5 Social Media Tips to Protect your Future from your Online Past

April 04, 2014 | by Matt Symonds

Could there be some photos of you in a less than sober state on your Facebook? Are you tagged in a pic taken at a stag party where the pole dancing was clearly taking place somewhere other than Warsaw? After a frustrating day at the office did you lash out at your boss on Twitter? Is your LinkedIn profile so sparse that you actually look linked out?

Whether you’re applying for an MBA or a job, it could be time to assess your online footprint and eradicate any embarrassing posts or photos, and present a more professional image.
The growing trend for employers to search the social media profiles of prospective employees has also been adopted by business schools. Most schools don’t have an official online screening policy and process in place, however Admissions Directors admit that certain information they find about you on the net can influence a school’s decision on your acceptance. So if you’re applying to business school, it’s probably a good time to consider your online brand.

Social media continues to blur the lines between personal and professional lives, and activities online say a lot about our identity. Consequently, business schools are interested to know if the profile you present in your application and resume is consistent with your identity in the market, at your workplace, and on social media. Your online presence should be generally coherent with how you see your personal brand.
So here are 5 social media tips to consider before clicking ‘submit’ on your MBA application:

#1: Audit your online presence. Use search engines to conduct a thorough audit of hits for your name. If there are any mentions of you on the first few pages that might raise a red flag and affect your application, then it’s time to remove or edit any inappropriate content. The person who was offered a job at Cisco and tweeted “Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work” presumably forgot that Cisco is, funnily enough, actually quite engaged online.

#2: If in doubt, delete. Review your history of posts, comments, and old photos on social media and other websites to see if anything might reflect badly. Posts of a sexual nature, drug references, profanity, etc. – may not go over well with an MBA admissions committee. Also if your Facebook pages and Tweets are littered with spelling and grammar mistakes, keep in mind that this hardly inspires confidence about you as a great communicator.
Caroline Diarte Edwards, former Admissions Director at INSEAD explains, “Business schools are not going to screen out candidates for their political views (unless particularly extreme e.g. racist), for loving a good party, or for expressing the occasional gripe. However, admissions committees might raise an eyebrow if, for example, you have frequently expressed frustration about your professional life or if there is anything that suggests unprincipled behavior, such as making public fun of a colleague, or gloating about having hoodwinked a client.” Caroline remembers a Fortuna Admissions client who was out of work and had blogged about how she felt like a no-hoper. “Of course everyone can have moments of feeling down, but you do not want such statements to be viewed by the admissions office. So we advised her to delete that particular blog post.”

# 3: Update your LinkedIn profile and join the groups of the business schools you’re applying to. You can take a step further and join the groups that are driving the debate in fields that you claim to be passionate about, such as impact investing, sustainable energy, or social entrepreneurship. Schools also expect you to be a good networker, and having a well-developed LinkedIn profile can help to convey this image to an admissions committee. And remember to post a good profile photo – the school can already start to picture you in their own yearbook. Judith Silverman Hodara from the Fortuna team recalls “When I was on the admissions committee at Wharton, it always surprised my team when MBA candidates sent us a polished resume, and then when we looked at their LinkedIn profiles they were…threadbare. Make sure your profiles are up-to-date as this is an ideal shop window to share your experience, skills, and knowledge. Your LinkedIn page should be professional, informative, and active, so use it!”

#4: Start developing a more professional side on Facebook, Twitter, and similar platforms. Engage with your target schools (and alumni) by ‘following’ and ‘re-tweeting’ their Twitter feeds and blogs, and ‘liking’ their Facebook pages. This will help you keep current and connected with school news and will deepen your knowledge of the institution. To advance your personal brand, you could even post intelligent, insightful comments to highlight your thought leadership and get noticed by the admissions committee. And if you get invited to interview, your previous interaction may provide some good talking points.

#5: Consider changing your privacy settings. It might be worth changing your social media settings so that only a select group can see your posts. Social media updates are often spontaneous, unfiltered statements and communicate how you feel at a particular moment. They’re often used to blow off some steam. However, when they’re left as a permanent record and are publicly viewable, remember that they become part of your personal brand. So if you’re in the habit of making such spontaneous comments, it’s suggested that you change your settings so that they’re not available to someone outside of your immediate network.
When all is said and done, there’s no need to become paranoid and expect that admission departments are going to spend hours reviewing your blog archives and Facebook photos posted six years back. They have a hefty workload, and in the majority of cases, any online audit will be quite brief. But you should err on the side of caution ‒ everything you put up on social media sites should be an accurate reflection of who you are as well as how you want to be perceived by others.

And don’t forget that once you start business school, you will soon be thinking about internships and post-MBA recruitment. So you should continue to maintain a ‘clean’ social presence for future employers.
Don’t let yourself be judged by your past when you’re working so hard to build your future.

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