April 8, 2015

Teaching professional skills… encouraging students to manage an online identity

Posted by Laura Guertin

I saw this tweet not that long ago, and even though it is geared towards faculty, our students could learn a thing or two in reviewing why they should manage their online identity, and how to go about doing so.

Have you ever encouraged students to “Google” themselves to see what comes up?  I encourage students to search for their name on a computer they don’t typically use or log in to.  Many are surprised by what they find, not aware that others (mostly friends) that have added their names to sites, and/or tagged them in photos.  Some students are disappointed that nothing comes up – nothing personal or professional.

I believe we should encourage our students to create and shape their professional identity online before they graduate, even sooner than the senior year.  Why?  Vorvoreanu et al. (2011) report that in a survey of 275 U.S. recruiters and human resource (HR) professionals commissioned by Microsoft Corporation, 70% of respondents have rejected job candidates based on information found online.  Ruefman (n.d.) shares a story of working with a student that was a qualified candidate for employment, but negative information online created a professional roadblock to getting hired.  It is not just employment our students are heading off to, but graduate school as well.

Should students completely wipe out their entire online identity?  Not necessarily.  Ruefman (n.d.) suggests that a total absence on the internet may imply that a student is not tech savvy or is out of touch with current trends.  But there are some simple ideas and suggestions we can make to students, and perhaps sit down with our department student groups or senior seminar classes to help them get a professional identity online, and/or remind them to update the information that is already out there.

(1) Create a LinkedIn profile  —  Although some people (OK, I’ll admit it – like myself) are not quite sure what LinkedIn can provide them, there are several professional organizations and communities on the site.  Students can list their career goals, degrees, courses taken, skill sets – all of the same information that can go on a resume, and more.  The professional networking opportunities for young students transitioning to careers make this free site worth creating a profile on.

(2) Create an about.me page  —  With “first impressions happening online,” about.me allows the user to create a page with an image and the ability to link to other websites and social media identities.  Nicknamed a “digital business card,” the landing page allows the user to list professional goals and objectives and/or any additional biographic information.  Most importantly, about.me is free and is a short, easy URL that can be placed on a business card, resume, or in the signature of an email account.  This is the about.me page that has a short summary “about me” and links to the various websites I have (http://about.me/drlauraguertin).  Notice that I was able to customize the URL for the page to my name.

(3) Review the webpage by Pomona College on “Managing Your Online Identity  —  This summary by Pomona’s Career Development Office has a nice set of steps students can follow and really reflect upon how they would assess their online presence and if they are happy with how they are presented and profiled.

Just to bring this conversation back around… Vorvoreanu et al. (2012) state that “online identity management literacy” includes awareness of both advantages and disadvantages, such as time, effort, threat to privacy, and even the possibility of being a victim of cyber-bullying.  But these negatives make an even stronger case for students controlling and managing their online presence.



Additional sources for exploration

Baker, M. (2015). Social media: A network boost. Nature, 518: 263-265. (Article online)

Ruefman, D. (n.d.). Taking Control: Managing your online identity for the job search. Writing Commons. (Article online)

Vorvoreanu, M., Q. Clark, G. Boisvenue, & S. Woodall. (2011). Social Media Literacy: Integrating Online Identity Management into Engineering and Technology Education. American Society for Engineering Education, conference paper. (PDF online)

Vorvoreanu, M., Q. Clark, G. Boisvenue. (2012). Online Identity Management Literacy for Engineering and Technology Students Journal of Online Engineering Education, 3(1): 8 pages. (PDF online)