by Laurel Mylonas-Orwig
It seems like a college rite of passage nowadays—after a night of revelry, you wake up to find some less-than-flattering pictures of yourself tagged on Facebook. As a militant de-tagger, I have offended many a Facebook friend by refusing to allow their “cute” (read: hideous) picture of me to remain in my profile. But vanity aside, de-tagging certain types of pictures is pretty important when it comes to your job search. Now that anyone with an email account can create a Facebook profile—and thus search for your Facebook profile—surreptitious snooping on the part of potential employers, via Facebook and other social networking sites, is a growing trend. In fact, research commissioned by Microsoft in December 2009 found that 79 percent of United States hiring managers and job recruiters surveyed had reviewed online information about job applicants. Most said that what they find online is likely to impact their selection criteria—and an overwhelming 70 percent of hiring managers in the study said that they have rejected candidates in the past based on what they found out online. Suddenly, that funny picture of you in a toga with a pineapple on your head may not seem so amusing.
So what steps can you take to protect yourself from inadvertent online reputation suicide? First and foremost, know what’s out there about you. Act like you’re going on a blind date and Google yourself—then think seriously about what you would think about what pops up. If you didn’t know the story behind that facetious blog “rant” you posted, would you think it was funny? Or is it something that perhaps is best left unsaid? New CNN contributor Erick Erickson learned that lesson recently after he took flak for his past incendiary political statements. His response when asked about one of the particularly vitriolic quotations? “That was about the dumbest thing I’ve ever done.” Unfortunately, while he may know that now, the blog post that quote is from is still there for anyone to read. While this didn’t prevent CNN from hiring him, you may not be so lucky, so watch what you put out there. A good rule is if you don’t want your grandmother reading/viewing it, don’t put it on the Internet.
Second, embrace Facebook’s de-tagging feature. Yes, you may offend people, and yes, you may be sad to lose some of those pictures. However, in the contest between your favorite silly pictures and your professional reputation—well, there isn’t one. If you just can’t bear to part with them, download your favorites, or at least move them into an album that only you and a few select others can see. A word of warning, though: as long as you leave a picture posted and accessible to others, you will never be able to fully control who sees it. Thus, make sure you’re ready to deal with any consequences that may lead to.
As long as we’re talking about Facebook, remember to check your privacy settings. A great New York Times article published in January detailed how the changes Facebook made in December may have affected who can view your profile and personal information. If you haven’t manually selected your privacy settings since the updates were made, you should do so immediately. As the Times article notes, “…most Facebook users likely opted for the recommended settings without really understanding what they were agreeing to. If you did so, you may now be surprised to find that you inadvertently gave Facebook the right to publicize your private information including status updates, photos, and shared links.” Don’t wait until you get a nasty surprise—check these settings now and save yourself a future headache.
Finally, make social networking—and the Internet—work for you. If you’ve been to CAPS anytime in the last few years, you’ve probably heard about how important networking is. It’s not always the easiest thing to do, but if you ask any CAPS counselor, we can tell you tale after tale illustrating how beneficial it can be. Sites like LinkedIn make it easier than ever to establish professional connections, and I can tell you from personal experience that employers do use LinkedIn to check out their applicants. Thus, it’s to your benefit to make as many connections as possible, because you never know when your friend’s cousin’s sister might be able to help you get a foot (or at least a finger) in the door.
The bottom line is that nowadays it’s easier than ever to find out more about someone, and for job seekers that can be a huge benefit. However, the Internet, like any other tool, can be just as damaging as it is useful. As Microsoft Chief Privacy Strategist Peter Cullen said in a recent article, “Everyone should think critically about the image they’re digitally portraying.” If that portrait is not a favorable or accurate one, you may well be sabotaging your search, which is obviously not what you want to do. After all, getting a job these days is already hard enough! The good news is that by taking just a few minutes to assess your online reputation, you can make it work in your favor, and increase your chances of landing a great position.
Do you have questions about how to manage your online reputation? The CAPS staff is always here to help with any job search quandaries. Click here to make an appointment with a counselor!