Making your online identity ready for college and beyond: 6 steps for cleaning up your image

In today’s world, it is more important than ever to have a polished online identity, especially if you are starting to think about the future.  Everyone from college admission committees to potential employers to your grandma are watching what you do on the internet. If you are a teenager or young adult getting ready for success in college and beyond, now is the best time to make sure your online profiles are top-notch.

Here are six tips to make sure your online identity is impressive.

Consider deleting questionable profiles

If you are like most young adults—or most people, for that matter—you probably posted things you regret. You could comb through every single Facebook, Twitter and Instagram account carefully looking for past transgressions.  Or, you could simply delete the potentially questionable pages entirely and start fresh.

Think of it as “rebranding” yourself—companies and celebrities do it all the time. For example, think of singer and actor Selena Gomez. Her early career started on the Disney Channel.  As her career matured, so did her public online profile.  She rebranded herself to be more relevant to an older audience.

Part of having a squeaky-clean online identity is making sure your past social media mistakes are deleted, or at least well-hidden. Most online identity experts recommend deleting old profiles entirely if you think they may have questionable content. It may seem harsh to delete your social networking profiles entirely, but the odds are you did not keep college admissions committees and employers in mind when you posted on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter in middle or high school. If it is too painful to think of deleting your old social media accounts, make sure everything is locked down to private.

Keep personal and professional profiles separate

It is no secret that mixing personal and professional contacts can create trouble. This is why depending on your interests and the maturity of your friends, it can be a good idea to have separate professional and personal social networking profiles. Sometimes your unique interests are better off hidden from school and work colleagues.

Know the acronym “TMI,” or Too Much Information? This especially applies to college admissions or potential employers. Before you post something online, think about whether it’s something you’d talk about in an interview. If not, save it for your personal profile.

For example, you might have an avid interest in heavy metal music, skateboarding, or video gaming. You would probably leave these out of interview conversations, unless you were applying for a job directly related to one of these interests such as writing music reviews for a website. While it’s expected that you have your own special interests—it’s what makes each of us unique and interesting—it’s good to have a professional appearance too.

You want college admission teams and potential employers to see pictures of you volunteering at the local food bank, not playing a video game in someone’s basement. One way to keep your personal and professional profiles separate is to set the privacy settings higher on your personal relative to your professional profiles. This way, public searches share a professional identity.

Do some detective work

When looking for new jobs or applying for college, you want to be aware of exactly what people see when they google your name. You might be surprised by what you find. It is not unheard of for completely off-the-wall things to come up without your knowledge. For example, you may share a name with an actor, a personal fitness trainer, or someone who was arrested recently. If this person is in the news or has their own website, you won’t be able to control what comes up during an internet search.

Don’t like what you see about someone else with your name? Here are two strategies to make the best of it.

  1. Try to bury the offending page in search results with new pages you have made for yourself. You can do this by writing blog posts on your personal website or LinkedIn page.
  2. Consider going by your full name (first, middle, last) or your first name, middle initial, and last name to differentiate yourself from others with your name. This is a good way for a person with a common name to make sure they stand out at first glance.

Make sure all your pages are frequently updated

When you’re looking for a job or trying to get admitted to college, you want to make sure your online profiles are updated frequently so you appear to be active on social media. It can leave a negative impression on future employers if your online profiles have not been updated in months. They may wonder if you are hiding something, or you simply lack skills to use the internet.

It is important to appear tech-savvy and skilled with computers, and creating some simple social networking profiles and keeping them current is a great way to show this knowledge. However, don’t feel required to have a profile on every single social media channel out there. For example, use Snapchat for your personal posts, and LinkedIn for your professional posts. Updating all your social media accounts on a regular basis can take a lot of time and energy. There’s a reason why “social media specialists” are full-time jobs! Pick one or two accounts, and post to them at least once a week. No need to give minute-by-minute updates, however, as this can bury more important content that really makes you shine.

Be honest

If you are looking for a job, it is important that everything you tell the interviewers in person checks out with your online profiles. The same holds true if you are trying to get into college. The people who screen applications will probably be fact checking what you shared in your application with what shows up in your social networking profiles.

For example, you might tell your interviewer that you “spend every waking moment outside and love to hike”. However, your Twitter profile might confess “I hate going outside and like a vampire I can’t stand sunlight.” Make sure how you present yourself in interviews matches with your online identity so you don’t appear dishonest. If people catch you lying about something little, like your hobbies, they’ll start to question what else you’re lying about, like your qualifications or references.

Always be respectful to other people online

When building a positive online identity, you should always be respectful to other people on the internet.  If you post something inappropriate on a friend’s profile under your own name, it may show up in search results. An employer could stumble across it on their own, which could lead to some awkward situations. Furthermore, employers want to see that you are mature and have positive interactions with people. A good rule of thumb is to not post it unless you would say it in front of your employer.

Remember: what you post on the internet is going to be around for a long time. Companies and colleges are getting better and better at screening applicants; make sure you show your best self when you post information.  Social networking is an excellent tool for building a successful future, as long as you use it properly.

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