Many of us live a large part of our lives online. So it's no wonder that your online presence can have a major influence on your career success.
If your present or potential employer searched for you online, what would they find? Would those search results reveal a professional with many marketable skills? Or could the results do more harm than good for your career?
Keep reading to learn the essential dos and don'ts for creating (or updating) your online presence.
Do: Google your own name
It's vital to know what potential employers and clients will find when they search for you.
In a 2010 Cross-Tab Marketing Services survey commissioned by Microsoft, 86 percent of human resources professionals said that a positive online reputation influences a job candidate's application to some extent. And 70 percent of hiring managers in the U.S. have rejected an applicant based on online information.
What turns them off? Inappropriate comments, photos, videos, blog posts, comments by friends/family, and membership in certain groups and networks all impact your online image.
Do: Beware of the social paparazzi
Those fun party pictures may be good for a few laughs, but if you or your online friends think nothing of posting questionable pictures on social networking sites, think again.
You could ultimately pay a hefty price for those pictures if a potential employer finds them online. That price could be a missed opportunity for your dream job that you've orked so hard to get.
So party-goers beware. Set your privacy settings so people can't tag you in photos, and ask your friends to kindly let you approve any photos they want to post before they post them. Remember, there is no delete button once something hits the Internet.
Do: Spring clean your search results
If you don't like the search results for your name, start by creating content that will rank high such as a LinkedIn profile, Google profile, or Twitter account. Writing articles for your industry trade magazine may also boost your professional online image.
Changing search results takes time and patience; they won't change over night. But you can take steps to push the good stuff to the top of the list. If you have content online that you want removed (or buried), or you need help keeping track of what's out there, try Reputation.com, an online service that allows customers to monitor the web, delete their personal information, and control how they look when searched online.
Do: Learn about privacy/security settings for online profiles
Can just anyone look at your Facebook profile? One easy way to stop employers and others from finding potentially harmful information is to put a lock on who can view what.
Facebook allows you to remove your name from search results and hide your content, even from certain "friends." Take advantage of these settings, even if you don't have anything to hide.
Remember if you're tagged in a photo it may still be visible, so adjust all your settings to avoid mishaps.
Do: Create profiles on all of the major sites
(Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn; plus, any industry-specific sites that the major players in your field frequent)
"Recruiters regularly search social media sites like LinkedIn for their perfect candidates, so having an optimized profile that is well-presented is a must," says career coach Cheryl Palmer.
LinkedIn, Twitter, and blogging sites such as Word Press are all great ways to stand out online. Also be sure to research any industry-specific sites that the major players in your field frequent.
Do: Participate in online groups and discussion forums
There are online groups and discussion boards for every industry. Whether you're in healthcare, retail, project management, or a creative industry, it's a good idea to participate in a few online forums. This will enhance your online image and grow your reputation as an expert in your field.
Make sure you add something to the group. Don't spam the message boards with self-promotional messages. Instead, use forums and groups as a way to connect and share information (e.g. case studies or resources) that will be helpful to others in your industry.
Do: Research industry keywords to optimize your profiles
The online world is all about search results. How do you think Google became so popular? So it makes sense to pepper your online presence with plenty of industry-specific keywords in your profiles.
Palmer says that keywords are how recruiters find candidates that meet their criteria, which is why job seekers need to optimize their profiles.
Research your industry keywords by looking at job postings and reading industry trade publications. Then add these words and phrases to your profiles, blog, resume, and website to increase your odds of being found.
Don't: Broadcast your job search activities
(unless you're unemployed)
If you are currently employed, it's not the best idea to broadcast your desire for a new job or career. After all, your current employer may stumble across your resume or post.
A better idea is to keep your online resumes anonymous and use a generic email address as your method of contact. A subtle way of letting others know that you're open to new opportunities is to list it in your LinkedIn profile.
Don't: Abandon your profiles/accounts
A previous slide suggested that you set up many accounts. But there's a caveat: A common mistake that many people make is setting up various profiles and web pages only to abandon them. Your online presence needs regular TLC.
Make sure you are committed to keeping your profiles updated before creating them. If you don't want to devote a lot of time, use LinkedIn since once you get your profile up it only requires limited amounts of updating. Whereas blogs and Twitter accounts will quickly go stale if you don't regularly update.
Don't: Rely on job boards to land your next job
When you're seeking a new position, it's tempting to spend hours poring over various job boards online. While online ads should be a component of your job search, keep in mind that they should only be a small portion of your overall plan.
Online is where all of your competition is hanging out, Palmer notes. What's a better approach? Using the Internet to cultivate contacts and then utilizing those connections to meet and network with people face to face.
Your resume is much more likely to stand out if you are a known candidate. Your name will rise to the top of the list quickly if you work your connections off-line.
Don't: Participate in online feuds
Mad at your sister? Does your ex-boyfriend/girlfriend owe you money? Your Facebook wall or Twitter page are not the places to hash out these conflicts.
You'd be surprised how many people argue publically on social media sites. Take the high road and don't engage in online feuds with family and friends.
Don't: Be a critic
Even if you cant stand your current or former boss and co-workers, resist the temptation to bad mouth them online. You may think your accounts are private, but again, nothing online is truly private.
Instead of venting online, meet a close friend for lunch, coffee, or happy hour to blow off steam. One of the surest ways to turn off potential employers is negative talk about previous jobs, and that includes online chatter.
Don't: Forget about the real world
No, not the MTV reality show -- life outside of the Internet!
Remember to balance your time spent online socializing and networking with actual face-to-face contact.
When online, mind your dos and don'ts
Now that you know what you should and shouldn't do, go ahead: Go online, be social, connect, network and prosper.
The world wide web is your oyster!