As more and more companies build an online presence and electronic job search resources—including job posting sites and internal HR systems—the Internet becomes an increasingly dominant force in job search and career management. Social and career networking sites and even personal Web pages have become outlets for establishing a relationship with hiring managers before your job search even begins.
Keep in mind that first impressions may begin online. You already know to dress appropriately for the interview to make a positive first impression; however, your "online identity" may have already made a first impression; therefore, it is a good idea to know what message you are sending to a potential employer (or partner, client, or employee)!
Fortunately, your online identity can be an asset in your career development, and the following strategies can ensure your "virtual" self remains an ally.
A simple Google search can turn up a lot about you so don't be surprised if you find yourself in places you didn't expect. The old adage you are judged by the company you keep is equally true online. Any "friends" you have through social network sites like Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn may have their profiles public, even if you don't; thus, your information is only as private as your network friends make it. Make your search a habit so that you're never surprised by what someone might find.
Review your social networking sites regularly (including and especially those of your "friends"). In particular, keep track of "tagged" pictures, comments about or from you, or other references to you that may be accessed by a curious employer. If you don't like what can be found there, let your friend know and ask them to remove it. Monitor comments, blogs, and "Wall" posts, deleting any that might leave a less-than-desirable impression. Remember, if it can be seen, an employer is going to assume you want them to see it.
If you are not actively using your social network—or if your personal Website is out of date—then it is not helping you in your job search. In fact, it could be hurting your chances. Make sure that you...
As you can see, keeping a handle on your "online identity" is straightforward but does require a little work. By managing what employers see when they find your profiles online—and they will—you can be sure to make a strong first impression.
Also, remember that online and traditional networking supplement the job search and should not be your only strategy. Employers are impressed by active job seekers and by combining a well-planned search with active networking, you will be well positioned for the right opportunity.
Historically, estimates have placed about 20% of the job market as advertised and 80% unadvertised (also called the hidden job market). Networking has been a key to tapping into these unadvertised opportunities.
Traditional networking is most effective if you have been in the habit of cultivating a network of career-related contacts. If you are already a member of professional and trade organizations related to your field, these are good places to network. If you are not currently a member, now is a good time to join. Keep in mind that these professional and trade organizations are often used by new members specifically for the purpose of networking in a job search, so tact and professionalism are important.
Networking involves developing a list of your personal and professional contacts, informing them that you are conducting a job search, and asking your contacts to point you in the direction of anyone they know who may be able to help. Typically you would start with a letter or e-mail for all but the closest contacts to prepare them and allow some thought to your situation, and then follow up with a more personal call or meeting. Start your list with professional contacts closest to your field, especially those in professional and trade associations, and then broaden it to include other professional, civic, fraternal, and personal contacts.
The key to effective networking is to let all of your contacts—including referrals from those contacts—off the hook with regard to knowing about a specific job opening (in writing and verbally). You are only hoping for further contacts who may not necessarily know of a job opening, but who may be able to "point you in the direction" of someone who also may or may not know of a job opening. Most people enjoy helping others; however, it is far easier when they realize you are not expecting them or their referrals to know of a specific job opening at the time.
It is important to organize your network list. Contact management and calendar applications are useful tools, or you can use a spreadsheet. You may want to track information such as names, titles, company names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, whether another contact referred you, dates of communication, and follow-up dates.
It is wise to send a thank-you card, letter, or e-mail to those contacts who have taken the time to refer you to others. You can take this a step further and update your contacts with a note or e-mail when you obtain a position. This process ensures you are developing a professional network that may serve you now and in the future.