I have commiserated and shared advice recently with some friends who lost their jobs as the newspaper industry contracts. Other people who still have jobs are in the same situation I often find myself: trying to develop relationships with potential sources, partners, clients or vendors.
My first advice in either situation: Check out and update your digital profile. This is a good idea for any journalist (or workers in many other fields). Even if you’re not trying to find a job or develop business, someone may be checking you out: sources; people you just met at a conference; someone considering you for the fellowship you just applied for.
Whatever the context, if I want to learn about someone, I am going to pay more attention to what I can find about that person online by myself than to what he or she sends me or tells me. So you should investigate your online profile and see how you look to others.
The first thing most people are going to do if they check you out is Google you. What would they find on the first page? In this respect, I am fortunate that I have a distinctive last name. Google (or search Bing) “Steve Buttry” or “Stephen Buttry” and all 10 hits on the first page are me. If you have a more common name and don’t come up often or at all on the first page or two of a search by name alone, consider how a prospective employer (or someone else checking your digital profile) might narrow the search, possibly using the name(s) of the organization(s) and city(ies) where you have worked. See what shows up and what that says about you.
If you Google my name (either way), you don’t get just the top 10 hits by Google’s algorithm. You also see my Google profile at the bottom of the first page of results (not on Bing, of course; I haven’t heard whether Bing lets you make a profile). If you have a more common name, your profile still appears at the bottom of the first page, though you’ll have some company. I Googled a friend with a more common name and that first results page has four profiles at the bottom. Each listing has the name and then something about the person, city and/or employer. So if the first page normally doesn’t turn up something about you, the first thing someone will see about you in Googling you is the profile you have compiled.
To develop a Google profile, simply Google “me” and click the link that says “create a Google profile.” You can post a photograph, link to other photos in Flickr or Picasa, fill in fields about your education, career, life and interests. You also can add links. My profile has links to my blog, to my Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection, to various writing by and about me, to my social network profiles, to blog pages about my journalism career in general or specifically about my journalism training career.
See how I have guided the search of a potential business partner considering whether to hire Gazette Communications and me for some consulting on innovation: On the first page of Google results, you see my profile. Click on that and you are just a click from links that tell you more about me or show my writing or show writing where other people are praising my company and me. Check out what’s online about you and guide your prospective employers, clients and partners to that material using your Google profile.
I also developed a Google map of my career, with further links to more stories, columns, blog posts and so on. In addition to whatever the content shows, the map shows that I know how to make a Google map. I’m not particularly adept at it, which people who know more than me about maps might be able to see pretty quickly. But those people will see that I’m learning and trying. And let’s face it, most people who look at that map have never even done a Google map. They don’t know how easy it is, so they might think I’m more skilled than I really am. I’m not going to oversell my skills, but I also don’t mind if people who are checking me out jump to exaggerated conclusions.
What digital skills can you show by links from your profile? If you have skills with interactive databases or video, make sure you link to them from your profile.
Another place you will be checked out is in your LinkedIn profile. How would you look to a prospective employer, partner or client who examined your LinkedIn profile? Most profiles I see appear as though the person just has a few business contacts and doesn’t use digital tools much. If your list of connections is pretty light, you can build it up pretty quickly by searching for current and former colleagues and classmates using tools on LinkedIn. As those people connect with you, check out their connections and you will usually find some mutual acquaintances to invite, expanding your circle further.
People checking you out on LinkedIn will also note whether anyone recommends you. You can ask people for recommendations. Or you can write some recommendations for people you respect. As I blogged when I was at the American Press Institute, when you write recommendations for people, they frequently reciprocate.
If you blog or use services such as SlideShare or TripIt, you can add applications so that recent posts or presentations or upcoming trips show on your LinkedIn profile. In addition to telling more about you, these applications show that you do more than kick the tires when you start using a new digital tool.
I should add that using these tools has other benefits. When I was visiting Reno recently for a presentation to editors of Swift Communcations, a friend from Washington who was working in a Maynard Institute program at the University of Nevada Reno saw my travel plans on LinkedIn. She emailed me and asked me to make a brief presentation for Maynard. And in the process I saw her and three other friends who were at UNR.
Facebook can be a troubling digital profile for young people who partied a lot in college with friends who had cameras. Yes, you can make Facebook private. But who wants to say no to a potential employer who wants to friend you? Take a look at your profile (and at photos elsewhere that have tagged you) and remove (or ask friends to remove the tags) any that aren’t part of the image you want to present to employers, sources or clients who are checking you out.
You also should consider what your blog tells someone about you and what it says if you’re not blogging. For instance, I should work on the vanilla appearance of my blog (that’s been on my next-week list for a long time).
The image you present online is not more important than the work you can do. But you may not get to show what you can do if you don’t show someone first in your digital profile.