Recently, an NFL player was fired by a corporate sponsor because of controversial comments he made on Twitter. News like that is pretty common these days. But how often do you hear about the person whose online reputation kept him from getting hired in the first place? It happens more often than you think.
Like it or not, your personal information is visible on the internet, and it can either hurt or help you professionally. There was a time when everybody wanted to segregate their lives and say, "Well, that's just what I do on Facebook." You might think, "Yes, I'm in this 'I Hate Republicans Club' but that's my own life." Think again. The rise of social media has made us all more accessible, and the separation between what is private and public has gotten blurred. All your online actions and interactions can influence your chance of landing your next job.
What Your Online Reputation Tells Recruiters
According to a report on Online Reputation commissioned by Microsoft, 85 percent of U.S. recruiters and HR professionals surveyed said they check out candidates on the web before they even schedule an interview. The report also found that a positive online reputation often influences hiring decisions.
That's why it's important to ask yourself, "What would employers find out about me on the internet?" You need to be aware that even your interactions can color your reputation. For instance, if you go on my Facebook page, you'll see a bunch of chatter on my Wall from people who I went to high school with. I may not care to hear what they're talking about and may not even be a participant, but it still makes people think, "Wow, he hangs around with a bunch of complainers." Fortunately or unfortunately, your public reputation is connected to who you're friends with, and their activities on social media sites as well.
Also, pictures paint a picture. For a while everyone was focused on their profile photo and what it says about them. But I think it goes beyond that. If you have an online album of photos from a drag race, even if it was the only time you ever went to one, it still colors you as a "NASCAR Guy." And shots of you and the Mrs. dancing in thongs at Hedonism II definitely paint a vivid, if not favorable, picture.
Last year, I was in a car accident -- a 16 year-old kid ran into me head on -- and I spent nine months in the hospital. I was curious about who this kid was, and quickly found him on Myspace. The title of his page was, "Party dude. Get High. Chill." I'm sure his lawyers didn't like that.
One week after the accident, as I was lying in a coma from his egregious act, he was chattering on Facebook about his upcoming vacation and whether there would be hot girls there. So his public persona was: "The Most Insensitive Person Ever."
The point is, whether you realize it or not, your online posts, pictures and friends are going to shape what others think about you and, unfortunately, humans do read into things considerably.
Another mistake I see on social networks is that participants are not joining groups designed to enhance their personal brand. Let's say you're a software programmer. It would impress me as an employer if you were member of a "How to improve software quality" discussion group or the "Serious career path for programmers" group. When I'm checking you out, I would like that much better than seeing on your Facebook page that you're a member of Farmville. I'd wonder, "Are they going to be playing games all day?"
Then I see candidates posting fortune cookies and martinis on their friends' walls and that's not the image I think they should project. They might argue that I'm making Facebook NOT fun, to which I say, "Exactly. Do you want your reputation to be, 'I'm the fun guy?' "
How to Improve Your Professional Persona
Remember that all things that were once private are now public. I talk to candidates who say, "I would only want to show that to my friends. I have my photos blocked so only friends can see," and my next question is, "So after the interview, when the you get a friend request from a Recruiter, what is your answer going to be?"
Facebook has privacy settingsthat let you create different privacy levels for different groups of your friends. Take the time the do this, and group all recruiters and professional contacts in a Friend List with limited access to what's on your page. Then, if you do post potentially controversial content, make sure you only share it with your inner circle.
On LinkedIn, many people do take the time to create the professional image they want to project, but that profile is not a resume. Quite often, people have gaps and embellishments, and only focus on what matters to them. If you speak to an employer and that LinkedIn profile doesn't match up to what your resume says, it's potentially problematic. Make sure your profile is complete and consistent with your resume. And join groups that demonstrate your desired persona. It's okay to be in a "Save the Environment" group." But a monthly discussion group on hating your boss? Not so much.
Also, your friends on Linkedin should demonstrate your career connectedness. If you're an engineer and I'm thinking of hiring you, I want to see that you know other engineers you can help me recruit, or that you have a good advice network of professionals to consult. Cultivate your network so employers will think, "Wow, he knows all the right people in the business."
Lastly, employers like seeing recommendations, but you don't need 40 of them. A small, concise number of impressive LinkedIn recommendations can't hurt you, especially if you are in the job market.
You Never Know When Opportunity Might Come Googling
Research shows that only 18% of people who find a job get hired by online job listings. Much of career advancement is serendipitous: someone you used to work with tells their new boss that you're really good and passes on your contact info.
Even when we're not actively job-hunting, we're always open to more money, less hours and more fun. Always be mindful. If someone you know referred you to an employer and he went on your Facebook page, what would he see? What could he find if he googled you? What preconceived notions are you creating?
Remember, even if you're not looking for a job, someone might be looking for you.
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