by Miriam Posner, Brian Croxall, and Stewart Varner
If you're a grad student, you're always in between. You're no longer the footloose college student you once were, but you're not yet a full-fledged professional, either.
The Google search results for your name probably reflect this transitional period in your life. Maybe your high school volleyball scores are jostling up against the conference paper you presented. Maybe there are some unwelcome leaks from your Facebook account. Or maybe you're just not there; you could be lost in a sea of other people who share your name.
As you get closer to the job market, however, you might want to spend some time cleaning up, standardizing, and generally retooling your online presence.
Luckily, you don't have to be a tech genius to do this. Here are some low-investment, high-return ways to maintain a consistent, professional Web presence.
Whatever platform you're considering, there are three basic principles of creating an effective online presence:
- Familiarity: What are you getting into? Don't sign up for a social networking platform or Web application without understanding what it does with your data, whether you can maintain the privacy you want, and the conventions that govern the way the community operates.
- Consistency: It's important to carry the same voice, image, and persona across multiple social networking platforms.
- Participation: Social networking is a gift economy. The more you participate productively with others, the higher your own profile will be.
What Happens in Facebook Should Stay in Facebook
Even if your Facebook profile doesn't show up in your Google results, it's not unusual for an employer to look at a prospective employee's Facebook page. So how do you keep those spring break photos safely among friends? You'll want to tighten your privacy settings (there are six of them!) to control who can see what. Here are step-by-step instructions for locking down your Facebook profile.
Google Profile: A Quick, Easy Public Face
One of the easiest ways to create a distinct identity for yourself on the Web is to create a Google profile page. This is a simple page that gathers a little bit of information about yourself, like your hometown, your photo, and the schools you've attended. It's easy, but it has major benefits: Because Google Profile is a Google product, it gets a bump in Google search results. Plus, a Google profile goes a long way toward helping searchers distinguish you from people with similar names.
Filling out your Google Profile is a snap: it's a simple web form with a few fields. As with all these platforms, try to choose a profile picture, or avatar, that's consistent and represents you professionally.
Academia.edu: A Social Network for Academics
Social networks tend to be ranked highly in Google search results, and Academia.edu—the social network that is devoted to academics—is no exception. Creating a profile on Academia.edu is quick: you just provide your name, email address, university, department name, and position.
Once you’ve created your profile, you can add various documents: a CV, syllabi, a statement of teaching philosophy, conference papers, journal articles, even a full book if you would like. You can also link to websites, add research interests, and, of course, add a photo of yourself. The advantage of Academia.edu is that it’s a network that speaks the language of the academy and is set up to provide you a profile that is explicitly professional. Even your profile URL is tied to the institution where you currently work; for example, Brian’s profile is at http://emory.academia.edu/briancroxall.
The social network aspect of Academia.edu allows you to “follow” other people’s work. Your home page on the website notifies you when people have added talks or articles to their profiles.
A final neat trick is that Academia.edu will email you when someone has searched for you on Google and landed on your profile page. You can track what searches people are using to find by looking at your keywords page.
LinkedIn: Populating a Professional Space
Within the business community, a LinkedIn profile is a must-have. Within academia, however, LinkedIn, a networking site for professionals, is far from ubiquitous. In fact, Academia.edu is often touted as the academic alternative to LinkedIn.
Still, a LinkedIn profile is worth considering. First, because LinkedIn is so widely used, it again ranks highly in Google search results. And, second, because it ranks so highly, LinkedIn is a great way to disambiguate yourself from other people who share your name. Finally, if you're a grad student who wants to keep all her career options open, a LinkedIn profile can signal to potential employers that you're a serious professional.
Once you've filled out your basic profile information, there are a few things to consider:
- Take a look at your "Public Profile Settings."
- Choose a Public Profile URL that's as close as you can get to your professional name.
- In the same menu, be sure you're sharing only the information you're comfortable making public.
- If you're serious about using LinkedIn to find work, be aware that employers often search by keyword. Populate the "Specialties" field with words that employers are likely to look for, like "project management," "GIS," or whatever your special skills happen to be.
- LinkedIn will aggressively ask you to sync up contacts with other email and social-networking applications, such as GMail. If you allow this to happen, each of your contacts will receive an email asking for his or her permission to connect with you. Be sure this is what you want.
To Tweet or Not to Tweet?
Twitter generates strong opinions. In some fields, like digital humanities, participation in Twitter is near-essential for staying abreast of ideas, opinions, and job opportunities. In some cases, Twitter allows you to make connections that wouldn't be possible any other way. In other fields, participation in Twitter is irrelevant or, worse, potentially damaging.
When you're deciding whether Twitter makes sense for you, think about the kind of community you want to be a part of. And think about the kind of results you want potential searchers to see when they look for your name. Remember that the more you use Twitter, the higher it will rank in the search results for your name.
And as with any user community, Twitter only rewards participants who spend time learning the syntax, answering questions, and generally being nice people. Here's a great introduction to getting started with Twitter. And this guide will get you quickly up to speed with all the Twitter lingo and conventions.
Keeping Up with RSS
It's one thing to give your online presence a good spring-cleaning. But the Internet never stops moving. You need to stay on top of developments in your field and news that pertains to you. And once you're aware of these developments, you can maintain your participation by continuing to comment and keeping involved.
RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, is a great, low-maintenance way to do that. Most frequently updated websites publish RSS feeds: streams that can be automatically read by free RSS readers.
You can sign up for any number of free RSS readers. Many people use Google Reader. To subscribe to a feed, look for the orange RSS icon on pages you visit, or enter the URL of your favorite page into your RSS reader to see if it has a feed.
Here are some feeds you might subscribe to:
- Your favorite blogs
- Google alerts for your name, your research topics, or a fellowship you want to apply for
- Research topics in ejournals
- A Twitter feed (if you choose not to join Twitter)
- A potential employer's jobs page
- Calls for papers
What did we miss? What would you still like to know? Let's hear about it in the comments!
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