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One of the first things graduates are told when they enter the working world is to monitor and clean up their digital footprint.
In 2019, a young woman was turned down for a marketing internship because the company found bikini pictures on her Instagram account. Even if the idea of posting swimsuit photos of yourself on social media sounds as likely as choosing the next president, many professionals internalize the idea that any kind of digital footprint can only be a bad thing.
While there are bound to be privacy concerns, especially for mature professionals who didn’t grow up with social media, a strong digital footprint can be an important tool in your job search arsenal. Here’s why you need to stop thinking of your online self as something to hide and start seeing it as an opportunity to market yourself.
Related: Personal Branding: The Key to Success in the Digital Age
You are the product – so market yourself
Ultimately, the relationship between a hiring company and an applicant is a transaction. They hire you because of what you can do for them (the job responsibilities), and you want them to hire you because of what they can do for you (pay you). There may be other motives mixed in, but you get the gist.
And what do you do before you buy a product? If it’s a major purchase, you probably need to do some research. The same goes for hiring managers. All around 77% of employers hit Google when they are considering a candidate. If you have already climbed the corporate ladder as a director, vice president or executive, you are probably well aware of this fact and have surely hidden the photos of you from your Facebook profile during your college days.
But there’s more to your digital footprint than hiding the bad stuff.
Coming back to the business and product comparison, researching a potential purchase online isn’t always about avoiding red flags. Of course, employers can look forward to negative reviews, but often management hopes to find something positive and informative.
Think about how organizations research other companies they purchase items from to make sure they are not a scam. They may be looking for a product demonstration on YouTube or a blog post that explains everything about the product. There’s no reason why you couldn’t do the same for your own online presence.
Using a company’s tools
Now that you’ve started thinking like a business, it’s time to put it into action by using the same digital channels and tools as businesses for your own marketing efforts.
Concepts like SEO and digital marketing aren’t just for businesses – use them to stand out in the job market. If a recruiter googles your name and thinks your blog is focused on marketing or professional development, that looks a lot better than a few private social media profiles.
You can also use SEO and marketing to make your profile more visible on LinkedIn to people who weren’t initially looking for you. Posting engaging content helps decision makers at companies come across your profile, and using the right keywords in your profile feed helps recruiters find you.
Related: How AI Is Changing the Future of Personal Branding
You cannot please everyone
If your digital presence is nothing more or less than a company photo and summary of your resume and awards in neutral language, no one will mind what they see so much that they rule out the possibility of hiring you. But it’s also unlikely they’ll hire you based solely on this kind of basic information.
Companies know this and that is why they target their product to a specific market segment. You can do the same. You don’t have to address every potential employer, just the one you want to work for.
For example, if you post a blog post that takes down companies that engage in environmentally unfriendly practices, you may not be popular with the companies you criticize. But if you want to work for a company that is an industry leader in this field, they may appreciate your candidness.
However, if you want to stay on the line and remain somewhat neutral, that’s fine too. It’s normal to be careful about what you post online, especially if you’re afraid of saying something inappropriate. A great way to reduce this anxiety is to focus on creating content that will boost others or help advance their careers. Posts that could make others look bad or damage their company’s reputation are best avoided.
A quick warning
As with anything, there is some nuance here. While a digital footprint can be a useful tool, you should still consider your security when posting online. Check your social media privacy settings so that people can’t see sensitive information, such as your date of birth or photos of your children, and try to avoid including too much personal information in the content you post.
It’s also not a good idea to swear or post anything offensive. But you already knew that, right?
Finally, if there’s something you don’t like online, submit a personal data deletion request form to Google to have it removed.
Related: Why Personal Branding Matters For Every Working Adult
Time to put yourself out there
Since most job seekers in the market are focused on creating a clean digital footprint and minimizing their online presence, the opposite direction can be a fantastic way to start. As long as you protect your safety, stay positive, and put some thought into your content, you should be good to go.