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Professional Skills

Cultivate Your Online Presence

The old adage is "It isn't what you know, but who you know."   However, in this uber-connected day and age, it would be more appropriate to say, "It isn't what you know, but who you know and who knows you because of what they found out about you via Google."

Your online presence exists, even if you haven't actively tried to create one.  Follow the steps and advice below to create and shape your persona purposefully and thoughtfully through social media, professional networks, and more.

Where do I start?

While you are welcome to use a personal or student email address when corresponding with supervisors, other professionals, or prospective employers, keep in mind that your email says just as much about you as your social media presence does (more on social media accounts in the following tabs)

If you don’t already have one, your first step in this process should be to create an email account that you would feel comfortable using in a professional capacity. Gmail is a great choice not only because it’s free, but because of the online collaborative and productivity tools that come with it.

  • The email address itself
    • Create a professional, generic email account (e.g.,
    • IIf your profession is creative and you want to brand yourself a certain way, you could consider an email with a bit more flair, but be careful with this. It’s better to be bland and clear who you are (your name) than go overboard with designing a witty email address.
  • Avatars
    • Most email accounts (Google, Outlook, etc.) let you upload a photo as your avatar. This avatar will show up next to your name whenever you send an email. While it’s a great feature to personalize your account, keep in mind that every email you send will be attached to that picture.
    • You have a couple things to consider here. Find the balance that makes the most sense for you:
  1. Professionalism. Keep the background clean, and dress your best. If you have a photographer friend, consider grabbing a group of friends and make this a fun opportunity to give the photographer some portfolio-building experience while you gain a nice headshot!
  2. Anonymity. If you are applying for jobs and expect to correspond with the employer to set up interviews, talk about the position, etc., you might prefer keeping your anonymity to prevent bias or discrimination during the hiring process. 
  • Signature
    • Keep your signature in mind as well, especially if you create an automatic one. Similar to the email address, keep it simple and to the point. Consider including the name of your university and graduation date, if you are a recent or future graduate.

Your Name

Academic Institution and graduate date, if a recent or future graduate


Phone number

If you don’t already have a LinkedIn presence, now is the time to change that. Set up your account today and go through the resources below as you start adding content.

While LinkedIn may be the professional face of your online persona, it’s equally important to consider what information is available through your private, personal accounts.

Check your privacy settings on all platforms

  1. Who can view the content you post? Limit your posts to only those that are in your personal network — your friends, followers, etc. Some platforms have the option to view your profile as a non-friend or non-follower, which is an easy way to double-check your settings.
  2. Who can follow or friend you? Can anyone do so as they wish, or do they have to first request permission from you? For the highest level of privacy, put that request system in place so you can better vet the people you allow into your network. Unless you are a burgeoning YouTuber or plan to make millions through your Instagram account, there is no reason to broadcast your life to anyone and everyone, so keep an eye on your network. It is your responsibility to build and retain the level of privacy you desire. Corporations may have some obligation to keep your information private, but it is ultimately on you to lead the private life you think you deserve.

Employers, Schools, and Social Networking Privacy

A growing number of employers and schools are demanding that job applicants, employees, and students hand over the passwords to their private social networking accounts such as Facebook.  When looking for a job, or in an actual job interview and this topic comes up, it is important to know what can and can not be asked of you by future employers.

(Article continues here via ACLU website.)

Many professional organizations provide their members with opportunities to market themselves and network with other members of the organization via an online communication platform, similar to a social media platform.

One such example is the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS),  which provides its members with access to their separate 'communication and collaboration' platform, Trellis.  Once you are a member of AAAS and have created your Trellis account, you can enter in relevant career, education, and research-focus areas for yourself, making it easy for like-minded professionals in your field to reach out to you.  

AAAS is not the only organization to provide its members with such opportunities, and taking advantage of such build-in opportunities is a good way to effectively and efficiently market yourself.  More information about professional organizations can be found here, which is item #4: Stay up to Date in Your Profession within this guide..  

The ORCID iD is an https URI with a 16-digit number that is compatible with the ISO Standard (), also known as the International Standard Name Identifier (ISNI), e.g.

No information about a person is encoded in the ORCID iD. The identifiers were designed to be usable in situations where personally-identifiable information should/can not be shared. Also, since the ORCID iD is designed to be a career-long identifier, no information that can change over a person's career is embedded in the iD, e.g., country, institution, field of study.

Registering/creating your ORCID is an extremely fast process, and generally takes less than one minute.  More and more, publications are requiring that authors submitting journal articles for publication have a registered ORCID when they do so, and as such setting up your ORCID early on in your career is always a good idea.