(Corrected) Job Seekers and “Digital Dirt”: 3 Steps to Keeping Your Professional Online Reputation Clean

CORRECTION: I am pleased to welcome Mallory Pickard as our December guest blogger. She addresses a critical topic for all job seekers: how  to manage your online reputation and control your digital dirt. Her bio follows her post.  

In today’s culture of increasingly digital existence, everyone from college admissions officials to Fortune 500 hiring managers have established methods of researching their prospects’ online identity. Googling someone is quickly becoming the norm for most employers rather than an additional recruiting step. In a 2009 CareerBuilder.com survey, 43% of employers reported they had discovered content on social networking sites that caused them not to hire the candidate — a percentage that doubled from 2008 and continues to rise. (see footnote)

In short, no one can really escape the fact that you are what you tweet (and blog, bookmark, and share), but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Think about it: Now more than ever, recent college grads and job seekers exist on an equal playing field where everyone has the opportunity to expose their skills, strengths, and personality regardless of location, demographics, or personal connections. Employers turn to social networking sites to bring faces to the thousands of resumes at their fingertips, and with a few easy steps, you can make your social media footprint work in your favor. Smiling computer

Here are three “digital dirt” preventive steps to live by:

1. Recognize the inevitable overlap between your personal and professional life online. Keep in mind that everything from a politically polarized blog rant to a tagged photo of you taking in a wild party can end up full screen on a recruiters’ desktop. 72% of the social networking content that led recruiters to rule out candidates in 2009 had to do with inappropriate or offensive comments and posts related to drugs and alcohol (see footnote).

2. Embrace those privacy settings. You are in control of who sees that Halloween Facebook album, your wall, your tweets, and virtually everything you share online. Reserving potentially reputation-damaging content for yourself and trusted friends is always the best course of action. Tact. It’s what’s for dinner.

3. Google yourself regularly. Search your first and last name in quotations marks for exact matches (ex: “Jack Bauer”). Additionally, search for your name plus your school, recent places of employment, and any personal areas of expertise for the most thorough results. There’s not much you can do in so far as getting rid of any damaging results returned in a search, but you can equip yourself with a mature explanation if a potential employer brings any such content into question. Be forthright with your conviction about what you learned from the situation, but steer clear of going into further detail or apologizing excessively.

Finally, keep in mind that completely muting your opinions and interaction online will only make you seem like an anti-social robot. Don’t be afraid to put your voice out there, but keep public content in good taste. Use that realm to let your natural strengths and personality shine whether it be on social networking sites, comment boards, or blogs, and you will easily keep your hands clean of the dreaded “digital dirt”.

(Footnote:  Rosemary Haefner, “More Employers Screening Candidates Via Social Networking Sites”, Careerbuilder.com, June 10, 2009 (http://www.careerbuilder.com/Article/CB-1337-Getting-Hired-More-Employers-Screening-Candidates-via-Social-Networking-Sites/)

Bio: Mallory Pickard is a freelance writer and social media strategist currently based in Raleigh, NC. She is passionate about digital communities, new  music, running, and Duke basketball. You may follow  her on Twitter, http://twitter.com/missmallibu.

Wishing you career success in 2011!


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