I spent a chunk of time tonight updating my virtual profile. This is actually a lot more daunting than it sounds. The sites I have the most obvious virtual presence on (i.e. I use my full, real name) are LinkedIn and Facebook. I don’t have much of a presence on the former, but eerily it shows up as the second hit when I Google my name. And though I generally don’t mind when people search for me on Facebook, it does concern me that there are people out there who are able to use this information to their advantage, and to my disadvantage.
When I started my current job, I asked my co-worker why they’d picked me. Was it my eagerness to learn? Fitting into the team?
“Well,” he said, “we googled you.”
Uhoh. What did you find?
“That you’ve been involved in a couple of computing societies at uni (tick!), that you did pretty well in the HSC (tick!) – oh, and you met your boyfriend through World of Warcraft.”
Oh. THAT article. Where I proclaimed my skepticism of online dating sites and my distrust of the undead. Though I’m not terribly embarrassed by the article now – it’s a good talking point, you know? – when it was brought up by people I hardly knew I wanted to sink into the ground. The funny thing is that this article was written a year and a half ago and yet it’s still around on the internet. It’s been archived for all cyberspace eternity! And one day I will probably go for a job interview in which the interviewer will say, off the cuff, “so, Phoebe, are you still one of those World of Warcraft nerds?”
Interviews I regret aside, however, I’m interested in how my virtual presence can identify me even before someone’s met me. It can affect everything, from how smart (they think) I am, to how well I dress, to my personality traits. People can decide whether they like me before even setting eyes on me in the flesh. If this is bad enough with friends of friends (and potential partners!) I can only imagine what a potential employer would think of my Facebook photos.
So I’ve turned them all to private, so that only “my friends” who I am directly connected to can see them. (I have doubts about the integrity of this system though as I used to be able to copy and paste direct picture links to people who weren’t part of my Facebook “friends”). I’ve also limited the amount of information that complete strangers see. Is it relevant that I’m in a “complicated” relationship? Maybe. Does it imply that I’m not committed, or that I have personal problems? (No, he just lives twelve thousand kilometres away.)
I think it’s important to separate Facebook groups and widgets into those which are definitely just for fun (like a Scrabble type game) and those which are a bit more grey. I’m not a fan of the applications which aim to give you a net worth, or identify you via adjectives. I’m not a fan of groups which polarise, either, since I often don’t agree with the sentiment. Some groups I do believe in (see: No Australian Internet Censorship) but I think for the most part I reject invitations to groups I’m not a solid supporter of.
On to LinkedIn, the social network aimed at a slightly more serious audience, and I realised that my profile there also needed a bit of tidying up. Spelling inconsistencies irk me by nature, but I’d also not capitalised my first and last name (maybe at the time I didn’t quite know what I was signing up for). I’ve corrected this, and redefined my current job title. However, when it came to updating my profile, I was a little stumped…
Like writing a resume, LinkedIn is more about selling yourself than any of the other social networks I’ve been a part of. MySpace is (mostly) about expressing yourself, whether it’s through music or having an objectively aesthetically pleasing profile. Facebook is about connecting to old friends and acquaintances, and adding the random guy you bumped into last night who happens to already be within your network because he’s friends with your sister’s boyfriend’s best friend. It’s got a very casual factor to it that suits its demographic, which, remember, was originally college students (and alumni)!
LinkedIn is a step away from that. It’s the network where you won’t be afraid to talk about how good you are without coming across as arrogant. It’s where you want to link your Seek and CareerOne jobhunts so that you don’t ever need to fire up Microsoft Word again in order to try to make your resume look good. Not just does it list all of your qualifications, it also displays your referees and, should they move to a new job, will keep their contact details current. To this effect, I think it’s one of the best career tools online. However… this is the daunting part.
Where’s the line between selling yourself and going overboard when it comes to social websites? What kind of presence is “better”: a good career profile or a good social profile? Which are recruiters more interested in? One displays your skill set (according to you) and the other displays your personality, your attitude, and your lifestyle. Is it “okay” to describe yourself one way on Facebook and a different way on LinkedIn – your intended audience is different, after all – or will that person end up reading both and conclude that you are a hypocrite?
Add in my weblog (should anybody find it) and you have a third perspective of the same person. Hopefully my ideals remain relatively similar across the spectrum, although I foresee that as I advance in my career, and my personal life, there will be times when I can’t align the Internet and something will go terribly wrong, probably during the most important job interview of my life (or my wedding). Then again, I am a pessimist.
Curious? Google yourself.