A sorority leader at the University of Maryland sent a profanity-laden email to her fellow Delta Gammas last week that berated and threatened her sisters over Greek Week festivities, and the note--as absurd as it is--serves as yet another reminder of how quickly the internet can tarnish a reputation.
While the sender probably never imagined the note would go viral, students should learn from her experience. Online reputations play an increasingly larger role in the hiring process and for students looking to get hired after graduation, they need to make sure their online profiles present their best image.
Dan Schawbel, author of Promote Yourself: The New Rules For Career Success, says situations like this can haunt perpetrators for years to come. “To repair your brand after that happens, you have to apologize in public and online. You should create a strong online presence to push that article back.”
To overshadow any harmful attention online, he also advises students build a strong presence with more positive associations to flush out negative attention.
“Get positive media for doing something creative and make your own news on a blog or website with your own name on it,” he says. “For her, [the damage] will be around for a long time with so many credible [outlets] covering it.”
Nicole Williams, career expert for LinkedIn, says the letter writer will most likely face an uphill battle to gain employment. “Who would trust this woman or want her in your midst? I don’t know who would hire her if she can go off the rails like this so publicly.”
She warns all college to students to keep in mind that everything they do, say, or even write has the potential for going viral today. “Be ready for it to be unmasked at any time, and think ‘what would this look like publicly?’”
The experts offered the following tips on how students can create and protect their online brand before hitting the job market:
No. 1: Front-run your brand. Get out there and create professional Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn pages, and even a blog if applicable, Williams suggests. “Be proactive instead of reacting to an online image. You want to demonstrate that you can use social media to build the business, and if you don’t have that platform, you are in trouble.”
No 2. Clean up what you do have. Take down any questionable or inappropriate photos as soon as possible. “Present your best, most professional self,” Williams says. “How you conduct yourself on social media is how you will conduct yourself in the company.”
Schawbel also recommends students moderate status updates to keep a professional image.
No. 3: Clean up your current friends list. Schawbel says on average, milennials have 700 friends online—and like it or not, these “friends” can reflect negatively on a user.
“This digital traffic can really hurt you,” he says. “The online world is like your handshake, and people will search for you online first.”
No. 4: Start networking now. Students should identify professionals in their interested career paths and start making connections. Williams also says they should
start making informed comments on sites and forums associated with their field to leave a positive digital footprint.
“Build relationships with people who have the ability to hire you,” she says.