If you’re a college student, you were probably born into a world in which personal computers and Google searches were the norm. You probably don’t remember a time before smartphones. This makes you a “digital native.”
Because of this status as “digital natives,” hiring managers expect recent grads to be experts at creating websites, launching social media marketing campaigns, and keeping up with the ever-changing online landscape.
The problem is that many college students don’t know how to create a website or use social media for marketing–in part this is precisely because digital natives are accustomed to user friendly interfaces that don’t require understanding the inner workings of the latest technology (for example, a rudimentary understanding of html allows for tweaking webpage designs).
But I’m here to tell you that it isn’t that hard to jump in and learn the inner workings of the technology employers most want you to master. It would take the hour or two to design a website on weebly, web.com, squarespace, GoDaddy, WordPress or any other of the many web design programs available. Those few hours are a small investment to make when the return is the ability to answer “yes” every single time an employer asks if you have experience creating websites. You can also use the website to highlight your professional qualifications and experiences, which is an important step in taking control of your digital presence for professional purposes.
That’s a first step, but to craft a complete professional digital identity, you have to do three key things:
- clean up your digital dirt
- curate your digital identity
- sell your “native” digital expertise
To get started, Google yourself and decide what’s there that has to be deleted, what’s missing that should be added, and what you can’t do anything about.
What’s there that has to be deleted?
For college students, content that must be deleted is most likely to be unprofessional photos, inappropriate usernames or avatars, or something negative or offensive you posted (or that was posted about you–more on this below in the section on what you can’t do anything about).
What’s missing that should be added?
The biggest problem most college students have is an utter lack of professional digital content. Know that employers will Google you and look at your Facebook walls–make sure everything they see there that you can control is stuff you’d be proud to have an employer see.
Also know that if employers can’t find anything about you from a Google search, they will find that frustrating–and question your expertise as a digital native.
Take control of what people see when they Google you by posting professional content:
- Create a LinkedIn profile.
- Take an hour to create a website that highlights your professional preparation and aspirations–this is a must.
- Start a blog on a niche topic in your field of study or practice.
- Use any one (or two) of the many social media platforms to control your own digital identity–and make it thoroughly professional by sharing posts related to the work you do (or aspire to do).
This is the opportunity for you to sell yourself as a digital expert. Imagine your ideal professional image and start to build that reality in the digital realm now. Highlight skills you already have that apply to the workplace–sample work, internships and other off-campus experiences, examples of leadership, teamwork, written & verbal communication.
What’s there that you can’t do anything about?
The goal with this content is to push it as low as you can on the list of hits that come up when someone Googles you. For students, the problem is that you don’t have enough total content to allow you to push content that you cannot control to the second page of hits. This is why you need to set up–then curate by updating, editing, and adding content–LinkedIn profiles, websites, professional-oriented social media, blogs, and anything else you can think of that is specifically related to your career plans.
This ensures that content you cannot control (I’m thinking your friends’ spring break photos of you and other content you’d probably prefer not to share with potential employers) is not among the first few things people see when they Google you.
To get started, try Googling a few friends, family members or professionals who you admire. Analyze what they’re doing that’s right and wrong. Use these negative and positive models to get started on crafting your own professional digital identity.
Darcy Lear is a career coach specializing in academic writing, job search documents, professional school applications, and interview preparation. To schedule a campus workshop or for help navigating your career transition, contact Darcy: firstname.lastname@example.org