The appearance of your digital documents could hinder you in the workplace, say experts. In order to look professional in cyber space, there are things you should keep in mind. "Managing your virtual identity should be one of the top priorities of everyone in this economy. People can make decisions on every aspect of our lives including work, education, finance, and even customer service based on our social profiles. There is even talk of them affecting our credit ratings in the near future," says Andreas T. Jackson, media technologist.
"The key is to make sure that your online image isn't so much carefully managed and curated but that it's honest, open, and that you have nothing posted publicly that you're particularly afraid of," explains social media expert and writer Alan Henry (Novawerks.net). "When I was in a position to hire people, the first thing I did with new candidates was look them up on Facebook and Twitter to see if they had an online presence and what that presence said about them. Some candidates surprised me: they had blogs about their work and their expertise, or they showed off their hobbies and out-of-work passions with their friends and family. Those are all wonderful things, and say more to me about the person than if I had found absolutely nothing because they locked everything down because they were afraid of me finding anything."
Not only must you be cautious about the content you send and the content you make public, but the actual appearance is very important as well. Don’t use excessively large or small font. Stick to a traditional color for text. Avoid bold background color or wallpaper.
There are countless mistakes people make online, says Henry. Here are a few:
1. They don't have an online presence. We live in a time where your personal brand is all you have in many cases, and if you don't give potential employers an easy way to find you online and read about your education, experience, and goals, they never will.
2. They don't keep it up-to-date. Getting yourself out there isn't a static thing - you need to update your social networks and talk to people, interact with them, update your online resumes, portfolios, and blogs with new thoughts and skills as you learn them. Don't let your online presence get old and dusty!
3. They don't engage. Meet people. Search for the people you want to meet on Twitter and LinkedIn and other social networks. Talk to them, make insightful comments, and share your own experiences and links. Those personal connections go a long way towards finding new opportunities.
Adds Jackson, "One on the mistakes people make with their online image is they don’t take the time to increase their competency in the tools and resources necessary to manage your online brand."
Emails may be old hand but you still need to take care when sending--and receiving--emails for work. "People sending emails often make their messages too long, full of multiple questions that make it difficult for the recipient to read, digest, and quickly respond. We all get so much email these days that it's really incumbent on the sender to make sure the recipient understands what they are looking for, when they need the information by, and what level of detail they need," says Henry. "Recipients on the other hand, have a responsibility as well. Having a lot of email is no excuse for not responding to important ones in a timely manner, or at least following up with when you can get back to a person with what they need. Setting up mail filters and rules to filter the good stuff to your inbox and the junk to the trash is easy in any email client or webmail service, and too few people make use of them, especially in business. It's no longer a badge of honor to have an inbox with thousands of messages in it. It just makes you look irresponsible."
According to Jackson, there are several things to keep in mind about emails:
• A lot of businesspeople are too informal in e-mail correspondence, neglecting proper grammar, correct spelling, and basic communication etiquette such as saying “Hello…”
• Under no circumstances should anyone send sensitive data through non-secure e-mail. Assume anyone can potentially intercept your e-mails, and use encrypted third party solutions instead (talk to your IT staff).
• Using keyboard shortcuts on services like Gmail is highly overlooked, and can save a lot of time and increase productivity.
• Remember the difference between Reply and Reply All
Then there is Facebook, probably the ultimate source of Internet profiles. Potential employers are now accustomed to checking out the Facebook pages of future employees, so be careful as to the content of your Facebook profile and Wall. "Do not post anything on your Facebook page that you wouldn’t want published in your local newspaper. That’s a safe way to go," Jackson points out. But you can still enjoy your social media lifestyle without it interfering in your business life, says Henry: "There's no reason you can't enjoy services like Facebook and Google+ or any other social network for personal reasons and still maintain a solid professional presence. All of those networks have privacy controls that I encourage everyone to be very familiar with so they know exactly who can see information they post to their profiles," he explains. "Never post anything to the Internet you're not comfortable with the public seeing. Facebook does a good job at allowing you to post sensitive or personal things so only your friends can see. You can also post your favorite news articles or professional journal pages publicly where everyone can read. Even so, be wary of posting things like embarrassing photos, highly political opinions or topics, or anything specifically divisive or personally compromising - at least not without being absolutely sure only your inner circle can see them."
Making a digital footprint is not to be overlooked. So be creative. "Start a blog," suggest Henry. "Engage on your social networks like Twitter and Facebook. Sites like Wordpress.com and Blogger.com are free to use, and they make a great way to share your expertise, your ideas about improving the field you work in, and your thoughts about your career and job in a way that's constructive and gives potential employers a way to read them and come away thinking "this person has ideas, and is knowledgeable". Use Twitter to share your thoughts and your blog posts with followers, and to meet more people who have the same interests and experience that you do. There are always more people out there to learn from, and those conversations should be a two-way street. You want to get the word out about your digital footprint, but you also want to meet people who can teach you something and help you learn and grow. As you make those personal connections, you'll be growing your professional and personal networks, and drawing more people to read the things you've written."
Jackson agrees and advises, "The most important step is to claim your name in the search engines. If possible, purchase the domain of your first and last name e.g. www.yourname.com . Use it for a blog, personal website, or even redirect it to a professional social profile like LinkedIn. Create as many social profiles as possible including Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ with your full name as well. Try to populate these profiles with useful and relevant content reflecting your personal brand and vocation. Also, create a Google account if you do not have one already, and set-up Google Alerts to monitor how your name comes up in search engines on a regular basis."
Let your professional personality shine in cyber space.