Up until the last decade or so, getting your foot in the door for many job opportunities required knowing the right people through direct, in person, relationship building. Managing your professional reputation required going to the right social events, membership in the right clubs, and family connections.
Nowadays, developing a focused and consistent online presence is rapidly becoming a norm and expectation in many professional fields. The good news is that it is a more democratic way to locate top talent. Anyone with access to the internet and a computer can build an online presence to showcase their expertise and passion.
The bad news is that for some it can require getting comfortable with new technology, including social media. What follows are the basics to get you started on this vital professional development journey.
1) Personal Branding
Your personal brand is a story about you that conveys your unique combination of skills, passions, and expertise. It is your way of gaining some control over how you are perceived by others. This is true of both networking prospects as well as making a strong first impression before an interview with a potential employer.
Before you get started with the nuts and bolts of participating in social media, it is important to clarify your personal brand. If you don’t have a clear vision on what you want your brand to say about you, then you can’t be consistent in representing yourself online.
Your brand should consistently tell a story about you that includes:
- Where you are, how you got here, and where you want to go next in your career.
- Your passion for the work that you do.
- The unique perspective that you bring to the table.
- Your competence and fit for the types of positions you are applying for.
- A sense of your overall values and personality style.
2) Claiming Online Spaces
Once you have developed a clear idea of what your personal brand will be, it is time to start working on your online presence.
Your first step is to clean up any existing online presence to make sure it won’t be embarrassing if found by potential employers. You can do this by doing a Google search on your name and looking over any sites that may come up to be sure they are professional.
The next step to creating an online presence is to decide which social media platforms you will use to promote your brand and making sure the profiles are complete and consistent with your brand’s message.
Note that a solid strategy for most job seekers is to choose two or three from the following list to focus on. Think about your job sector and choose those that make the most sense to convey your professional persona.
Be sure that if you want to keep other social media for your personal life that you change the privacy settings so that only those you invite can view your posts. Or, use an alias screen name so that a private account won’t be associated with your personal brand.
Almost everyone working in white collar fields can benefit from this huge professional platform. It is well designed to guide you through the process of filling out your profile in a way that is meaningful to those that might be interested in learning more about you as a professional.
There are also helpful networking tools such as to allow you to build your online presence with content and expand your professional social network. For example, the groups feature will allow you to find and engage with others in your industry.
See more relevant articles in LinkedIn's section.
Despite its wide use for entertainment and political discourse, Twitter isn’t the best platform for many professionals. It is however a good site for entrepreneurs, artists, authors, retailers and self-employed service providers such as business coaches.
Twitter provides ample opportunities for building an audience of loyal, engaged customers, but the nature of this platform is not as conducive to building meaningful relationships with people or allowing you to showcase professional credentials.
You can, however, follow and engage with leaders in your industry. Some people have found this to be a helpful way to direct such contacts to other, more well developed, social media profiles.
Relevant articles: Promote Yourself on Twitter: 5 Steps to Being Discovered, 6 Steps to Finding Your New Job on Twitter, 9 Ways to Get Involved with Twitter, Twitter Job Search: Tweet Your Way to Your Next Job
For many people, Facebook is a personal social media platform. If this is the case for you, then your use history might make it hard for you to transform this into a professional space. However, you can still use this platform to reach what is for many, their widest social circle.
During your job search, be aware that you may learn about new job openings from the very same friends, family and former coworkers that are on your friends list. Take advantage of this breadth of acquaintances by linking content you post on other platforms, leading interested friends to your more professionally driven online profiles.
You can also use the handy messaging tools on Facebook to reach out to potential professional contacts that you may have lost touch with. Refreshing these contacts during a job search can improve your visibility as a candidate in a competitive job market. Or, join pages or groups devoted to your job sector.
Targeted Social Media Strategy
There are almost limitless social media platforms these days, each with their own unique attributes that make them more suitable for some professions over others. For example, Instagram is an image rich platform that can be quite helpful for building an online portfolio for artists, designers, and architects.
On the other hand, sector specific professional organizations often have members only forums that can be a great way to expand a list of important contacts in blue collar trades. If you have special talents, such as video production, then a site such as YouTube or Vimeo might fit the bill.
Publishing platforms such as Medium and WordPress allow you to create an online presence around primarily written content, such as informative articles. They are designed to help you cultivate a loyal readership and can help you build an online presence that allows you to put your personal brand and special areas of expertise on display.
3) Expanding Your Reach: Content and Promotion
Share and Engage
You do not have to actually create content in order to make use of social media platforms to expand your online presence. Instead, become actively engaged by seeking out folks in your field and commenting thoughtfully on their posts.
Or, share impactful articles relevant to your industry either directly with those who might find them helpful, or by posting them to your feed with a clever comment. Be selective and careful when curating shared content and make sure to include the work of others in your social network to solidify those bonds.
Meaningful and original content is one of the best ways to expand your online presence. However, it is also easy to overextend yourself with this approach. Instead, choose topics where you can showcase your expertise with minimal additional research. And, choose formats for your content that makes use of skillsets you either already have or develop skills relevant to your job search.
Examples of content can include:
- Images and videos
- Slideshow presentations
- Infographics and charts
- Informative articles
- Surveys to engage your readership
- Humorous (but professional) memes and gifs
- Livestream videos sharing a professional or volunteer experience
Not everyone needs to fuss with a personal website. However, user friendly online platforms, many of which are free or low cost, have made it easier than ever to host a landing page for your personal brand. Although particularly useful for entrepreneurs, a personal website may also be a good idea for those in creative fields, marketing, sales, academics, and executives.
Expanding your online presence is an important part of the job search in most professional spaces. Think of it as an opportunity to develop, promote and refine your personal brand. In addition, you will be building a larger social network that just might land you the chance to interview for a job that you may not otherwise have even known about.
Key to participating in social media is to be selective about the formats and platforms that will give you the most bang for your buck. Carefully consider your audience (prospective employers, customers or clients), your field, as well as your special talents before investing your time in growing your online presence.