"There is no branch of detective science which is so important and so much neglected as the art of tracing footsteps."
– Sherlock Holmes

These days, you don't need to be Sherlock Holmes, bent at the waist, peering down at the ground, and puffing on a pipe to track footprints.

You don't need a deerstalker cap or a magnifying glass.

And you don't need to be a deductive genius.

While Holmes was able to discern incredible detail about the owner of a set of footprints found in the dirt or mud –anything from emotional state to economic status – you can do the same thing.

After all, Holmes lived in the 1800s, long before footprints went digital. Today, to discover infinite, intimate details about someone, all you need to do is click on a Facebook page.

Just like your future employer does.

Raising awareness of potential vulnerability

Dr. Ronda Mariani, assistant professor marketing and management at Saint Leo University, is also faculty advisor for the Center for Online Learning's (COL) Business Association. Open to all students enrolled in any of the university's online degree programs, the COL Business Association meets twice a month, often discussing topics critical to the job search process.

During one association meeting, Dr. Mariani shared valuable insight into a subject she believes can make or break your chances of landing a great job: your digital footprint.

Here are her answers to key questions on the subject and her recommendations for ensuring your digital footprint does not hinder -- but helps -- you land your dream job.

What is a digital footprint?

Dr. Mariani: Your digital footprint is everything that is on the Internet about you. Think about all the devices you use to communicate, engage and interact: photos, chats, comments. Everything that you do leaves some sort of digital footprint. That includes all the social media heavy-hitters -- Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest. And whether it's for personal or professional use, at home or on the job, we all use them.

Is my digital footprint just what I post myself?

Dr. Mariani: Absolutely not! It's what others post about you, as well. That includes that cute photo of you in the bathtub when you were two that your mom put on her Facebook page. Or the one of you at a party with a Solo cup in your hand.

It's everything you leave behind interactively – or that can be connected to your name.

You speak a lot with students about this subject. Why is it so important?

Dr. Mariani: Students need to be aware of the positive and negative impacts of social media and the web and become accountable for their actions. Today, "digital actions" are easily recorded and presented to the world to see, yet these actions may not always be the message one wants to portray. Being aware of their engagements in this vast enterprise of digital media and learning how to create best practices can enhance students' job opportunities.

The reality is that one of the first things a hiring company or an HR department will do after they receive your resume is Google your name. What they see when they do that creates their first impression of you. So even before you put one foot inside the door, they have an impression – for better or for worse – of who you are. And, again, for better for worse, trust is built on first impressions.

What do you mean by, "Trust is built on first impressions?

Dr. Mariani: That means that even though you may present yourself one way professionally – say when you walk in the door for an interview or on your LinkedIn profile – other elements of your digital footprint may contradict that.

Are you saying to stay away from social media?

Dr. Mariani: Again, absolutely not! You can't stop living. And like anything else, social media has its benefits as well as its dangers. You just need to be aware. Know what your digital footprint is. Know what a potential employer going to find on the Internet about you – both positively and negatively.

What steps do you recommend for becoming more aware of one's digital footprint?

Dr. Mariani: Begin by Googling your name. The first time enter just your name. Then do it again and enter your name with quotation marks around it to narrow the search. Then go to Google Images and do the same thing: with and without quotation marks. And finally, if you find anything you don't like, start cleaning things up.

What do you recommend deleting?/h3>

Dr. Mariani: Begin by deleting any photos that do not enhance your character, keeping in mind that you may think you deleted something but it may still be out there. For example, you may have updated your photo on Facebook, but if you created something on SlideShare several months or a year ago, then SlideShare is still using that earlier photo. You may also want to delete any comments or reviews you have posted that may not portray you in a great light.

What tips do you have for using social media responsibly?

Dr. Mariani: Be aware of the different privacy settings on social media and secure your profile accordingly.

Don't be compelled to share everything.

Watch your comments and reviews. Your views may not coincide with those of your future boss. If you're mad about a particular brand, think twice before you rant about it online.

Make sure your friends and family respect you and your career on posts they make about you – ask for permission to see a photo before it can be tagged.

Be aware of photo ops – those instances when someone might take your picture in a situation that could be misinterpreted.

And then know who you are letting in. If you have 2,000 Facebook friends, you lose control.

Should I opt out of social media entirely?

Dr. Mariani: I wouldn't. Use social media to your advantage. Sites like LinkedIn offer great opportunities for you to increase your professional visibility and develop a personal brand by contributing to discussions and creating a carefully thought -out profile.

Besides, employers want to see some personality. They can gain some positive insight into your personality. And there's nothing wrong with having fun!

What things have you done to enhance your digital footprint?

Other posts you may be interested in reading:

Why Developing A Good Work Ethic Is Essential To Career Success

Video Resumes Show Off Your Star Qualities

Energize Your Ho-Hum Cover Letter

How To Get Great Letters Of Recommendation

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