I attended public grade school in Connecticut and went on to a private top-tier liberal arts college in Maine. I spent one semester at law school in New York City. One year was all it took for me to realize what a bad idea that was!
In those 18 or so years of formal education, I never once was offered a class on personal branding. I was never taught the importance of managing my online reputation. And here’s the dilemma. The goal-oriented mindset I had of attending college -- I’ll get good grades, get a degree, and get a job -- was not actually a very helpful way for me to land a job and improve my career.
HR departments never asked to see my diploma. Clients don’t care one bit about my GPA, and if you’re like me, the courses you took in high school and college didn’t prepare you for the real world at all.
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Instead, the most important thing I could show to employers and clients was my online presence -- my website, my social media, previous articles and past work. My digital footprint became my resume, my cover letter and my experience all rolled into one. Hiring departments searched my Google results before allowing me into my first interview.
And today, clients routinely check me out online to see if I look legit. Even my fiancée -- whom I met on Tinder --looked me up online before she met me.
Now I’m not Peter Thiel. I still think my college years were immensely helpful. I was challenged intellectually and grew my social skills exponentially. But when you’re spending well over $100k for four years of formal education, I think you’re owed a certain level of real world prep.
Like, how about a class on the dangers and opportunities surrounding social media? How you can lose a job over a dumb tweet or that 70 percent of HR personnel say they have rejected applicants based on negative info that they’ve found online. Heck, it would have been nice in high school to know that students can lose scholarships and even get rejected from colleges based on what admissions officers find online.
On the other hand, wouldn’t it be amazing to learn that you can grow and monetize an audience on social, rather than just mess around with your friends? I would have been grateful to learn that social media channels are actually business opportunities if you treat them right. YouTube sensations rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars in ads and famous fashion bloggers earn millions of dollars a year in endorsements and sponsored content. That’s not luck or magic; it’s a series of strategic decisions.
Once I got involved in the online reputation management industry, I was amazed by how easy it was for anyone to write something bad about you online and have it haunt you for years. I have a lot of clients that would have spent good money in college to learn the skills necessary to prevent that from happening.
Or what about a primer on the importance of an online presence and why you should care as a business professional? Did you know that 84 percent of business decision makers start their buying process with a referral? And that Google is the very first place people look after getting a referral? See, don't you wish you would have been taught facts like that?
During my college years, I would have loved a class on why job applicants should care about their online presence. I wish someone would have told me that it’s silly to spend hours perfecting your resume only to forget the very next place employers look you up -- the internet. After all, 75 percent of HR departments have formal processes in place to look you up. And that doesn’t include all the companies that do so informally. My college made a big deal out of their career advisory services, but I never heard one suggestion about this.
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How about a course on how you can boost your value as an employee by differentiating yourself online and crafting a killer brand that brings in sales. If high schools, colleges and grad schools have the best interests of their students at heart, I believe they have an ethical responsibility to teach the importance of online reputations and how to manage them. Throughout all of those years of education, wouldn’t it be nice to get a little real world prep?
As clients and employers rely more and more heavily on Google search and social media to inform their hiring and purchasing decisions, I hope that colleges and universities take the digital world a little more seriously.