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Is Your Online Reputation Sabotaging Your Job Search?

We increasingly live in a world where information is freely shared and readily available.  Odds are, you share a lot of information about yourself with the public each day through social networks like Facebook and Twitter, and not all of it is work-appropriate.  It is easy to get comfortable on your social networking pages and forget that you are not actually in a safe, private environment.  You may think that employers aren’t interested in your social media posts, but think again.  After all, if you were a hiring manager, wouldn’t you check up on potential hires to see what kind of people you were bringing into your organization?

According to recent survey by ExecuNet, 90% of executive recruiters now do online searches of job candidates. Around 70% of employers who use LinkedIn to search for potential employees have decided not to hire a candidate after they saw their online profiles and learned more about them. Contrast this with the percentage of employers who actually give job candidates the chance to discuss the online content they have uncovered—just 27%.  In other words, you will be judged and tried and your sentence decided without a trial.

In an ideal world, you would be judged only for your workplace performance and not your personal life, but we live in a world where jobs are scarce and candidates are numerous.  By sharing information about yourself freely online, you open the doors to employers to learn more about you than you probably would like them to know.  Now and again, it’s a smart idea to research your own reputation online and try and see it through an employer’s eyes.  Here are some tips for cleaning up your online reputation and protecting yourself:

  • Update professional profiles on sites like LinkedIn or even your own personal website.  Create profiles on popular profile sites (which naturally rank well in Google) and try to get the first five results on page one of Google to reflect professional interests and expertise.
  • Look up your name and see what comes up.  Do this on major search engines like Google and go through at least several pages of results.  Also visit social media sites (those you use mainly, but also those you do not), and type in your name.  If you see anything that is outright damaging anywhere on the first couple pages of results, do what you can to have it removed.  Try using tools like Secure.Me to review content from friends on Facebook. After all, other people can ruin your reputation too. You can also use tools like Google Alerts to be notified anytime your name is mentioned on the web, and tools like NameBrandr.com to monitor and manage your Google search results.
  • Think about impressing employers when you do post on your social media sites.  Instead of posting photos of your late night party last night where you were passed out on the couch, why not share your accomplishments?  Talk about the charity run you participated in, or the web coding project you finished.  Activities like these make you look viable.
  • Answer questions on Quora.  Quora results are highly visible and give you a chance to share your professional knowledge.  Answering questions also shows that you enjoy being helpful to others and solving problems. But keep in mind your potential employer may judge you on the content of your answers.
  • Avoid publicly posting about controversial topics.  While employers in theory should not discriminate against you on the basis of your political affiliation, sexual orientation, or religion, that doesn’t mean they won’t.  If you have strong opinions on controversial topics, you may want to think twice before associating them with your professional reputation.  You may wish to post pseudonymously on certain topics. 
  • Check your privacy settings. Be especially wary, since certain social media sites will redefine certain privacy settings with minimal notice to users.  These days, social media sites are becoming more cognizant of the struggles faced by job candidates and others who may not want the world to know everything about them—but who still want to share their personal lives with trusted friends and family.  Check your privacy settings on social media sites, and use tools like Circles on G+.  With Circles, you can share professionally appropriate content with the world and keep those photos from your Vegas vacation between you and your friends. 
  • Be wary of other people who share your name.  If you have a common name that is easily confused, consider differentiating your profiles with a middle initial or a professional designation (like CPA or MD).  That way you a potential employer is less likely to toss your resume in the trash bin because of somebody else’s indiscretions.

When you are sharing your life online, it is easy to forget that you are not really doing so in the privacy of your own home. In the virtual world, posting on Facebook is like standing up on a soapbox in a public square and shouting. Employers can and do see what you say, and will have no problem judging you by your private life. So limit what you share publicly, run regular checks on your own reputation, and clean up what you find.

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