Improving Your Online Reputation in Time for Graduation

April 25, 2016

The other day I got a phone call from a distant cousin whose son is getting ready to graduate from college and is looking for a job in Washington, D.C. She thought that my husband and I might have some advice on where her son should look for jobs and hopefully connect him to some of our contacts around town.

The first thing I did was look for him on LinkedIn. I thought that by connecting with him, I could get a better idea of his resume. Unfortunately he didn’t have an account so I couldn’t get the whole picture of his accomplishments and career interests. Next, I looked him up on Facebook and was surprised by what I found. His profile was set to public and had a lot of questionable photos (clearly having a lot of fun at college in New Orleans!) and even some very negative comments from other people on his posts. I know him as a good kid and solid student so if I was taken aback by what I saw, what would a potential employer think?

While he was thinking of his first job, he clearly wasn’t thinking about his digital reputation.

What Teens Need to Consider When Building a Positive Digital Reputation

This led to a productive conversation about his digital footprint, using privacy settings, and building a positive online reputation. Here are a few things that I shared with him that you can encourage your child to do to enhance their digital footprint- whether they are applying for college, an internship, or their first job.

Search for yourself- Use Google, Bing, Yahoo! whatever you prefer. See what comes up when you search for your name as well as your name and things like your school or hometown. Check out multiple search engines to get a full picture of what information is available about you.

Get on LinkedIn- Make sure that you have a profile and build it out to include your internships and skills. Connect to your former bosses, coworkers, partners from group projects or campus activities. This is a great way to showcase your resume and also look for jobs and internships. Your connections might share job opportunities and your activity might help them remember you next time they hear of an opening somewhere. Ask a former boss, coach, or professor to endorse your skills or write a recommendation about you so that prospective employers can view input from others about your work. You can also follow LinkedIn Influencers who may have fantastic advice for getting started with your career, learning how to network, and prepare for job interviews.

Review your social media profiles- We have a helpful “Spring Cleaning” checklist to help think through things such as checking your privacy settings. Review what social media accounts you use and even those you may have used in high school or college but haven’t updated in years. You might want to change things from public to private, and think carefully about your pictures and posts.

One thing that my cousin’s son didn’t realize, was that negative commentary from others on his profile reflected poorly on him. He assumed that because he wasn’t writing controversial comments, it wouldn’t matter. Ask to be untagged from questionable photos, delete negative comments from others, and curate what is on your profile.

Social media companies have been expanding and improving tools and safety centers to help users manage their profiles in recent years. FOSI has some videos that parents and students should take a look at to walk you through account settings and companies like Facebook and Google offer “Privacy Checkups” which usually take only a few minutes to walk you through your profile and sharing preferences.

Showcase a positive digital reputation- I’m not saying that every account should be set to private or that you never post a thing on social media, especially if you are over 18. Maybe you are a fantastic photographer and want to use Instagram to highlight your work or you are looking to become a travel writer when you graduate and have an active blog.

As someone who makes hiring decisions, I would never ask for access to someone’s account, but if a quick Google search shows me that someone consistently posts very negative comments online or demonstrates something interesting about them or reveals a talent beyond what’s on a resume, that can make a difference in my decision.

Think about your audience and what you are sharing says about you and use social media to help demonstrate your achievements and personality. I’ve seen cases when hiring decisions are influenced by a candidate's web presence because employers came across interesting blogs written by an applicant which demonstrated talent in a different way than a traditional writing sample. Find a way to aggregate and exhibit your achievements that will take people beyond your resume so they can see your insights on Twitter or watch presentations on your YouTube channel or see all of your articles from the student paper.

It’s ok to have a digital reputation. Just make sure that your child is using the privacy settings and tools available to help them manage their online reputation. Encourage them to use the sites and platforms to promote their accomplishments and the things that make them unique. Your child is going to have enough to worry about after graduation and their social profiles should be something that helps them, not something that holds them back.

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Written by

Jennifer Hanley

Jennifer Hanley is the Vice President of Legal and Policy for the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI). Jennifer directs FOSI’s government outreach and policy strategy. Jennifer helps FOSI build relationships with government officials as well as external partnerships and advises leading technology companies on best practices, policy developments, and emerging issues around online safety. Jennifer implements FOSI’s global projects and initiatives and manages the Washington, D.C. staff team. She also leads FOSI’s research work. Jennifer develops policy positions on Internet safety issues including online privacy, mobile safety, cyberbullying, sexting, controversial content, student data privacy, encouraging positive online content for kids, and federal and state legislation and regulations. Jennifer also represents FOSI on panels and in the press.

Jennifer is a magna cum laude graduate of the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, where she served as a Vice Chancellor on the CUA Moot Court Board and as the Vice President of the Communications Law Students Association. Jennifer held legal internships with FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, EchoStar, and Comcast. Jennifer graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude from the George Washington University where she studied Political Science.