Many MBA applicants think that if they turn in a polished application and perform well at the admissions interview, they will be a shoe-in at top business schools. What they fail to realize is that their online reputation—everything from their high school blog to their Facebook page to their Twitter feed—is fair game when admissions committees are considering applicants.
In fact, 27 percent of business school admissions officers say they Googled applicants to learn more about them, and 22 percent say they visited their Facebook pages and other social networking sites for the same purpose, according to a survey recently conducted by Kaplan Test Prep. Employers have been checking the online reputations of potential hires for years, and because admissions committees are interested in the employability of the applicants they accept, it is only natural they are following suit, says Linda Abraham, president of the admissions consultancy Accepted.com.
Times have changed, she adds, and MBA applicants have to realize their online reputation matters. And it could matter a lot. No one wants to get rejected from a school or job opportunity because of something juvenile or unsuitable on the Internet. “Photos of you drunk or scantily clad are not appropriate for the public, and anything digital is public,” Abraham says. It’s a challenge to keep everything on the Internet positive. “You can’t paint over the graffiti on the Internet as you would the bathroom wall,” says Abraham, who advises clients to clean up their online presence.
Issues May Arise
Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business has no official policy on tracking a prospective student’s online reputation. Still, if an issue arises that prompts admissions committee members to conduct a Google (GOOG) search or something similar of a prospective student, they will do it, says Kelly R. Wilson, assistant dean of MBA admissions at McDonough.
She adds that business schools might assess all public behavior, which means applicants should refrain from being rude to the assistants in the admissions office when they visit campus, as well as conduct themselves appropriately online. “Someone presenting themselves in a negative way or a way that will have a negative impact on the school and the brand we’re trying to live is a deal breaker,” says Wilson.
Obviously, the overwhelming majority of applicants today have had some sort of online presence, probably dating back to long before they wanted to apply to business school. Perhaps their friends tagged them in photos at a wild party they would rather forget. Or they used foul language in a blog entry when they were 15. In more serious cases, there could be news stories with their names linked to criminal acts, such as underage drinking. Regardless, they can repair their online reputation, says Todd William, founder and chief executive officer of Reputation Rhino, an online reputation management company.
Clients who sign up for Reputation Rhino’s service can have the company help them conduct an online reputation repair, which means getting negative content removed whenever possible or highlighting positive content, so it moves the negative onto the second or third page of search results. They can also hire Reputation Rhino to help them create a positive, professional online presence and monitor their reputation by keeping tabs on what is being said about them and responding to it.
There are helpful hints and strategies that business school applicants can implement on their own. For starters, they should search their name (and any nicknames) on Google to see what comes up and take inventory of their social networking profiles. If there is inappropriate content, they should remove it whenever possible.
If they cannot remove it themselves, they should contact those who can, such as a Web administrator or a friend who has posted content or photos of them, says Abraham. Applicants can also remove tags from photos that appear on the Facebook walls of their friends, so they no longer appear in the applicant’s own profile, which is all schools and employers will be able to see. Another no-no, says William, is telling the admissions committee from one school that it’s your No. 1 choice, then posting photos of yourself wearing gear with another university’s logo on it or discussing one’s love for another campus on your blog. William says it is best to keep personal information personal by limiting access where appropriate. “Facebook is always changing,” warns William. “Make sure you know how to access the privacy settings.”
Applicants should also beef up their professional presence on the Internet. Flaunting the positives should eventually override negative content in search results if it cannot be removed. Creating a profile on LinkedIn is a must, says Wilson. But even Facebook can be used in more professional ways. Applicants often can connect with schools via their Facebook pages, as is the case with McDonough. Recently, Monster.com (MWW) launched BeKnown, an app that allows Facebook users to create a professional network separate from their personal identity on the social networking site. In addition, the app, which is also available for Android phones and iPhones, helps them see who among their professional contacts is connected to a company or job opportunity that interests them.
Sprucing up one’s professional presence online does not end there. Applicants can show off accomplishments on their social networking pages, create a website replete with résumé and awards, or showcase extracurricular activities in a well-executed and often-updated blog or video series. Moving forward, says Abraham, applicants should be more aware of what they write and post online.
After all, applicants must remember that their online reputation counts long after their business school applications are turned in, especially because schools might look for discrepancies between what is presented in an application and what is posted online. “Take a look at your résumé and application package,” says William. “Make sure your online social media presence is an accurate reflection of who you’re presenting yourself to be.”