It's easier than ever for potential employers to quickly uncover bits of your past that you may wish they wouldn't. And more employers are Googling, checking Facebook or otherwise searching online for information about job candidates. That's why employment and security experts suggest that job seekers clean up their online, or virtual, personas.
"Upwards of 80 percent of employers are looking on the Internet for information about applicants," says Michael Fertik, founder of Reputation.com, an online-reputation management site. "And they're also making decisions based on information they find."
Fertik tells AOL Jobs that companies aren't just looking for information about applicants, but also want to know about their friends and interests.
That can be particularly problematic for people with common names. Searching for, say, James White can reveal many different people, and employers don't always do a good job of sorting through them.
Further, employers aren't always careful to discriminate among content that's been posted by job candidates and that which has been posted by friends, which may inaccurately reflect applicants' employment or personal histories.
To help minimize any damage, Fertik advises -- especially younger job-seekers -- to keep in mind that the words and images that they post on Facebook may not accurately reflect who they will be in five years. Managing your Internet and social-media presence is akin to getting a tattoo, he says. What may seem like a good idea today may seem like the most wrongheaded decision several years from now.
But before you go ripping down everything you've ever posted on your Facebook page, the Society for Human Resource Management notes that research shows that employers are actually much more cautious about digging into applicants' backgrounds than some studies suggest.
There is a difference between using social media to recruit or identify job candidates and to screen candidates, SHRM says. That's important to note because although the means by which we share information electronically is fairly new, laws for making hiring decisions aren't.
For the vast majority of positions, the trade organization says, an employer seeks only information related to an applicant's ability to do the job. SHRM's own survey shows that 67 percent of employers have never used and don't plan to use social networking websites as screening tools.
Still, for those who err on the side of caution, Reputation.com's Fertik offers these tips, featured recently in a blog post at the Harvard Business Review:
- Get a new url. On social media sites, such as LinkedIn and Facebook, try to get a URL that's as close as possible to your name. Using "James White" as an example, the ideal URL for a LinkedIn page would be: www.linkedin.com/jameswhite. Doing so will help push those results to the top of a Google search. And since many recruiters only look at the first five or 10 search results, you can effectively manage the links that potential employers see.
- Correct your profile. Make sure your online persona matches your offline persona. If your passion and education are in environmental engineering, make sure that your social media profiles reflect those facts.
- Establish your expertise online. Use chat rooms, online forums and social media to establish your credibility on the professional topics that matter most to the job search you are actively (or passively) pursuing.
For the complete list of tips, check out Fertik's article at the Harvard Business Review.
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