Develop a Digital Identity to Grow a Successful Career

2013 CTU Sioux Falls Commencement Speech by VP of Career Services, Gloria Hess

Recently, CTU’s Vice President of Career Services, Gloria Hess, addressed Colorado Technical University (CTU) Sioux Falls graduates, sharing her advice on leveraging a digital identity for career success. Read her full commencement speech below:

To the Honorable Mayor Burke-Bowen, President Heflin, Dean Crissman, Dr. Laughlin, Dr. Burian, distinguished faculty, dedicated staff, beloved family and friends, and of course, to you, our CTU graduates of whom we are so proud. I am honored for this special opportunity to celebrate your success. Congratulations on a job well done.

When I was invited to participate in your commencement ceremony, I soon realized how significant this particular date was for me.  You see, it was 22 years ago today that I was a speaker at my own commencement as a graduate of the Master of Science in the Communication program at Northwestern University.

While I didn’t have a child at that time, I was in my late 20’s and trying to make a name for myself in certain business circles. Like many of you, I juggled client meetings and work projects along with endless reading assignments for my courses, class projects, study group sessions, and of course, papers, papers and more papers. But unlike you, I typed those papers on an electric typewriter with a malfunctioning “m” key.

This memory got me to thinking about other things that were a bit different back then. Cell phones, for instance, required a bag and could also be used as a small dumbbell if you needed to do a quick arm curl or two. And speaking of working out, you couldn’t find one person at the gym without a Walkman. 

There’s no doubt how advances in technology have changed—and continue to change—nearly every aspect of our lives, including how we find, pursue and are considered for job opportunities. 

Long gone are the days when you took your résumé to the local printer to have it typeset, and unless you were independently wealthy, you were forced to position yourself in slightly more general terms because this “one-size-fits-all” résumé had to speak to a broader audience.

While today’s résumé is not that perfectly crafted text printed on 8 ½ x 11 white linen stock that you mailed to a prospective employer in response to a classified ad, neither is it even a Word document that you email directly to a recruiter or hiring manager—or upload into a database per the instructions you found at a company website.   

No. The 21st century résumé is your LinkedIn online profile—searchable by keyword—and immediately visible to those who are looking for what you have to offer or, at least it should be.

Now this doesn’t mean we’ve abandoned the traditional résumé…yet. But if you think you can conduct an efficient job search without establishing and maintaining a professional online identity, you’re not just wrong—you’re nonexistent. Even back in 2010, surveys reported 90% of recruiters would Google a candidate as a regular practice.

Even in the small town where I grew up—Wonewoc, Wisconsin, population 816 (and I think that’s including the cattle), where many folks already know each other—prospective employers immediately go to the Internet to see what more they can learn about you!

And make no mistake—employers don’t always use the Internet to vet you after you’ve applied for a job. They vet you for an opportunity before you even know there was a position for which you were being considered in the first place.

I’m a walking example of that. 

A little more than a year ago, I received a call from a colleague at Northwestern who asked me if I’d heard from this recruiter about the VP role at CTU. “The name sounds familiar,” I replied. 

Keep in mind, I was happy in my private practice and I wasn’t actively looking for anything else, so I have to admit that the recruiter’s email didn’t hold my attention for long.

“You should check it out,” encouraged my colleague, “She found you on LinkedIn and asked me all about you.”

She must have heard my eyebrow raise over the phone, since she immediately added, “Of course, I gave you a glowing recommendation!”  And again, she encouraged me, “I think it would be worth your time to at least take the next step.”

So I did. 

Five rounds of interviews and ten months into the job, here I am.

Does this mean that I no longer have to worry about my digital identity?

Actually, the opposite is true.  And that goes for ALL of us. 

Even after we have our dream job—whether that job is a traditional role working for someone else within a company or organization, or it’s a role where we’re working for ourselves—it’s critical that we establish and maintain an online presence that not only facilitates us being found for appropriate opportunities, but also that we can be taken seriously in our respective fields.

As I was preparing my remarks to you, I asked my career services team to help me Google your names so I could get a rough snapshot of your digital identities. Some of you have a good start, but a number of you—and you know who you are—have a bit of work to do! 

But you’re not alone. I have some work to do in that area, as well.

“Wait a minute—didn’t you just say you were found on LinkedIn?”

While as professionals, LinkedIn is definitely the place to be, in order to be viewed as up-to-date and credible, we must do so much more than simply take the approach of “build a profile and they will come.” 

Though my LinkedIn experience was fruitful in spite of my passivity, as time goes on, a greater number of individuals will be crowding the online space, and we will need to do more than just stand in place to “stand out.”

We not only need to be visible, we need to be findable, which means we need to be proactive.

If you share my goal of becoming known as a thought leader in your field or at your organization, then publishing blogs, posting to Twitter, sharing content and participating in online conversations is a must—and I challenge you to join me as I attempt to create a new comfort zone in these areas.

If, however, your goal is to move on to a better job opportunity, while all those actions I just mentioned are helpful in building your online presence, let me also suggest this:

Proactively network. Build relationships.

Incidentally, this is the same best advice of 22 years ago. How you follow it, though, is a bit different. Back then, we were told to make a list of companies in which we were interested and attend networking events where people representing those companies would be present. You’d introduce yourself and try to find something in common and create a rapport.

The virtual world in which we live today actually makes that process much easier. You still make your list, but today, you figure out where the people with whom you want to connect are spending time online.  Do they have a profile on LinkedIn?  Are they posting to Facebook? Are they tweeting on Twitter?
Find them. Follow them. Interact with them. 

As before, find a common interest, try to connect, establish a rapport and build a relationship.
But to do that, you first have to enter the social media space.  If you’re not right in there—trust me, many, many others are and will be, and you’ll be out. Out of sight is out of mind, and often, out of consideration for opportunities.

You are CTU graduates now, so I ask you, “Are you out?” or “Are you IN?”

Gloria Hess, CTU VP of Career ServicesPrior to joining CTU as its Vice President of Career Services, Gloria held career services roles at both Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, as well as conducted a private career coaching practice where she specialized in coaching working professionals. She holds both a bachelor’s and a master’s in communication from Northwestern and is a board-certified career coach. Learn more about Gloria on LinkedIn.