Switched On? – How to create and maintain an online presence to boost your employability!

By Chris Webb, Careers Leader at The Ruth Gorse Academy, Leeds and CEIAG Lead Professional with the Leeds City Council Leading Learning Partnership

Much like shopping, watching TV and communicating with your friends, looking for work is an activity that has been moving more and more into the online world in recent years. Although many individuals still find work experience, placements, internships, part-time jobs and full-time employment through traditional methods like word-of-mouth, handing out CVs or calling employers directly, creating and maintaining an online presence can open up a host of new contacts and opportunities and is an essential tool for enhancing your employability in the 21st Century. Read on for some handy hints and tips on how to establish your own successful online presence!

Why go digital?

Creating and maintaining an online presence, such as setting up a professional profile on websites like LinkedIn, is important for a variety of reasons:

The Hidden Job Market
An estimated 60% of jobs are found through networking rather than traditional job searching – this is what is know as the ‘Hidden Job Market’. Maintaining an online presence allows you to network with different employers who may be able to give you details about new jobs that are coming up in a company that haven’t yet been advertised.

The Power of Networking
Building a network of contacts within the working world may not guarantee you get your dream job but it will provide you with a valuable source of inside information regarding the careers and industries you think you might be interested in. For example, some students keep in touch with their work experience supervisors as a reference for future study or work, while others contact senior staff in companies they are interested in to set up a mentoring relationship and gain valuable insights and careers advice.

Opportunity Knocks!
Sometimes opportunities arise through maintaining an online presence that you might not expect – for example, promoting your artwork on sites like Etsy could lead to setting up your own business and blogging or posting about something you are passionate about on Tumblr or Instagram might lead an employer to offer you the chance to make money from freelance work.

However, it pays to take care of what information you post online…

A Cautionary Tale – In 2013, Emma Way, a Trainee Accountant from Norfolk, posted on Twitter about an incident where she knocked a cyclist off his bicycle with her car, Tweeting ‘Definitely knocked a cyclist off his bike earlier. I have right of way – he doesn’t even pay road tax!…’. Not only was Way investigated and fined by Norfolk Police for failing to report the incident but she was also fired from her job as a Trainee Accountant with accountancy firm Larking Gowen.

According to a 2017 YouGov poll, almost 1 in 5 employers have rejected an applicant for a job because of something that they posted on social media. The moral of the story – always think before posting!

Getting started

Not sure where to begin when it comes to creating an online presence? A good starting point is to audit your social media profiles to check that there is no potentially damaging content on there – this means going through all of those old posts and photo on platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and deleting anything you think could look negative to an employer, as well as updating your security settings so that only your friends and family can see what you post online.

Once you have done this, you can start looking at ways to boost your online presence – this could involve setting up a professional profile on websites like LinkedIn, which is a site that allows you to produce an online CV, post and read content about a variety of topics and make contact with employers and employees from different companies.

If you are under 16, alternative sites like Bragfolder allow you to set up a similar profile with a photo, online CV and a blog to post about things like work experience, volunteering or school projects. Other ways to establish an online presence include using platforms like Tumblr, Etsy, Instagram and WordPress to write about subjects you are passionate about or share content like poems, artwork or photographs you have produced at school or in your spare time.

Top Tips!

Google yourself!
It may sound simple, but running a quick search of your name online can help you to see what employers see when they search for your details on the Internet! Web tools like Brand Yourself also allow you to check your existing online presence for any potentially damaging results from your previous social media posts.

Reach out!
Start by thinking of careers or industries you might be interested in working in and contact employers who currently work for these types of companies. Remember that employers are busy people, so be careful not to ask for too much too soon – kicking things off by asking someone about what they do and any advice they have for getting into their industry is a good place to start!

Keep up-to-date!
Setting up an online profile is no good if you leave it to gather dust – make sure to update your contacts with key information like any new qualifications you have achieved or work placements or volunteering you might have taken part in.- Start your portfolio early! Whatever you are interested in doing in the future, whether it be writing, creative arts or website design, it is never too early to start documenting the work you produce in your spare time. This will come in handy for future college, university, apprenticeship or job applications!

Get involved!
Read, share and comment on articles posted by others on sites like LinkedIn, as well as sharing your own content – this will show you have an active online presence and are not just a ‘lurker’!

REMEMBER: There is a range of information available about maintaining an online presence, so if you are unsure about anything speak with your school, college or university careers adviser or alternatively you can also contact the National Careers Service online or by phone for further advice and support.

By Chris Webb – Careers Leader at The Ruth Gorse Academy, Leeds and CEIAG Lead Professional with the Leeds City Council Leading Learning Partnership.

A registered career development professional and member of the Career Development Institute, Chris has previously worked for education institutions in secondary education, FE and HE as a Functional Skills Tutor, Study Programme Coordinator and Careers Adviser.

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