Like it or not, a projection of you lives online—even if you’re not engaged with its active curation.
Which is why business schools, just like job recruiters, examine your social media presence. They want confidence that your personal and professional identities are consistent with the profile presented in your resume and application. It means your social media presence should be reflective of how you perceive your personal brand. And if you’re a serial poster, what you opt to share reflects your judgment and discernment.
Are there blush-worthy photos of you on Instagram? Have you ever taken to Twitter in a moment of frustration with a thinly veiled insult directed at your boss? Does your inattention to LinkedIn make you seem unconnected? Maybe you’re tagged in a Facebook photo from a friend’s bachelorette party that you wouldn’t show your mother.
At Fortuna Admissions, advising clients to review their online presence is an early-stage practice, since the overall narrative that comes across through your social media imprint can either enhance or harm your MBA candidacy.
Before submitting your MBA application, consider these five top tips:
#1: Perform your own online audit.
Begin by Googling your name (in all variations) and check other search engines like Bing or Yahoo. If there are any mentions about you on the first few pages that could hurt your application, edit or remove inappropriate content. Then view your social media profiles from a public perspective (logged out) to see how much, and what, pops up. Which may prompt you to fine-tune those ever-evolving privacy settings (see tip #3).
#2: If you have doubts, delete.
Review your history of posts, photos and comments on blogs, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or other media for public content that might reflect poorly on your profile. Beyond the obvious—drug references, sexual comments, profanity—screen for TMI (too much information) laments or rants. Now more than ever, social media blurs the lines between professional and personal, so it’s best to exercise caution. While shorthand has become acceptable across electronic media, profiles rife with grammar and spelling mistakes won’t inspire confidence about your writing skills. Keep in mind that even if you delete content, your digital footprint can leave a more lasting impression than you might imagine.
#3 Manage your security settings.
If you’re comfortable quipping spontaneous, unfiltered messages about your feelings moment to moment – which social media is designed to inspire – be sure to regularly check your privacy settings to manage who can see your inner monologues. You can control your own photos and comments, but you can’t predict what others share about you. Manage your settings so that posts by others that include your name or tagged photo must have your approval to be visible. In the age of digital video and photos, it’s not uncommon that someone else will post images of you that you’d rather keep private.
#4 Practice discernment.
The irony of social media is that it’s ephemeral, but it’s certainly not temporary. Even if you’ve wisely deleted that handful of borderline past comments and updated your privacy settings, it’s prudent to curb bad habits like empty over-sharing. Because of screen shots, even what you think has been deleted can also be saved. Stay skeptical of tools like Snapchat that imply your content is temporary. The reality is that nothing is temporary anymore.
#5: Enhance your professional profile.
A baseline is keeping your LinkedIn profile fresh – business schools expect you’re a great networker, and your well-honed LinkedIn presence underscores an image of professional engagement and visibility. Consider ways to add to your profile with recommendations or publications. Whether these details are picked up by admissions or not, your profile will likely be scrutinized by post-MBA potential employers. Next, follow your target schools and look for ways to strategically engage (on LinkedIn, but also Facebook and Twitter). This allows you to stay connected and apprised of the latest program news, and deepen your understanding of each institution. A well-considered comment may catch the attention of an admissions committee member. Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn is also an appropriate channel to contact alumni networks or groups.
You can take it a step further by following the people and groups who are leading the conversation in fields you’re passionate about, such as microfinance, renewable energy or social innovation. Similarly, be discerning about what and who you choose to like or follow. It’s all visible, which is where your judgement comes in: While MBA programs aren’t going to weed out candidates for unpopular political views (unless extreme or racist), know that engaging, liking or following controversial groups or pages can be a tricky issue.
All told, there’s no need to get paranoid about admission officers trolling your blog archives or ancient Facebook pics. Any online audit is likely to be brief given their hefty workloads. But a quick skim can impart volumes – a compelling personal brand, or, alternatively, incongruity.
Your savvy engagement is ultimately fairly straightforward. Think about it like attending a cocktail event with a nametag on: If you wouldn’t share something in person, don’t bring it up online.
A version of this blog was originally posted by Fortuna Expert Coach Lisa Bevill on Poets and Quants on April 7, 2017