COVID-19 series: How to use social media for your post-academic job search

As a job searcher with a PhD, you need to manage your online presence. This will be even more important if you are actively job searching right now, during COVID-19. With social distancing and remote work still in effect for many, your online identity might be the first point of contact while networking with others. Any online content associated with your name, whether it is a profile, a student review of your course, an article, or a photograph, can be an opportunity or a liability.

And you’ve heard stories of people losing a job offer over a controversial post on social media. Unfortunately, these things really do happen. It’s in your best interest to consider the impact of any content tied to your name that employers can search online.

As you begin your post-PhD transition, conduct a search in a commonly used search engine (e.g. Google) to see what a potential employer might find if they google your name.

Are you shocked at what comes up? Does your online presence scream “academic”?

The good news is that you can control your online narrative. Here’s some tips for getting started.

Decide which social media platforms you want to use professionally

If you decide you are going to devote serious job-search time to one social media network, choose LinkedIn. LinkedIn’s platform is focused on professional networking—and there’s a good chance recruiters and hiring managers will look up your profile. It is good practice to keep your professional and your personal social media accounts separate—LinkedIn can be just for work, while your personal connections and social media sharing can be in private accounts on other platforms like Instagram or Facebook.

Tidy up your online presence after your PhD

You want to establish a professional online presence that matches your post-PhD career goals—this may require some social media clean-up or damage control.

On Facebook

Even people who are not on your friends list might be able to see parts of your profile. To see what others might be able to view, go to your Facebook Timeline and click “View as”.

If you are using Facebook to stay in touch with family and friends from your PhD program, consider modifying your privacy settings.

You can delete individual Facebook posts by accessing your account activity log. You can also hide information (e.g. old photos from that graduate student party you attended once) by making posts private rather than deleting them entirely or remove tags.

If you have a bigger cleanup to do, you can delete batches of content, even years worth of posts, quickly by using a browser extension such as the Social Book Post Manager for Chrome. Make sure you archive or download your account if you want to keep any information for yourself as a backup. Be careful because the Social Book Post Manager delete function cannot be reversed.

On Twitter

Consider using the Tweetdeck dashboard application tool to manage your account.

You can delete Tweets that you have posted at any time, but note that you cannot delete Tweets from other accounts that are on your timeline. You can also remote Retweets from your profile. At this time, Twitter does not offer a way to bulk-delete Tweets. You will have to delete them manually, one by one.

Unfollow accounts that aren’t relevant to your post-PhD professional goals.

Only pin Tweets that are relevant and to which you wish to direct web traffic.

To protect your account and your privacy, visit your account privacy settings and conduct an audit. Review any third-party tools that may have access to your account and decide whether you want to revoke their access.

On LinkedIn

You can edit shared posts and delete publish shares, comments, likes, and posts under “Your Activity”. You can also disable comments on posts.

On the Google Search results page

If you find inappropriate photos or sensitive information (e.g. your telephone number) online, determine whether you or someone else has control of the content. If you don’t control the information, you can try the following steps:

1. contact the owner of the website and ask them to remove the information
2. contact Google directly to remove harmful information (e.g. financial or medical information, involuntary and unwanted explicit images). You’ll find a link to remove personal information on Google under Google Search Help.

Create your post-PhD personal brand

In the job market (academic or otherwise), you are selling your skills, knowledge, and experience. And you’ll need to market yourself by crafting a personal brand.

Your personal brand is the value that you bring to your industry of interest. Your personal brand consists of your professional reputation (i.e. how others see you) and of your professional persona (i.e. how you want others to perceive you as a professional).

If people see you as an academic, they will place you in that box. Decide how you want to present yourself to other people—and remember that you are more than your PhD!

How you define your role and what you do as a professional is crucial to creating a consistent and strategic online presence.What do you bring to the table professionally? What motivates you? How do you hope to contribute to the world with your skills and with your knowledge?

Once you have uncovered your purpose, transmit this message as you network with other professionals online and offline.

Tweak your personal branding based on the market to which you want to appeal. Craft your brand message in such a way as to make you the go-to person people will consult when they need to solve a specific business problem.

Any images you use in your profiles and in your digital content should reflect your new, post-PhD personal brand. If you are trying to break into the corporate world, you may want to invest in head-shots (or get a friend to take them) in business attire. Keep your platform content consistent so that people will recognize you more easily and link your name to the professional service you are uniquely equipped to provide.

The same care needs to be taken in choosing internet handles on platforms such as Twitter. Choose a professional handle that is not too generic.

Maintain and protect your post-PhD brand

Schedule time to maintain your online branding. We suggest spending at least an hour a week to this task.

Post regularly on your selected professional accounts so that your colleagues and professionals in your field will keep you in mind when opportunities come up. Keep your network in the loop with progress reports when you are in full job-hunt mode and tell them what you are looking for.

Set up Google alerts for your name so you know what other people are writing about you online. Revisit your social media platforms regularly and make sure that any content that appears there is accurate and up-to-date.

Grow your network meaningfully

Each meaningful connection in your social media network is a potential source of referrals and of information on companies of interest.

When requesting a connection with someone, customize your request with a personalized note. In your message, remind the person how you met them. If you are trying to connect to someone you haven’t met yet, explain who referred you to them, and why you would like to know them.

Use the Alumni filter on LinkedIn to establish connections with people in the industry you are targeting. When you send them a message, make sure to mention you both attended the same university.

Find subject matter groups that relate to your job search interests. For example, if you are interested in a project management career, you will want to follow the Project Management Institute. If your goal is to transition to a learning and talent development role, join the Association for Talent Development feed. Don’t forget to connect to regional groups in your area of interest. Local connections will usually be the most valuable if you focus your job search on a specific city.

Deliberately set some time aside to read your social media feeds to learn about the latest trends in your industry, to find out about upcoming networking events, and to discover job postings.

Don’t sweat the stealth job search

If you are conducting a stealth search, slowly tweak your online presence.

If colleagues notice that you have set up a profile on LinkedIn and you are worried that it could affect your current employment, don’t make a big deal out of it. You can simply say that you’ve heard how important it is to have a LinkedIn profile.

LinkedIn has a block feature that you can use if you don’t want your boss or other specific people to view your profile.

Setting up a strategic presence on social media can be a powerful method to network your way to your first post-academic job. And with in-person networking put on hold right now, investing time into building your online presence can help you connect with more people, learn of job opportunities, and keep updated on job market insights.

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