contributed by Julie Weber [eternal student / explorer / cubicle expert]
As designers, our lives are filled with color. We have colorful homes, colorful personalities, and, in some cases, colorful websites. With the Internet becoming more accessible on a daily basis, everyone seems to be getting on the web in some way, shape or form. As students of Interior Design, the issue is no longer about whether or not to be on the web, but how to present yourself as both the colorful individual that you are while still maintaining the image of an emerging professional. So read on to find out how and why to avoid misrepresentation on the Internet.
Why We Are On The Web
Each individual has different reasons for having a presence on the Internet: some love to blog about politics or music, some enjoy creating graphically interesting web pages. Others join sites like MySpace or Facebook to share photos and stay connected to people from their past and present.
Whatever the reason, it is important to realize that friends may not be the only people that peruse your site. Ashlee Wendorf, former student representative to the ASID Wisconsin Chapter Board, says “You have to be naïve to not assume that employers look now days.”
Should We Be On The Web”
Terri Maurer, FASID, President of Ohio-based Maurer Consulting Group, cautions students to be aware of how they are representing themselves. “If a site is proliferated with ‘party’ pictures showing drunkenness, drug use, etc. it would certainly make me wonder how responsible the candidate would be. Could I count on them showing up for work on time and in a condition to represent my firm” Could I trust this young designer in situations where we might be traveling or having dinner with clients””
With her marketing background, Terri believes that we all have a personal brand. “Once you create your brand and marketing, you have to protect that.” By misrepresenting yourself on the Internet, you could affect the way other professionals and potential employers see you.
“It’s all about first impressions,” says Sandy Weber of Eppstein Uhen Architects in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. “Everyone will come away with something different after looking at your page.” No matter if the reactions to your web page are positive or negative, it is exposure that you may or may not want to have as a student trying to maintain a professional persona. Take the time and think about what you want people to know about you. Whether or not you think your website is private, you may be surprised at who stumbles across it.
“Public domain is public domain,” says Wendy Pflaum, Account Manager at BFI in New York City. “Anyone and everyone may look at this, and you should be mindful of what you post.”
On the flip side, a firm that pre-judges someone based on a personal webpage may not be the type of company you’d want as an employer. “From a professional perspective it’s helpful for both parties to know who you really are. You’re not going to want to work for a firm that’s stogy,” says Jane Devine of Forrer Business Interiors in Milwaukee, WI. She feels that sites like Myspace and Facebook are the future. “You have to embrace it.”
Madelaine Eschrich, a design student at Waukesha County Technical College, feels that a website such as MySpace could be used as a tool to sell yourself and your design skills. “Your resume can look great, but imagine using MySpace as a business tool,” she says. “It’s like an electronic portfolio for free.” Here you could create a slideshow of your projects, boards, or design inspirations. Write a professional bio and carefully screen the comments and pictures that get posted to your site.
“For me,” says Sandy Weber, “If I had to edit everything to a professional level it would take the fun out of it.” So where do we, as students and professionals, find the balance between revealing too much about ourselves on the Internet and still being able to have fun”
“You’re your own judge,” says Jane Devine. “If you feel it’s appropriate, then you should feel okay.” Both Terri Maurer and Ashlee Wendorf recommend searching for information about yourself online before heading into an interview. “Candidates should be one step ahead and Google their own name. Look at potential sites that are out there with your information on it, and be prepared if questions arise,” recommends Ashlee.
HR You Comfortable”
From an HR [human resources] perspective, a personal website could work to your disadvantage. Potential employers are able to discover things on your web page that they can’t legally ask in an interview, including marital status, race, religion, and whether or not you have children. Consider whether you want certain information available for the public to see, and potentially use, when evaluating you for a job position.
Not only can a personal website like MySpace or Facebook affect you during the interview process, it can cause problems for you after you’ve been hired. A design student currently interning in the commercial design field had a unique experience. She received a message on her Facebook page from a man who had seen her while she was visiting a client’s office. He was able to obtain her name from the person she met with. “This person saw me and knew he could get on the Internet and find me,” she says. “It wasn’t like I was at a bar dressed inappropriately; this was a work related thing.” Because a client had given out her name, the issue went to HR, and back to the company involved.
Use Your Judgment
Be smart. Know that anyone can get online and do a search to find you, whether it is a client, an employer, or anyone at all. Think about how you would feel if your parents or your boss saw your site. If you would be embarrassed or feel uncomfortable, consider changing your profile. “Just as you would not place an email address on your resume like HOTMAMA@InternetProvider.com, you should not allow misrepresentative information to be floating out for the world to see,” says Ashlee Wendorf. Think about how the Internet will help you… not hurt you.