Resume? Check. Ironed shirt? Check. Sanity? Check.

These questions should be part of your mental checklist as you prepare for your first job fair or interview. It’s safe to say that my first experience sophomore year had me nowhere near prepared for the basics. I entered the Fall Career Fair wearing a wrinkled t-shirt and flip-flops, soon to find a swarm of intimidating upperclassmen in suits, confidently walking from table to table. Students would present their resumes in slick black leather portfolios while I would be behind the scenes “discreetly” ripping out pieces of notebook paper just to jot a word down. Needless to say, I was a clueless job-seeking amateur.

While I still have my flaws, my time communicating with professional colleagues has provided me with some perspective on preparing for the real world. Growing up in the heart of Silicon Valley, I have developed a passion for new media as well as an appreciation for strategic innovations to aid the communication process. Thankfully for you, I’ve struggled through a plethora of pitfalls so you don’t have to. Numerous new media tools have made the transition into the real world easier; you just need to know how to harness their power. Whether you are a social media addict, or just learning the ropes, this monthly column will provide tips and innovative ideas to guide you through the world of online networking and prepare you for a future job.

1) Set up your LinkedIn profile

Just like introducing yourself to an employer, the rules of first impressions online still apply. According to Joe Grimm, a recruiting expert for companies like Gannett, “Being invisible on the Web means that recruiters and news hiring managers won’t find you, or they’ll see that you are not ready.” With more than 75 million active professionals, LinkedIn should be the first step to controlling your identity online. This site provides a step beyond hard-copy resumes, as relevant keyword searches can help recruiters find you more efficiently. According to a recent Social Recruitment Survey, 76 percent of job recruiters and human resources departments have been using LinkedIn more than any other site. In addition to increasing your online presence, LinkedIn helps you build professional networks so those six degrees of separation become only two or three. Whether you are linked to a close family member or random classmate, you would be surprised at how large your network can become through just a few people.

2) Add strategic keywords

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, allows keywords on your profile to become more prominent online. This applies to categories such as your location, job titles and activities listed on your various online accounts. Companies use SEO to narrow down a list of applicants to specific criteria, meaning every word counts. “These searches are not only fast, free and easy, they indicate how comfortable someone is with digital media,” Grimm recently wrote in a column. The best way to develop these keywords is to find job titles that interest you, then highlight specific skills in your past experience that fit these occupational requirements. You can get creative with wording on your profiles, but be sure not to exaggerate. Integrity is vital. For example, make sure not to overstate your language skills. It would be inaccurate to state you are fluent in French if you barely passed 101. Effective keywords are typically nouns and noun phrases, so having something as simple as “account manager” can be the perfect lead for a sales position.

3) Follow and mention companies to get noticed

You want to establish yourself as an expert and avid learner, and mentioning your favorite company on your profile can help you get recognized through their own media channels. Whether it is “liking” their corporate page on Facebook, or following company trends on Twitter, pro-actively following their pages can keep you ahead of the game. Reading the daily status updates on a new product launch or an announcement on a recent company acquisition will only aid your research and job preparation process. The last thing you want is to stay up late, nervously cramming company statistics before a big interview. By increasing your online presence and capitalizing on relevant skills, you will allow companies to accurately channel interest and attention to your personal profile.

So spruce up that profile, get proactive with company sites and never underestimate the power of search. Looking to talk to the CEO of your favorite company or seeking advice from a successful alum? Learn how to maximize your groups and networks without abusing the privilege, next month with The Social Navigator.

Bree Bunzel is a senior majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication. Want more advice or having a social media glitch on your way to becoming networked? Email Bree at [email protected]