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Online exposure

The Internet is becoming an increasingly common screening tool for hiring employers—and new graduates need to know how to leverage their web presence to become more marketable.

“Employers are looking at both sides of the coin. Anything about you online that shows bad judgment or could be damaging to their organization, they want to stay away from. Also, if they find that someone has no engagement online, that could also be seen as a negative thing,” says Patti Church, head of Why Hire Me.

Why Hire Me (www.whyhire.me) is a post-secondary education program for developing a student’s personal brand through a secure social network. Students in PR or marketing courses use the site as a learning component of their course, and can access tools such as an e-book, presentations and worksheets. Students also have ample opportunities to participate in online discussions about course- or industry-related issues on the network.

Key to this program, however, is the chance students get to develop professional web-based profiles designed to showcase their best selves to prospective employers.

“They are developing a professional presence online that shows all their accomplishments and their initiative,” Church says. “Employers will look for information about you on the Internet, so this is your way of packing it full of positive stories.”

Church, who uses the program in the PR course she teaches at Algonquin College, developed it in conjunction with her husband after noticing that her students weren’t using social media to their professional advantage.

“They are doing things like dropping their vacation photos on their Facebook profiles, pictures of them sitting on the beach, and letting these photos represent them online,” she says.

Another mistake some students make, Church says, is not participating in social networking at all.

“You have to be comfortable with exposing yourself. Companies are becoming more transparent, it’s a business trend, so there’s an expectation that if an employer meets somebody, that they can find information on them online,” Church says.

Church launched Why Hire Me in September 2009, and the initiative was well received by Algonquin; she has since been able to export her concept to Centennial College, Carleton University, Ryerson University and Memorial University in Newfoundland.

Students participating in the Why Hire Me program gain an in-depth understanding of personal branding, including how to identify their strengths, passions and achievements; how to develop key messages about themselves; how to effectively display their brand online, using text, photos, video, blogging and a variety of mainstream social media tools; and, how to present their brand to industry.

“They need to express leadership and passion, and they need to figure out where the richness of their experiences is,” Church says.

In February, Algonquin College included a session called “Using Social Media to Get a Job” as part of its programming for Career Week, and ran it twice — and both attracted a full house, says Mark Taylor, manager of alumni relations.

“Adding the social media component to the week was an obvious choice for us, knowing the importance of these networks and tools to people today,” Taylor says. “It also allowed us to show folks that career building is not all done on paper. Virtual living portfolios that compliment and enhance your written resumé permit employers to get a better 360-degree view of potential employees.”

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