Dr. Tracy Bennett
Dr. Tracy Bennett
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Do you worry that your teen doesn’t really understand how important it is to safeguard their future by cleaning up their act on social media? I was recently invited to present at a local National Charity League meeting with high school seniors on the topic, “The Cyber Footprint.” Typically I speak to parents rather than teens about screen safety issues, but for this group I went the extra mile. Today’s GetKidsInternetSafe article is a blueprint for how teens can turn a social media footprint from devastating to stand out for college and summer or internship employment opportunities.

Most of us are aware that social media content can have long-lasting negative repercussions on our reputation. That’s why we use powerful tools like TeenSafe as a critical safety measure. But what many people don’t realize is that having no digital footprint or a dull virtual self can also be a liability.

In the corporate and collegiate worlds, it is widely assumed that having no cyber footprint reflects a lack of productivity and know-how. Not only is it important to have an appropriate online presence to avoid being screened out of opportunity, but you must also stand out in order to be selected for opportunity.

Do employers and colleges care what you post online?

It turns out they do! Not only do employers recruit via social media, but they also screen out potential hires based on their virtual portrayal of themselves. A 2016 survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management revealed:

  • Recruiting via social media is growing, with 84% of corporations using it currently and 9% planning to use it.
  • 44% of HR professionals agreed that a job candidate’s public social media profile can provide information about work-related performance.
  • 36% of organizations have disqualified a job candidate in the past year because of concerning information (e.g., illegal activity, discrepancy with application) found on a public social media profile or through an online search.

When should you start stylizing your cyber footprint?

as soon as you’re old enough to care about post-high school education and employment!” It’s never too early to visualize and then create who you don’t want to be and who you do want to be in the virtual world, and by extension, the nonvirtual world.

How can you get started today?

STEP ONE: Cleanse your social media profiles and cyber footprint of disadvantageous content:

Google yourself and track down and delete unwanted content.

If you’re lucky, you don’t have years of unflattering comments or images to track down, but you won’t know what employers may find until you Google yourself online first.

Cleanse all social media profiles, even those set on private.

In many states it’s still legal for employers and college application counselors to ask for usernames and passwords to social media profiles. Refusing to do so may cost you. That means it’s necessary to delete inappropriate images, comments, and shares such as those involving drugs, alcohol, sexuality, profanity, cyberbullying, poor spelling/grammar, political affiliations, and off-color jokes.

Of course social media platforms like Facebook have made it increasingly difficult to have more than one personal account or to delete your old accounts and start over. After all, if you delete your old profile, they lose ownership over your content. The more metadata they collect about your online activities such as likes and dislikes, the more profit they can make saturating your online time with targeted ads. Since we now select what we want to view rather than being captive television and commercial watchers, advertisers are hungry to capture every opportunity to get our attention. That means we are blitzed with 5,000 ads a day in contrast to 500 ads in the 1970s.

You’ll have to decide whether to slog through and cleanse the honey badger aspects of you in order to reveal an impressive school or job candidate who is searchable and attractive to the right people. But recreating your virtual self isn’t easy on social media. Not only does Facebook require you to use a new email address and phone number in order to create a new profile, but you will lose all of your friends, favorites, photos, messages, comments, and games. Be sure to backup your profile data before you delete your account and expect that it will take a few weeks for Facebook to delete your old profile and allow you to create a new one.

STEP TWO: Create an irresistible virtual you!

Choose two or three popular social media platforms.

Quality is more important than quantity. Rather than do a poor job on several platforms, focus on doing a great job with a few. Currently Linked in, Facebook, and Twitter are the most popular social media platforms. Get familiar with them to take advantage of useful features. For example, set appropriate privacy settings and avoid default responses in favor of your own words.

Visualize your perfect virtual self and plan before you tackle the project.

Search out those who are doing it right and create a swipe file(think Pinterest or Evernote). A swipe file is a digital folder where you store our favorite examples of content and style. Keep your eyes open for catchy headlines and titles, image ideas, and potential networking connections. Incorporating multimedia, like colorful and unique images and videos, attracts attention and effectively communicates concepts.

Be strategic, concise, and innovative.

Your online profile is not as formal as a résumé. Be fun and creative while displaying your ideas, research, products, and activities. Proofread. Delete any extra words and avoid big blocks of text by using bullet points and breaking up content into titled sections. Include keywords for search engine optimization.

Blogs can be really effective, as storytelling is an awesome way to stand out and show rather than tell. Become an author and illustrator. Be the clever, positive, well-rounded person you’d want to work with.

Friend and join influential others.

Every opportunity I’ve ever gotten was the result of good relationships. Not only are your productivity skills critical to success, so is networking. Use social media as it’s intended, to connect with like-minded others who fuel and enrich your creativity and protect your confidence. That includes clubs, organizations, special interest groups, and corporations as well as impressive individuals. Don’t friend people you don’t know or haven’t reached out to personally.

Stimulate online engagement and stay active.

Attracting interesting others is one thing, but keeping them warmly engaged with valuable content is key to longevity. Just as you do with your friends, be available and share interesting articles you know your online contacts will like. Creating reciprocity will keep others interested in you and generous with potentially valuable invitations and introductions.


Switch from teen personal to adult professional with a first-person tone that is warm and welcoming. Make certain any content that a future employer may see as inappropriate or silly has been deleted.

Write a mission statement detailing what opportunities you are are looking for. Avoid buzzwords and lingo. Stick to what’s relevant.

Keep your connections education- and employment-focused. Don’t get frivolous and network with everybody. Be selective and seek out those who may lead to mutual opportunity.

Include an attractive headshot.

Include contact information, an email link, and custom URLs for your website or other social media profiles.

Highlight impressive activities/achievements related to education, employment, & community service. Testimonials and endorsements are powerful. Make sure your online profiles are consistent with content on your résumé.

My best friend’s mother always said, “It’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor man.” The same can be said about landing your dream job rather than settling for what’s convenient. As a teen I worked for a drug store and learned how to be a responsible employee, cashier, organize and stock, and deal with difficult customers. I also learned this position was not for me long-term. From there I landed jobs in accounting, research, and administration, each providing me with business skills that are still paying off today. Don’t pressure yourself into thinking today’s profile will immediately lead to your dream job. This is scaffolding. One job will lead to another and so on, ultimately building the very best you. Enjoy the creativity of the journey. Take time to daydream about design elements and all of the ways you can blossom.

Have good ideas of your own to improve a digital footprint? Please share with us in the comment section below.

Onward to More Awesome Parenting,

Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty

Works Cited

Society for Human Resource Management


Photo Credits

Woman and Young Girl In Kitchen With Laptop Smiling by GSCSNJ, CC BY-NC 2.0

Passed Out Sean by Tim Williams, CC by 2.0

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

San Francisco State by Lui2014-SFSU-435, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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