Building a Professional Presence Online

Laura Enderle, Associate Editor
Published Online: Monday, October 3, 2011
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Social media can be messy, whether you are seasoned veteran or a newcomer. Here are some guidelines to help you navigate the perils of your online activities and build a positive presence.


When Facebook launched, it was easy to imagine that trivial conversations exchanges on the site would eventually disappear into the ether of the Internet. Today, we know that couldn't be further from the truth.

A recent study found that 20% of pharmacy residency program directors look up candidates and current pharmacy residents on social media sites. A vast majority (89%) consider the public content “fair game” for judging an applicant’s character.

Of the directors who consulted social media sites, 52% found questionable photos and posts that revealed “unprofessional attitudes,” according to the study. Reporting in the February 2011 issue of the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, lead author Jeff Cain, EdD, MS, wrote that “offensive or inappropriate photos and written comments were the two areas that respondents found most disconcerting.”

Whether you’re just completing PY1, starting a clinical rotation or internship, or looking for a full-time position to launch your career, it’s critical not only to be found online, but to project your best qualities to anyone who might be searching for you. This means grooming your existing online presence, building a network of professional contacts, and finding creative ways to earn recognition online for your accomplishments.

Clean Up Your Act

Whether you’re a newcomer or a seasoned veteran, social media can be messy. Most people dive right in before devising a strategy to keep their professional and personal activities separate. As your network grows, however, so do your chances of alienating an important professional contact.

Student pharmacists are preparing for a very public role in which professionalism and ethics are paramount. Even if you aren’t posting vitriolic rants about patients or professors, it’s a good idea to clean up your existing online profiles and create a strategy for each going forward.

First, take inventory of what you’re already doing online. Revisit past postings, photos, and group memberships and ask yourself this obvious question: “If I were a recruiter or pharmacy program director, would I want to see this?”

Purging your profiles of questionable content is worth the effort. Familiarize yourself with privacy controls on each site, utilize Facebook’s friend lists and custom privacy settings, and be prepared to edit yourself carefully.

Build a Positive Presence

When you’re confident that your online profiles won’t sabotage your career prospects, it’s time to begin building your professional network in ways that will boost them. Creating a profile on LinkedIn is a great way to start.

Because all of LinkedIn’s 90 million users share a similar goal, the site fosters a unique social environment. It’s completely acceptable and encouraged to share your accomplishments, solicit recommendations from past and current colleagues, and reach out to relative strangers for information that can aid your job search.

Students often feel they don’t have enough experience to build an impressive profile on LinkedIn, but that simply isn’t true. If you haven’t yet had formal work experience, use your profile to showcase classes you’re taking, any special projects you’ve completed, or extracurricular activities related to your degree and professional interests.

Consider using apps to add a pharmacy-related Twitter feed to your page, share slides from a presentation you’ve given, or publish posts from your personal blog. Use your profile as a hub for all your professional achievements and qualifications, and you’ll be one step ahead when it’s time to submit job applications.

Maximize Your Network

It takes time and effort to build a strong foundation on LinkedIn, but here are steps you can take now:

Add pharmacy school professors and advisers, current and former supervisors or preceptors, and classmates. If you’re a recent graduate, join your pharmacy school’s official alumni group. If a group for your school doesn’t exist yet, start one!

Use the site’s group directory to connect with like-minded pharmacists. Consider official groups that represent national and state pharmacy associations as well as ones that unite users with a shared interest, such as pharmacy entrepreneurship or medication therapy management.

If your goal is employment at a national retail chain, use the site’s company directory to learn more about each chain, receive updates about events or job openings, and browse profiles of current employees. Before going on interviews, look up the people you’re preparing to meet. Take note of their professional backgrounds, interests, and anything that might come up in an interview.

Share Your Passion

At the heart of social media is the exchange of ideas. Finding new ways to share yours will help you stand out in a crowd of qualified candidates and connect you with experienced pharmacists who can guide you in the right direction.

Pharmacists share an intellectual curiosity that is infectious. Nowhere is that more apparent than on Twitter. The site’s freewheeling atmosphere inspires creativity, and its egalitarian structure gives those with less experience the opportunity to swap ideas with experts in the field. If you don’t have an account, create one with the sole purpose of discovering what topics are engaging your professional peers in discussion.

As for participating, the same rules apply to Twitter as to all social media sites. Always be positive, authentic, and polite when offering or asking for expertise. Remember that although sharing is the goal, listening is just as important. Once you’re familiar with the landscape, join the conversation. What happens next is up to you. 



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