In today's world, standing out among a sea of qualified job candidates includes establishing your own personal online brand that speaks directly to potential employers.
According to CareerBuilder's annual social media recruitment survey, 60 percent of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates, and 59 percent of hiring managers use search engines to learn about prospective employees. These numbers are supported by research conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management: Its 2013 study revealed that 77 percent of responding companies use social networking sites to recruit candidates for specific jobs.
The challenge is to create an online presence that is polished while remaining genuine and reflective of who you are as a person and an employee. Given that spring is a season of renewal and rebirth, this may be the perfect time to start anew and upgrade your online image by following a few key tips. [See Related Story: Everything You Need to Know About Job Searching in the Digital Age]
Upgrade your profiles
Regardless of your career choice, Mark Babbitt, CEO and founder of internships website YouTern, advises that you have profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. From there, make sure your presence on each platform is consistent, productive and positive, he said.
Your profiles should be clear and concise, and include a semi-professional headshot. This allows you to create a cohesive look across all your online platforms. Use your profiles to offer recruiters a glimpse into how you live your commitment to your career.
"Demonstrate your value through social proof of your expertise," said Babbitt. "That may come in the form of a testimonial from a former boss, colleague or customer. Or it could show up in a (picture) of you at your last volunteer effort or at a major industry conference."
Writing about what you know allows you to showcase your unique talents, skills and experience while distinguishing your voice and creating "instant credibility," according to Susan Peppercorn, executive career coach and CEO of Positive Workplace Partners. This can include maintaining a blog, writing guest posts for websites, or contributing articles to the online forums of professional or industry organizations.
"Writing about what you know gives employers insight into your thinking and communication abilities and gives the job seeker an advantage over those who haven't taken the time to put their ideas in writing," said Peppercorn.
Prospective employers may find your articles on sites where they are published, but they may also stumble across them during a Google search. This offers job seekers another way to get noticed and stand out. If you are not the blogging type, you can become a curator of great content that you then share through social media.
Create a website
Your personal website is like "your digital calling card," said Matt Sweetwood, U.S. CEO of beBee, a business social networking platform. If available, snag a domain name that includes your full name. You can help hiring managers get a feel for who you are by creating a website that showcases your professional skills and highlights a bit of your personality. The site can include your resume, a visually appealing portfolio, samples of your work or articles you've written, contact details, links to your social media profiles, and even video entries.
"If you decide to create a supplemental video about yourself, but have no skills or experience in creating or editing film, it's likely that a video as an addition isn't going to help you much," said Streif.
But if done well, "fearlessly putting your thoughts, voice and face out there is a great way to attract the attention of your next employer," said Babbitt.
Establish a presence on employers' preferred platforms
Make sure you are sharing and creating content on the social networks and websites that employers in your industry prefer.
"Determine where your potential employers are active most often," said Babbitt. "That may be Snapchat, Pinterest or Instagram. It could be YouTube or Reddit. Whatever sandbox your target employers play in most often, you play there too."
For example, if you are interested in a job with a graphic design company based in San Francisco, author and life coach Danny Zoucha suggests grabbing the employer's attention by posting links to the latest trends in graphic design on your Twitter account, sharing images of you designing on Instagram, and posting photos of archetypical San Francisco imagery for good measure.
"If your social media is a reflection of your life, then it should reflect the type of business (you want to join)," said Zoucha. "Show potential employers that you're passionate about the things that make their companies go."
Build a network of references and recommendations
Growing your list of connections on LinkedIn allows prospective employers to identify people within your network circle whom they know and trust to validate your qualifications.
The most straightforward way to get recommendations is to give them to others.
"Like, comment (on) and share other people's content," said Tomas Ondrejka, co-founder of the job search app Kickresume. "The more people you engage with, the more connections you get, and your online presence will grow."
You can also make yourself visible to industry leaders by joining LinkedIn and Facebook groups, professional social media sites or industry-specific groups, participating in discussions, reading and posting articles, and celebrating the accomplishments of others. Babbitt recommends researching the top five blogs in your industry and following them consistently.
Always take the high road
Let's say you share a friend's slightly inappropriate Facebook memes, or write a scathing review on Yelp. For some hiring managers and recruiters, these seemingly innocuous acts are enough to raise a red flag and disqualify you from a position. Babbitt recommends avoiding any activity that might be perceived as "insensitive, polarizing or overtly sexual in nature," as well as not commenting on or sharing posts that might be considered inflammatory or inappropriate.
"Think of all people on social media in your industry who get followers for the 'right' reasons, and see what they are doing and posting," said Diana Joya, a human resources professional with 20 years of experience. "Be yourself, but be professional, kind and respectful, always."