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.
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 ...
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Don'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.
- 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.
- 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.