By Ben Sapet

Professional development is an elephant in the dorm room. We know we need to get ready for the job search, but creating a professional identity can feel inauthentic and bring up big, scary questions about life after college.

Luckily, professional development doesn’t have to happen all at once. You can start small and work on it at your own pace. It’s also possible (and encouraged) to create a strong, professional online presence without selling your soul and becoming a buzzword-spouting careerbot.

If the words networking and professionalism make your heart race, you can follow these steps to save yourself a few existential crises.


Buy your domain name

Even if you’re not ready to put together a personal website, buying your domain name is an easy step in the right direction. Having a domain gives you lots of options:

  • Redirect to an author page
    If you write for an online publication or an have a bio page as part of a project, you can redirect your domain to that page. Then, with almost no work you’ve got a professional online space.
  • Show off your portfolio
    You can create a simple page to display your work or – even easier – make your portfolio a folder for people to download.
  • Host a personal website
    This is more stressful and labor intensive, but you can customize a personal website to show off your personality and do all sorts of other things. Wix and Weebly are good free options for building a website. Wix offers more customization and Weebly is easier.

Buying a domain seems daunting, but Google Domains makes the whole process a breeze. Most .com domains are available for less than $15/year – for that price it’s worthwhile to secure a permanent online space for yourself and figure the rest out later.


Lurk in professional circles on Twitter

If you don’t feel ready to job shadow or reach out to professionals, you can explore a professional community without putting yourself out there. Finding Twitter communities around careers you’re interested in can help you:

  • Get to know the kind of people you’d be working with
  • See what life is like for someone in the profession
  • Discover important events, issues, and conferences

The way to get into these communities is to start small. Find someone who does what you want to do—maybe they wrote an article you liked or they’re listed on the staff page of a business you’re interested. Follow that person then look through their followers for people whose bios suggest that they’re also in that industry.

After a few of those follows, Twitter will suggest new people to follow and you’ll see people people from those communities on your timeline. In a little while, you’ll have a glimpse into that community and you’ll have a better idea if that career is right for you.


Start a LinkedIn

LinkedIn might sound like a nightmare of putting on a phony business persona to show your worth, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You can put together a decent LinkedIn profile in a few minutes with just your name, an okay photo, and the tagline “Student at Ball State University.” Everything beyond that you can add at your leisure, but now people who want to connect with you can find you without any effort on your part. Then, when you’re feeling inspired, you can make connections and or easily message a guest speaker.


Take the Discovery class

Professor Cathy Day offers a class that aims to help you find career direction and get you into a healthy professional mindset. With a speaker series, resumé workshops, and introvert-friendly networking tips, the Discovery class is a gentle push to do the things you know you need to do.

The class is offered as ENG 299x and will run from 5:00-6:15 on Tuesdays and Thursdays. While the class caters to English majors and writers, anyone can find value in the material and may be able to get credit in their major or minor.