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Developing a Positive Online Presence for Career Seekers

Dr. Bruce A. Johnson -- As a career seeker it is important and perhaps imperative that you examine what your overall image is as a result of your digital footprint. It's not to restrict what you do online but to have you think about the image you portray and what employers may see.

The world of social media continues to grow and there is no indication that it is only a passing fad. But it does pose a challenge for those who are seeking a job and anyone who is in a professional career. The use of social media by some people involves sharing essential and nonessential information -- from doing chores to going shopping to what was made for dinner. And then for some people, they refuse to be involved at all, and for career seekers that is not a recommended strategy to use. Of course the caveat is to know how to be active online and also aware of your digital footprint. What you post can definitely help or hurt your career.

What is a digital footprint?

You can begin to understand this concept by considering a footprint that you have left behind. Depending upon the surface where you have walked it may or may not last. At first it may not seem that this is relevant to career seeking through online resources. The word digital refers to the online environment and more specifically, digital communication. In other words, it involves posting any form of words online. The "surface" of a digital footprint does not go away quickly as anything posted online may be retained. When you leave a footprint it is possible that what you have posted can be viewed by people you wanted to see it and those you did not. A digital footprint can have a helpful or damaging impact, depending on what was posted through social networking websites. This can include online profiles, blogs, and forums, or even comments that have been made online.

Examining your current digital footprint

As a career seeker it is important and perhaps imperative that you examine what your overall image is as a result of your digital footprint. Create a list of all of the places or websites online that you are frequently engaged in. Next, consider what you post and what your perceived image may be. Utilize a search engine and try variations of your name, with or without your middle initial, and so on. You may be surprised what the results are and how extensive the list is. Now put yourself in the role of a potential employer -- what do they have access to view? What will the impact be for your candidacy if you have applied for a position with that employer?

Controlling your online presence

It is likely that you may need damage control if you find links to posts or pages or websites you have found that are not well suited to your image or are offensive in general. You can begin to remove and delete as many posts or comments as you can. You may also have to become a spin doctor if there are posts you cannot delete and what was written creates a negative perception about you. Start a plan for explaining or acknowledging those posts so you can explain why better judgment was not used.

The next step is to go on a social media lockdown and disassociate yourself from any potentially damaging websites. It is important to do this because you need to consider the long-term effect of what you post. The last step is to edit your privacy settings and this may also surprise you. For example, what you say on Facebook may be read by the general public or friends of a friend, so be sure to keep your private life private and control what you say as well as the settings for what you post. If you cannot control privacy settings then try to find alternate ways of communication.

Steps for developing a positive image

#1. Evaluate your current Digital footprint and eliminate the element of surprise. Consider what potential employers may see. This step is crucial even if you aren't actively involved in social media.

#2. Determine a social media strategy. For each website utilized, develop a specific strategy that includes when you will post, what information you will share, and the groups or organizations you will associate with online.

#3. Clean up your online presence and remove any questionable photos, comments, or posts. What you post should always lend itself towards putting you in a positive and ethical light.

#4. As a career seeker, it is helpful to join professional organizations and groups. Develop an online resume through websites such as LinkedIn. You can also create a blog that is related to your professional interests. Always be sure to communicate in a respectful manner and never badmouth a former employer. The most important rule of thumb is to demonstrate conscious awareness of your online image.

Ongoing monitoring and maintenance

The steps outlined above should never be considered as a one-time event. As a career seeker it is imperative that you control your footprint. What you will find is that the words you post represent you. If you are very active with social networking websites these steps should be an ongoing process. A negative or poor footprint may not always be completely erased but you can certainly turn it around. Check to see if you can control privacy settings for the websites you frequent and decide what's appropriate to post online, from the words you've use to the photographs you've shared.

Online opportunities for career seekers are abundant. You can demonstrate your interest in a profession by aligning with other professionals or groups and communicate in a respectful manner. Will a positive image and finely tuned digital footprint guarantee improved job search results? The answer is no; however, it may likely be a factor in your search and a negative presence can almost assuredly negate your candidacy when you apply for a job. As a general rule, be in control and aware of what you say and where you post it. While it may seem that this is a strict control of what it is you do online the point is not to restrict you but to have you think about the image you portray and what employers may see.


Dr. Bruce A. Johnson has a lifelong love of helping adults learn and providing guidance with professional self-development through his work as a college professor, trainer, career coach, and mentor. Dr. J offers resources that include resume writing and a brand new career coaching program, along with a monthly newsletter and weekly career blog. To learn more about these resources please visit:

© 2014 Dr. Bruce A. Johnson

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