June 19, 2018
Earning my college degree has been one of the greatest accomplishments thus far in my life. I was able to identify with my passion for the opportunities that higher education presents and commit to pursuing a career helping other college students unlock their full potential. Years of hard work, internships, late nights, and the drive to keep going had finally paid off! Or had it? The search for a job proved to be much more difficult than I had anticipated. After what seemed to be far too many job applications, a few interviews, and no job offers, I became discouraged. It felt ironic, knowing that I aspired to work with students to maximize the opportunities that a college degree could give them, and yet I couldn’t find a job as a college graduate myself. Was the advice given by my parents, professors, and advisor invalid? I had cleaned up my resume, highlighted my work experience, followed up with thank-you cards, etc. How had the recruiting and hiring process changed in the last few decades? And then it dawned on me: technology. Of course! Technology has transformed nearly every aspect of our lives, from how we communicate with one another to how we stay up-to-date on current events. Higher education is certainly no exception – the way institutions find, interview, and hire candidates has changed. My lack of success was not due to what I was doing, but rather, what I was not doing. How could I use technology to prove my skillset and potential to employers? I had to establish a digital identity.
Today’s students are connected to digital devices more than ever. The way they understand and adapt to the world has been shaped by technology. Students understand technology as a natural and authentic method of communication; they are digital natives, having grown up with technology. In fact, a study found that nearly all (99.9%) of undergraduates use technology as a primary form of communication with friends and family, specifically through social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter (Martinez Aleman & Wartman, 2011). Higher education institutions, of course, are taking advantage of the digitized opportunities to communicate with prospective, current, and former students via social media and other technology applications. Institutions want student affairs professionals who are 1) familiar with the platforms that students are using and 2) willing to integrate new technology strategies to increase student success and retention rates. Establishing a digital identity that is clearly adept to working with students and professionals alike could give an advantage when seeking employment or even advancement within an organization. But what is digital identity, really?
Alquist (2016) describes digital identity as ‘the self-presentation method one displays online, in both personal and professional contexts’ (p. 29). Digital identities can be created through social media platforms, which allow users to create online profiles. Social media users can share practically whatever they want with others, whether they comment personal opinions towards a specific subject, post articles that they find intriguing, share pictures from a recent trip, promote an upcoming event, or simply communicate with family or friends. As we share more and more of our lives online, though, we must be aware of the implications of our online behavior. Ahlquist (2016) highlights the importance of maintaining a professional identity online through intentional conversations. Student affairs professionals specifically need to strengthen their own online identities and be able to set an example of what appropriate online presence is for students. Our online identities should not be seen as separate from ‘real life’ – our overall identity is comprised of both online and offline presence.
As we establish our digital identities, then, what is appropriate and what is inappropriate? How can we leverage technology to advance our professional development and job prospects? Two simple pieces of advice can be applied when establishing a professional digital identity: utilization and intentionality. Utilization can be described as the time and effort that the user puts into developing a digital identity. Intentionality, on the other hand, is the quality of the content and material shared. In order to maintain a professional digital identity, both utilization and intentionality must be present. If, for example, a student affairs professional intends to communicate with students via social media and promote events throughout campus but fails to dedicate enough time to share information and communicate online, his/her digital presence is weak and often irrelevant. Vice versa, a student affairs professional who utilizes technology frequently but fails to share appropriate information or communicate effectively with students may be sending the wrong message about what appropriate online behavior is. Higher education institutions seek professionals who maintain a strong online presence, those whose digital identities are clear and professional.
Of course, establishing a professional digital identity is not the only strategy candidates can make to strengthen their marketability when searching for positions within higher education. In a world that is continuously being transformed by technology, though, employers are increasingly considering technology competency as an attractive skill. Both the utilization and intentionality of our digital identities may enable us to establish connections with others, expand our knowledgebase, and land that dream job.
Ahlquist, J. (2016). The digital identity of student affairs professionals. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Martinez Aleman, A. & Wartman, K. (2011). Student technology use and student affairs practice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Camille Stockemer is a graduate student in Fort Hays State University's Higher Education Student Affairs program. She currently works as a College Advisor at Olathe East High School in Olathe, KS, and intends to continue her career in post-secondary access.
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