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Students Turn to Internet to Build Online Presence, Showcase Work

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For Grace Bodey, a senior at Buena Vista University in Iowa, maintaining an Internet presence is important for her potential career path. The aspiring graphic designer has created personal profiles on websites such as WordPress, Behance and LinkedIn to easily share her work with potential employers and the public.

"Maintaining a digital portfolio ... allows me to establish myself as a young media guru, and it paves the way for professional connections and critiques in the future," Bodey says.

Today, students are facing a different kind of job market than they did in the past. Employers are not only tracing our digital footprints but also viewing portfolios and résumés online and learning about us with the click of a link. Websites such as about.me, WordPress, Wix.com and Vizify, among several others, have surfaced as ways for students to showcase their skills.

"I think the traditional résumé is really on the cusp of disappearing completely," says Dawn Rasmussen, the president and chief résumé designer for Pathfinder Writing and Career Services.

To build your own "personal brand" on the Internet, it's important to determine what makes you unique, Rasmussen says. College students' own brands could focus on their creativity, for example, or their technological skills.

"You grew up in an era where you always had a computer in your hand," Rasmussen says. "Understanding the emerging technological stuff is great for business."

And, Rasmussen says, building a digital presence can benefit not just student writers and artists but those entering essentially any field.

Yet, it's just as important to remember that many employers are also looking up job applicants on social media sites and Google. So, Rasmussen says, you have to find out what's published about you on the Internet first.

Google Yourself

As the popularity of social media rises in the digital age, we have less and less privacy -- which could potentially be dangerous for students applying for jobs if they don't check what information is floating around in cyberspace first.

"Everything you do is adding up to a complete picture," Rasmussen says.

In an article published on Forbes.com, Rosemary Haefner, the vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, says that because social media is a key element of modern communication, and "because much of that communication is public, it's no surprise some recruiters and hiring managers are tuning in."

Rasmussen says that if you're applying for a job, you should Google yourself first. From there, you can see what information is immediately available to potential employers and what comes up in general when your name is searched.

There are also ways to determine what Rasmussen described as your "social reputation," which some websites -- or social reputation management tools -- like socialmention.com and klout.com, determine by producing a composite score from the positive, negative and neutral information that's available when you type your name into a search engine.

The Rise of the Digital Portfolio

When it comes to creating a portfolio online, Rasmussen says it's important to focus on your specific job target. If you're pursuing a job in one field, try and tie in skills from other experiences that you might have developed, too.

Some sites like WordPress and about.me have pre-formatted layouts and allow you to simply fill in your information; others like wix.com offer more design freedom.

In a New York Times article, journalist Eilene Zimmerman notes that "creating your own website or displaying your work on a larger platform gives you some control over what is found." In the article, Scott Belsky, the chief executive of Behance, which allows users to showcase creative work, says employers want to view more than just your credentials.

"They are also looking for that person's process, how they do their work, who they collaborate with, how they test ideas," Belsky told the Times.

According to Zimmerman's article, online portfolios typically include an "About Me" page as well as work samples and a résumé. (The Louisiana State University website offers some examples of online portfolios across multiple fields -- from nutritional sciences to architecture.)

Rasmussen says that when creating an online portfolio, you should provide a "reason for someone to want to hire you" and focus on what distinguishes you from the rest. "Employers are taking the approach of, 'what's in it for me?'" she says.

Maintaining a Presence

Experts like Rasmussen say it's important to update your site regularly because you never know who might be searching for a potential employee at a given time. A different Times article published earlier this year says that some employers are searching for candidates online without even posting job listings first.

And, many experts and career centers say that maintaining a blog through sites such as WordPress can benefit a student as well, as they provide an opportunity to showcase your interests and writing skills.

Meanwhile, at schools like Pennsylvania State University, career centers offer resources for students to build their online presence. LinkedIn has also become a popular social media site, with about 225 million users on an international level.

Bodey says that in general, maintaining an online presence makes her work more easily accessible.

"I can shoot a link to anyone in three seconds, and they've got my body of work at their fingertips," Bodey says.