Students! It's time to make your online presence sparkle

I was invited along by the Anglia Ruskin University Employability Service to talk to students about how they can inject a little sparkle into their online presence - and attract the attention of potential employers.

How can they make the most of the opportunities of getting active on the web and social media? Here are the tips I shared...

So first, a little bit about my own HR background. Spoiler: I don't have one.

What I have experienced is working in small companies, major corporations, freelancing, and setting up my own business, where I went from it being just lil' ol' me to needing to employ people. So I've very much learned on the job about how to create jobs and what you look for in potential candidates.

And the first point I want to make is...

Recruiters are human too!

You may feel that when you start applying for jobs, you're just sending your CV into some faceless organisation where it will simply be fed into a computer by some cold-hearted robot you'll never even meet.

Wrong!

99.3% of all private sector businesses are small or medium-sized (SMEs), which means there's a strong chance that when you send your CV in, it's going to be looked at by a business owner like me or a small team of people who are all very invested in the success of the company.

When I was a student trying to get on the career ladder, all employers had to go on was my CV and covering letter (in fact, my nice handwriting did get me an interview once over another potential candidate and I went on to get the job).

But nowadays, we have the internet! And social media! So if a potential employer is interested in you, they're going to look you up. But they're not trying to catch you out; it's natural curiosity. They want to know more about the people who will be part of their team.

 Talking to students at Anglia Ruskin University. Photo credit: Satvinder Sehmbey

Talking to students at Anglia Ruskin University. Photo credit: Satvinder Sehmbey

So what do recruiters want to see?

It's quite simple, really. It's things like...

  • Evidence of your talent. So you say you're a writer. Wouldn't it be great if they came across your beautifully written blog? A photography student with an eye-catching Instagram account. Or you're doing film studies and you put up sharp, witty reviews of the latest movies and classic cinema.
     
  • Proof of interests. You're a medical student who is always sharing articles on Twitter about heart health and anatomy. Or you're doing sports studies and it's clear from your posts that you're more than just an armchair football fan.

    Employers love seeing that you are genuinely into their subject area; you're not just doing the degree because you couldn't work out what else to do for three years.
     
  • A grown-up! Does your use of Twitter reveal a seething rage at reality TV stars? Are you always getting into arguments on Facebook?

    I'm not saying this will disqualify you from the position for which you're applying...but it's not making a great impression.
     
  • A good fit. Let's say you want to go and work in the charity sector. Talking about volunteering with the local hospice or the way you share and comment upon relevant articles will imply that you're someone with compassion who's not afraid to roll up their sleeves and help out.

    Comments mocking disabled people for example, or a generally aggressive and sneery tone - well, I shouldn't have to spell this one out for you...
 Mentoring students at another event organised by the Anglia Ruskin Employability Service. Photo credit: Satvinder Sehmbey

Mentoring students at another event organised by the Anglia Ruskin Employability Service. Photo credit: Satvinder Sehmbey

Your online profile is an opportunity!

To be honest, if I come across a few pictures online of a potential candidate staggering out of a bar in Magaluf, it's not a massive problem (although maybe it would be if I was recruiting airline pilots or MI5 personnel).

Any of the positive stuff mentioned above will outweigh this. That's what I'm really interested. Here's how to get your house in order...

1. Start creating content!

Here are some examples to inspire you:

So this could be your own blog (try WordPress to start you off), or set up an Instagram or YouTube account and get posting interesting videos or images. For creative students, try putting your portfolio on Behance.

This will also get you into the right mindset for presenting your content in the way which will appeal to people in the creative industries.

2. Sort out your biog

By this I mean the basic information that appears on your online profile - your website and social media accounts. Don't be afraid to say you're a student but don't let that restrict you.

Your picture needs to be friendly and approachable. Don't worry about wearing a suit! Just project an image of being someone...well...normal. A grown-up. Wearing clothes. Not pissed.

On LinkedIn there's plenty of room for you to write an appealing summary about yourself. Not got a huge career history? You can pad it out by talking with enthusiasm about your ambitions instead.

3. Write your social media strategy

OK, this can be super simple. What core topics are you going to write about, comment upon and share? What are you NOT going to post about?

This Chinese interior architecture student @Mochiipanko shares her beautiful illustrations on Twitter, and talks about topics like design and her latest projects.

June Eric-Udorie posts about intersectional feminism and racial politics (with the odd praise for Beyonce thrown in). She doesn't talk much about baking or fluffy kittens.

So the strategy can be very basic. But it will help you when you're trying to stay focused, and thinking: what the hell am I going to post about today?

4. Aim for a positive tone

Be interested (in your chosen field, the latest developments, what influential people have to say, the topics you're studying)

Be interesting! Not just copying other people's points of view but having one of your own, not afraid to comment or dig a little deeper.

Some pitfalls to avoid

1. Do a search on your own name

Tip! Do it 'incognito' because Google personalises a large percentage of your search results.

What comes up will be interesting! Maybe nothing at all...or maybe a load of pictures and comments from your younger days that you wish weren't there. Time to go back and untag yourself, log in and delete or generally find ways of removing this old content.

And of course, if you start creating original content on high-traffic websites, this will move the older, irrelevant stuff down the page.

2. Check your privacy settings!

I was impressed to see how many Anglia Ruskin students had done this recently. The thing is, Facebook changes the goalposts all the time, so even when you think you have everything locked down, maybe you haven't. So it's a good idea to check back again regularly to see how others can view your account.

Then there's that private account on Instagram, to which you've accepted every request to follow you - all 1500 of them. Time to go through and have a clear out.

3. Don't drink and tweet!

I have a lovely - actually pretty bloody awful - example that I share in social media workshops of the girl who posted on Saturday night on Twitter how she was drunk and staggering round the car park looking for her car so she could drive home.

This was when people were hooking up Twitter to autopost to LinkedIn. So it looked even more (un)impressive!

Best thing to do on a Friday or Saturday night is just to put the phone down...

Thanks to Satvinder Sehmbey at Anglia Ruskin University for inviting me along to be part of the Springboard event and to be part of the other excellent events run by the Employability Service.