Tips for Protecting Your Online Reputation
Okay, so you're proud of the number of jello shots you were able to down Saturday night. Doubtless your friends will be fascinated to read about your feat on your Facebook or MySpace page, fully documented by explicit cell phone pictures.
Potential employers will also find it enlightening reading. Hadn't thought of that? Shockingly, many people don't.
A recent survey sponsored by Microsoft found that 51 percent of American respondents were concerned about how their online reputation would affect their lives – which means 49 percent couldn't be bothered by such trivia.
The following tips should help keep you from joining their ranks.
#1. Remember – they're watching.
The same survey showed that 79 percent of U.S. corporate recruiters and hiring officials regularly went on-line to check out potential new-hires. Indeed, 75 percent said the companies they work for had formal policies in place that required them to make such searches. When checking, 78 percent used search engines, 63 percent examined social networking sites, and 27 percent even checked gaming sites. Nothing appeared to be off-limits.
Among the general population, 43 percent felt it was inappropriate for recruiters to check social networking sites, and the ratio jumped to 56 percent for the 18-24 age group. Obviously, their qualms have no impact. Anyway…
#2. They act on what they learn.
Fully 70 percent of U.S. recruiters reported they had rejected a candidate on the basis of information they found on-line. Leading the list of turn-offs were concerns about the candidate's lifestyle, comments written by the candidate, and inappropriate photos. (Sorry, there'll be no samples of the latter.)
Of course, your lifestyle, with accompanying narration and illustrations, is subject to interpretation. What isn't debatable is the posting of nasty comments about previous employers (or, for that matter, co-workers.) Such commentary is another common turn-off that recruiters report. So remember, what goes around, comes around.
Of course you have the sense not to post information that contradicts the information you supplied with your job application. But if you slipped, you're not alone – that's yet another major turn-off.
#3. But you are not helpless.
You can’t stop corporate recruiters from snooping – that's a given. But you can exert some control over what's they'll see.
The first step is to heed the advice that Dutch uncles have been handing out for generations: Don’t write anything that you wouldn't be comfortable reading in the newspaper. The Digital Age has only made things worse, as content can go viral and assume a life of its own.
So, with digital cameras being ever-present, the advice needs to be modernized: Don't post pictures or videos you would not mind seeing on the evening news. Doubtless, certain celebrity counter-examples spring to mind, whose homemade videos can only be euphemistically alluded to in family-oriented media. But remember: they're rich. Their stomachs don’t sink when the personnel manager calls.
#4. Remember, Dr. Jekyll Never Met Mr. Hyde
Experts recommend using separate e-mail addresses for your corporate life and professional activities, and for your, ah, lifestyle. For the latter, get one of those freebie e-mail addresses from Hotmail, Yahoo!, AOL, or Gmail. Use it when posting to blogs, etc., knowing that Dr. Jeckyll can express himself without making trouble for Mr. Hyde.
#5. Use the force
Superficially, use the privacy settings that most social networking sites provide, so that only your cronies will see the good stuff.
For instance, Facebook lets you assign a privacy setting to every post you make: Friends, Friends of Friends, and Everyone.
Using "Friends" mean that only your inner circle can see it.
"Friends of Friends" mean that everyone in the inner circle of the members of your inner circle can see it.
"Everyone" means just that – every boss, school teacher, and job recruiter on the Internet can see it.
If your site has no such settings, move on to one that does.
#6. Be (Slightly) Paranoid
In the process of snooping about what you say about yourself on-line, recruiters will inevitably uncover what other people say about you. Don’t be shy – Google yourself occasionally.
#7. Counter-Attack When Necessary
If you find a posting about yourself that you deem unacceptable, you don't necessarily have to grin and bear it. Contact the owner or the management department of the site and ask them to remove the material. Don't worry – you won’t be the first person to ever do that. (However, if the material is part of government documents or news archives, you're probably out of luck.)
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