(ARA) – In today’s digital world, a job applicant’s online reputation is becoming just as important as a strong resume and networking skills. In fact, a 2010 study commissioned by Microsoft showed 85 percent of human resources professionals say that positive online reputation to some extent influences their hiring decisions and 75 percent report that their companies have formal policies in place that require hiring personnel to research applicants online.

This means successful job seekers need to build a positive personal brand online by navigating the Web 2.0 world and taking advantage of social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and MySpace.

“What you do and say online, as well as how you present yourself on social networking sites could be important in landing the position you’re seeking,” says Bowen Hopper, a former recruiter for Fortune 1000 companies and currently a career services director for Colorado Technical University, a leading provider of education for career-motivated students. “Your online presence and brand needs to reflect your skills, attitude and talents.”

For career seekers looking for ways to use social networking sites and web-based tools to get an edge in their job search, Hopper offers these tips:

* Do an online search on yourself. Have you ever typed your own name into a search engine like Google or Yahoo? This is a good starting point to determine what you’ll find about yourself online – and what first impression you would make on a recruiter or HR manager who conducts the same search and may focus on the first five or six search results. Depending on what you discover, you can consider making changes to your profile pages on social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn if they don’t accurately capture your professional image and capabilities.

* Use discretion. A simple rule of thumb is to limit your content on social networking sites to what you would feel comfortable having a current or future employer view. Avoid any inappropriate pictures or statements on your site (or your friends’ sites) that may be perceived as a negative reflection of your character. If it’s an option, consider setting your profile to “private” so that most information can only be viewed by friends or colleagues of your choosing. Photo sharing sites like Flickr or Photobucket should also be closely monitored since these may be viewed by more than just the intended audience of family and friends.

* Consider creating a personal website. This is an increasingly popular and relatively inexpensive way to increase online visibility and searchability for your skills, experience and qualifications. “A personal website is a living, breathing extension of your resume,” Hopper says. Since it’s your own website, you can control and update the content at anytime. You can get started by reserving a personal domain name that includes your first and last name and then using available (and often free) tools to create and populate your site with your brief biography, resume, photo, work samples and links to any relevant online content about yourself or associations you belong to.

* Define your personal brand. Just as you customize your resume and cover note for specific jobs, the same is necessary when it comes to creating your personal online brand. Understand the industry you’re targeting for a position to tailor how you present yourself online. This can extend to a personal website or the qualifications shared on your LinkedIn site.

* Tap into career experts for guidance. If you’re currently attending college or are an alum, consider utilizing your university’s career services team for additional advice in creating and managing your personal online brand as part of your job search and networking activities. Many universities offer free career-related webinars or resources for their students and graduates.

(Colorado Technical University does not guarantee employment or salary.)