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College is filled with making memories, and what’s more fun than sharing them with cyberspace? But this is also a time to think about what might come after school, and your online persona is fair game if graduate programs and prospective employers want to find out what you’d be like as a member of their team. So let’s take a moment to adjust the focus of your digital lens and make your image sparkle.

The Walls Have Eyes

The Internet offers opportunities to stretch, grow, and reach out-but also many places for outsiders to sneak a peek, including employers and schools.

A 2012 survey by Kaplan Test Prep found that 27 percent of admissions officers from the nation’s top 500 colleges and universities searched for applicants on Google, and 26 percent did so on Facebook.

Thirty-five percent said they saw things that raised red flags. In today’s competitive market, that may be enough for the powers that be to move on to the next applicant.

Say “Cheese”

“Employers are reviewing your profiles to see what kind of person you are, who you’re connected to, and how you present yourself,” says Dan Schawbel, author of Promote Yourself: The New Art of Getting Ahead, in a 2011 Forbes.com story. “Each gives clues to how well you can fit into their culture.”

Jeff Kaplan, vice president of data science at Kaplan Test Prep, says admissions committees want to see who you are beyond your curriculum vitae and grade point average. Your essays and letters of recommendation show the best version of you. Admissions officers can find a more “raw” version online.

Prospective employers and programs are asking themselves two key questions:

  1. “Is this someone we want working at our company or enrolled in our program?”
  2. “Will this person be a good reflection on us?”

Ultimately these add up to, “Does this person have the characteristics we’re looking for?” Make sure that when they peep in, they like what they see.

Touch-Ups

What does your online presence say about you? Let’s start with pictures.

Snapshots of you with friends at the beach: You know how to relax and have fun.

You in a very skimpy swimsuit at the beach, in a compromising position: Maybe you’re not very mature.

Highly detailed blog explaining the intricacies of particle physics: Wow, you’re smart!

Blog laced with profanity that would make a sailor blush: You don’t know how to self-edit. Plus, I don’t want you near my impressionable five-year-old.

Also be careful where and when you voice your opinions.

For example, I once read a post on LinkedIn by a man who was encouraging people to support prostate cancer prevention. A great cause, sure, but it wasn’t quite the right forum for sharing his colonoscopy experience!

From blogs you follow and Web groups you join, to photos that demonstrate questionable judgment and tweets composed in anger, it’s safe to assume that if it’s on the Web, someone who’s looking will find it.

Rose M., a junior at New York University in New York City, says, “I make a point of not posting anything that could come back to haunt me later on. Maintaining a (relatively) squeaky-clean online presence is very important to me.”

It’s time to airbrush that online image of yours. Leslie G., a recent graduate of Ashford University online, says, “Just as we clean our computers and our dwellings, we have to clean and sweep our online images regularly.” Here’s how:

The Grandma Test
Take down anything you would only want your closest friends to see or hear. August J., a fifth-year student at the University of Montana in Missoula, says, “I’m careful to post only pictures my grandmother wouldn’t mind seeing. That way there’s nothing embarrassing [or surprising].”

Be careful with text messages and pictures sent from your phone, too. You never know where they could wind up.

If your friends and others like to tag you in posts, ask them not to, and to remove those already up. You may also want to talk with your friends about their online images. Vicki B., a sophomore at The Alamo Colleges in San Antonio, Texas, points out, “What your friends say online influences how others view you, even when you don’t agree with what was posted.”

Some schools now offer students online image cleanup tools free of charge. Contact your school’s media lab or career counseling office to find out more.

Protect Your Privacy
Check the privacy settings on all of your accounts. “Security through obscurity,” jokes Marcel G., a junior at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta-but he makes an excellent point. Don’t assume things are private; many sites’ standard settings are pretty open.

Tweak the Saturation

Using the Web judiciously may be the key. Maybe you’re everywhere-Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Tumblr-you name it. About 90 percent of respondents to a recent Student Health 101survey said they have a Facebook or Google+ profile, while 44 percent tweet and 30 percent use LinkedIn.

Sam W., a sophomore at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, says, “I regularly utilize LinkedIn and Facebook to find connections at potential workplaces. I also use Twitter, email, and other networking sites to stay in contact with people who may be able to help me.”

Set Up an Advantage
Spreading a wide net can help you showcase your work and stay current.

Jesse M., a second-year medical student at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, suggests, “Having a presence online might make you stand out in a good way if you post thoughtful, intelligent comments.”

Susannah V., a third-year student at the University of Guelph in Ontario, uses the Web to share her skills. “I’m in studio art, so I post images of my work. This has helped me get internship positions and commissions for photo shoots,” she says.

If you take a more sparing approach, while there’s little to nothing for you to clean up, you may be viewed as behind the times. In the Forbes.comarticle, Schawbel notes, “If you don’t have an online presence, you won’t appear to be relevant and will be passed over for more savvy applicants.”

So you’ve scrubbed the walls, made sure your Internet pearly whites are sparkling, and finished the last round of photo editing. Now you can sit back as the friend requests and acceptance letters come rolling in.

Pointers on using online tools to promote yourself

Showcase Your Skills Online

Here are some tips for enhancing your online presence, with an eye on reaching potential employers, clients, or schools.

Create a blog or Web site.
Showcase your skills and talents and use them like a virtual résumé. Just make sure to keep it up-to-date, and up to code, if you know what I mean. When you make a post, tweet a short blurb about it or create a note on Facebook. Make sure you include a hyperlink. When you’ve published an article, achieved something, or done anything that puts you in an impressive light, share it.

Set up a LinkedIn account.
Populate it with any information that com- municates your skills and goals. Make sure your profile pictures are clear and professional. (For example, a photo of you in a tank top and shorts is not a good option.)

A guide to creating a student profile on LinkedIn.

Leverage Twitter to your advantage.
Follow people whom you admire or who are leaders in your field and tweet your opinions about their posts. You’ll be seen as staying current and it will be noted that you are smart enough to weigh in intelligently on what’s going on. Remember, though, that if you’re a follower of your favorite celebrity and you’re re-tweeting his or her off-color remarks, you may be seen as having poor judgment or worse.

Take Action!

  • Remove any photos or comments online that you wouldn’t want your grandma to see.
  • Check the privacy settings on all of your profiles.
  • Create a profile on LinkedIn and other professional networks.
  • Use Twitter and other services to follow advancements in your field of interest.
  • Start a blog or Web site. These are great ways to show yourself in a positive light.

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