In the era of social media saturation, business school hopefuls have to think about more than just drafting memorable essays, nailing interviews and marketing themselves effectively during the MBA application process. Today's applicants must scrutinize their public persona on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and elsewhere to make sure it matches the version they wish to present to the b-school admissions committee.
According to the 2012 Kaplan Test Prep Survey of business school admissions officers, 32 percent of business school admissions officers have Googled an applicant, and 27 percent have visited a social networking site to learn more about an applicant.
Those numbers may not seem high now, but all signs indicate they will only creep up as admissions officers use social media to verify information and look for indicators via your status or wall posts as to how you would contribute to forming a strong, productive cohort.
[Learn how to use social media to prepare for interviews.]
Jeff Olson, vice president of data science for Kaplan Test Prep, says the traditional application components represent the polished version of the applicant, while what's found online is a rawer version of that candidate.
"Schools are philosophically divided on whether an applicant's digital trail is fair game, and the majority of admissions officers do not look beyond the submitted application," Olson says in a release. "But our advice to students is to think first, Tweet later."
The obvious first step toward scouring your online media persona is to perform a Google search of your name and see if any "red flags" pop up in the first 10 pages of search results. If you do find inappropriate content, remove it or try to edit it whenever possible.
Most applicants today have been on Facebook for years, so this is often an area ripe for a profile cleanup. I worked with one client from Portugal, Marco, who had a 3.9 undergraduate GPA and a 710 GMAT score but worried that his Facebook profile detracted from the strong candidate he strived to present on his applications. I advise all applicants to take the same steps we did to remedy the situation.
We started by deleting or making private any photos or posts that might have tarnished his professional persona. Next, Marco updated his profile photo and chose one where he had a great smile. He kept posts that attested to his professional focus and intellectual curiosity and weeded out "likes" to reflect his maturing perspective.
[Discover the best business schools in photos.]
Admissions committees expect you to have friends and family, but be judicious in analyzing whether the pictures and comments support how you want to be perceived online. You might consider changing your preferences so people can't tag pictures of you in order to better control your brand.
After you've completed a thorough cleanup, start cultivating a more professional side on Facebook. Connect with MBA programs you're interested in by liking them, and engage in their online communities by posting intelligent, courteous comments that demonstrate to admissions how you would behave on campus if admitted.
Following Marco's Facebook makeover, he felt confident his profile reflected the strong candidate he'd worked so hard to become, and Marco ultimately received acceptances at the University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business Administration and UCLA Anderson School of Management.
Twitter is a great way to stay on top of news coming out of the schools, as most MBA programs and business school deans actively use the micro-blogging site. Following the tweets from admissions, retweeting and the occasional direct message to ask an admissions question could put you on their radar in a positive way.
As with Facebook, the idea is to present yourself in the best light possible. Keep it fun, intellectual, engaging, and never profane, insulting, negative or prejudicial.
Perhaps the most important step after sorting out your personal-social persona is beefing up your professional online identity. If you're not already on LinkedIn – the world's largest professional network – now's the time to join.
[Explore how LinkedIn is changing MBA grads' job searches.]
Here, you can create a professional profile with far more detail than a standard one-page resume, and LinkedIn is often seen as a more legitimate way to network with current students or alumni who can provide feedback about the MBA programs you're most interested in, as well as professionals working in industries you want to target. Joining groups based on common interests, and contributing to discussions on LinkedIn can also help you effectively expand your network.
In the end, the goal for MBA applicants is to develop a personal brand and make sure your social media sites promote brand "You." Put your best foot forward by keeping your social media presence clean, mature and presentable, and have faith that you can do so without scrubbing away your entire personality.
Corrected 4/12/13: A previous version of this post misreported the findings of a Kaplan Test Prep Survey.