) or two, but keep it to a minimum. Feeling like you've written something that may be misunderstood without a smiley? Rewrite or remove that statement.

ACCESSIBILITY. You are putting yourself out there on the Internet to be employed, so it would be silly for you to be chronically unavailable or missing in action. It just won't do.

  1. Include your contact information on your email signature. It isn't necessary to include your home address, but your phone number or IM chat username is crucial. It's also smart to type out your email address in your signature, making it a one-stop shop for all of your important contact information.
  2. Respond to inquiries promptly. The world of the Internet moves quickly. Dead time on Facebook, LinkedIn messages, job boards, etc., won't do. Check your email once or twice a day and answer questions and inquiries as quickly as you can. Otherwise, that next job opportunity could pass you by.

NETWORKING. There is a fine line between stalking and making a valuable contact. Figure out where it is, and don't cross it.

  1. professionalism online twoDon't send forwarded chain emails. Past and present employers don't want them. (Your friends and family likely don't either, but that's a lecture for another time.) If you come across information that is relevant to your assignment, you may want to pass it along, but only through a directed, private email with a few lines as to why you thought they might be interested.
  2. Don't smother professional contacts. Whether it's someone in your field you want to know better or a prospective employer, don't over-network. If you've emailed or messaged a person twice and haven't heard back, it might be time to move along.
  3. Don't beg for work. Forums, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. are definitely places to market yourself and your availability. However, Please hire me and I need work are phrases that send red flags of desperation to potential employers. Need an alternative? Try: If you are looking for an excellent [INSERT SPECIALTY HERE], check out my profile: [INSERT LINK HERE].

Just remember that if you are going to get and keep jobs online, you need to take professionalism seriously. Be aware that you are projecting an image of yourself to the world by what you do and say, so make it the image of a happy, top-notch contractor, who is ready for hire.

Erica Benton

Social Media Guru

Erica Benton joined oDesk in 2009, bringing with her nearly a decade of small business and freelance experience, and a love of all things social. Her passion for startups, technology and marketing was born during her tenure with Kulesa Faul Public Relations, while she learned the art of entrepreneurship firsthand through Equine Alternatives, a business she founded while earning her Bachelor of Science degree from… read more

  • Betty Alark

    Thank you Erica! Excellent advice!

  • Kathleen Silva

    Your personal life is your personal life. As they say. . . TMI. That is why I avoid Facebook, Twitter, etc. I am not interested in every minute detail of everyone's life and I am sure that they are not interested in mine.

  • Iee Gwan-hong

    I understood your msg loud and clearly.

  • Asma

    its gr8 article

  • ziaul islam


  • Shakil Ahmed

    It's very effective blog. It helps me to get necessary information making a nice cover letter as well as profile. Thank you so much. Being new in oDesk, your advice will help me how to stay professional.

  • Liberty P. Quipit

    Great advice Erica. Thank you so much. Being new in oDesk, your advice will help me how to stay professional.

  • Debra Stang

    I don't have any pictures of me dancing on tables or getting naked (that would just be scary), but I have to admit to having several pictures of my cats on my website. So far, clients don't seem to mind--in fact, a couple have told me that's what made my website stand out in their minds.

  • Fhery Mae

    thanks for this blog ! it helps me a lot to make an idea on how to make an effective cover letter and what we gonna do to stay as professionals.

    God speed.

  • Gerard M Burns

    I'm pretty sure that your having separate Facebook accounts for your personal and professional lives will prove to be sufficient insulation in most long as potential clients who are very anti-alcohol don't look at this thread, but it is still good for Erica to warn us about associating ourselves with images that might not be helpful in getting a job.

    Perhaps your strategy of keeping separate accounts on networking sites could be incorporated into the advice.

  • allena

    My personal facebook account is just that--personal. I love going to clubs and dancing and sports bars and hanging out and etc and I have several several pictures of myself in front of bottles of BEER! GASP!! However, my personal acct is completely separate from my profesional acct and not one person that I don't specifically know is privy to whatever is the latest toast/club/air hockey game photos. I refuse to be "someone else" when I'm outside of my work. I am entitled to a personal life.

    • Erica


      Of course you are entitled to live your own life and be your own person. The advice here is really directed at those who don't realize that our interconnected world enables a much higher level of scrutiny on your personal life than ever before. When looking for work, this means that you should consider how others perceive your online presence - even if it means leaving your personal profile public and making a conscious decision that you don't want to work for someone who will frown on your fun-lovin', dancing side!


      • Kim

        great advice Erica, the wisdom comes with age and experiences. Allena, you will only come to this understanding after you experience a loss of a job based on what you post on your facebook until then keep on enjoying your personal life.

  • Gerard M Burns

    Definitely the best concise set of advice on maintaining a professional image I have ever seen. I especially hope that your advice about not forwarding chain mails is forwarded everywhere (resisting smiley)! The only thing i would add is a mention of overuse of capitals.

    I am one of those, by the way, who risks letting controversial opinions be known (in appropriate places, not business-only forums), and I was overjoyed to see that while you correctly point out what it can cost a freelancer, you also recognize this as a decision one may make based on how important the individual believes such declarations to be.

    Well done.

    • imtyaz ali

      knowledgeable one,,, it will helps a lot for sure.