First impressions used to be made in person, but times have changed. Until recently, if you were in the job market, a headhunter or colleague might refer you for a specific position, then it would be up to you to dazzle a prospect with your intelligence, charm, and suitability -- in person.
These days, headhunters, hiring managers and business prospects are likely to look you up online and believe what they find there. The online impression you make is often as important -- if not more so -- than a word-of-mouth referral.
While web searches haven't entirely replaced the personal recommendation, today's first impressions are mostly made in cyberspace. Every endorsement you receive from a contact enhances your LinkedIn profile. Online testimonials add luster to the impression you make before the in-person meeting.
How can you make a killer first impression online? Scour the web and scrutinize anything that has your name attached to it, keeping these nine tips in mind.
1. Be the steward of your own online presence. Even if you make an intentional effort to clean up your language and become tactful in your comments, you should look beyond your personal activity. It takes a refined sense of social media etiquette and some diligent watch-dogging to ensure your online image is business-worthy. When was the last time you Googled yourself? Your web presence may fan out more broadly than you knew. Pursue each link, and be sure to search images as well.
2. Don't let your LinkedIn profile grow stale. Does your after school fast-food job still show up on your LinkedIn profile even though you're well into your professional career? If so, your profile update is long overdue. With each step up the career ladder, be sure to refine your profile and lose those inessential entries. Even if your career trajectory stalled lately, keep your profile content as fresh as possible. You may have a new skill set to add after attending a training, or a recent client whose endorsement you can solicit.
3. Don't let your online photo stray too far from your true self. Tempting as it may be to remake yourself on social media, resist the urge to go overboard retouching your photo in Photoshop. Of course, you want your LinkedIn headshot to look its business-best, but too much color correction here or too much shadow removal there can leave you looking like a characterless clone.
4. Polish your online profile 'til it shines. Peruse your social media accounts with a critical eye. Not only do you want to delete any inappropriate photos or off-color language, you want to project a level of maturity and class.
5. Venomous quips can come back to bite you. So you may have just been jilted in the worst way possible. Even though you want the world to know how your ex is beyond cruel, absolutely do not vent online. Nothing sends up a red flag more than a nasty or whiny post. Attempting to intentionally defame someone online often says more about the defamer than the defamed.
6. Reign in on the cute factor. Oversharing has become the bane of social media's domain. Instagram makes sharing pictures easy and instantaneous, but is abused by overuse for the trivial or unimportant. Continuous pictures of your cat can quickly go from cute to annoying. Share sparingly, saving it for those exceptional occurrences.
7. We all need and crave a Twitter following, but... The Twitteratti: it's like the paparazzi for the rest of us. Some Twitter users, as so often happens, obsess about quantity over quality. While the platform lets you create a sense of virtual community among others with like interests, some feel the need to cultivate huge numbers of followers to prove credibility. But, as appropriate users of Twitter know, once a community gets too big, meaningful sharing is drowned out.
8. Focus where you'll have the most impact. Refining your social media presence is crucial to "branding" yourself. But, let's be honest, there are so many social media platforms that it can be difficult to be on all of them in a meaningful way. Pick the ones you enjoy the most because that's where you will focus your efforts best. Having an online profile on LinkedIn makes sense for most business people. After that -- choose a social media outlet where you feel you can have the most impact.
9. Unfriending: better not to burn bridges. Tempting as it may be to unfriend someone on Facebook who posts pointless prattle, it is far better to "unfollow" the person. Unfriending can eventually come to light and burn bridges. Better still, become more discerning about accepting friend requests. You are better off ignoring a request, which is a benign act, than taking on a Facebook friend you may end up wanting to drop.
Vicky Oliver is a leading career development expert and the multi-best-selling author of five books, including 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions (Sourcebooks, 2005) and Live Like a Millionaire (Without Having to Be One) (Skyhorse, 2015). She is a sought-after speaker and seminar presenter and a popular media source, having made over 700 appearances in broadcast, print, and online outlets. For more information, visit vickyoliver.com.