8 Ways You’re Ruining Your Online Reputation

Common Online Reputation Management Mistakes & How to Fix Them

Employers Are Watching You

It has become common practice for employers to scan social media sites of job applicants, such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. According to survey done by Microsoft, 70% of employers have rejected applicants based on public information found on the Internet.

It’s one thing for employers to screen applicants based on publicly displayed information. But now, in an economic atmosphere were many candidates are willing to do just about anything to get the job, some companies are asking candidates for their social media passwords in order to gain even more insight.

Don’t Get Crushed Under the Weight of Your Own Social Media Footprint

This recent trend has generated some intense debate about privacy, as well as conversations regarding employer boundaries during the hiring process.

Employers who ask for social media passwords are navigating tricky waters. Not only is the request a violation of Facebook’s terms of service, the Department of Justice considers it a federal crime to violate terms of service in order to enter social media sites. Recently, Maryland became the first state to ban employers from asking for a job seeker’s password.

As the debate heats up, some employers are resorting to “safer” measures to better gain access to social media profiles, such as “friending” applicants. Whether your password has been requested or whether the potential employer resorts to wilier methods, it’s important to know that nothing you put on the Internet is completely safe from someone who really wants access to it. Your social media “footprint” can significantly impact your career potential — both negatively and positively.

This article shares eight pitfalls job seekers should avoid to circumvent damage to their online reputations, as well as ways to positively impact and rehabilitate it.

1. Looking Bad on Google

Get in your head right from the start that your prospective employer will see whatever you do. So, could what they see affect your chances of employment?

According to a survey done by the job search and recruiting network ExecuNet, 77% of employers use Google and other search engines to check out candidates. Googling yourself will allow you to see both the good and bad, and will help you formulate a plan to leave the best online footprint possible. As a starting point, remove everything that doesn’t portray you in a professional light, such as a tagged photo of yourself on spring break, a poorly punctuated, rambling review on Amazon.com, or an essay on how to master “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.”

2. Internet Rants Are Written in Ink, Not Pencil

Unlike the notes we used to pass in school, information posted about you on the Internet can’t be crumpled up and tossed.

If you’ve posted something you can’t remove on a site you don’t control — a nasty letter to the editor for example, or a rant on a political blog — try going into that site and changing your screen name so comments will not be associated with the name searched by employers. Or, nicely ask the website administrator to remove the info.

Finally, if you’ve left something indelible on the Internet and it’s just not possible to destroy the evidence, be sure to develop a proactive response that explains the situation to employers.

3. There’s More Bad Than Good

It’s almost impossible these days to have a perfectly clean record on the Internet.

Tiger Woods will never be able to get rid of the articles and pictures about his infidelities that are permanently online, but when you Google him they appear relatively far down the list. That’s because since the debacle, he has offset the negative with positive content. You can do the same through building a website or blog, and adding positive posts and pics to your online footprint.

Tweak the positive to negative content ratio so that positive comes out on top, and it’s possible you’ll bury a misstep or two.

4. Blogging Gone Bad

Blogging is a double-edged sword. On one hand it can be a great platform if you’re producing content relative to your field. But if you’re constantly going on expletive-laden tirades & political rants, it might be difficult to interview for a job down the road.

If you’re a blogger, remove any blogs that might be considered controversial, offensive, or even silly. Instead, use your blog to show potential employers that you are an expert in your area of expertise. Blogging about topics relevant to your job will show potential employers you are educated, interested, committed, and will result in some serious industry cred. It also increase the likelihood that you connect with similar professionals who may be able to help you land the perfect job.

5. Lack of Privacy

Employers are able to see only what you allow them to see. Review your privacy settings, and restrict permission to “friends” only.

If you’ve been tagged in photos or posts that are embarrassing or controversial, remove the tags. Finally, employers are quite cunning when it comes to gaining access to your social media accounts. During your job search, be smart and don’t accept any “friend” requests from people you don’t personally know. Finally, if you’ve recently “cleaned up your act” but your Facebook account represents the “old you,” consider deleting it during your job search, or changing the name on the account.

6. Embarrassing Pictures

It’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words. No matter how professional your blog, a picture accompanying it that shows you body surfing at the latest Avril Lavigne concert won’t portray the type of professionalism you’re going for (unless you’re applying to be a band manager).

Because pics of you will pop up when an employer plugs you into Google and clicks on the “images” tab, be sure that photos attached to your social media sites, blogs, and websites show the professional you, not the weekend you.

7. Failure to Separate the Personal & Professional

If your LinkedIn profile has an achievements section that features “Salesman of the Year” and “2009 Wing Eating Champion” side-by-side, you’re doing something wrong.

Instead of trying to meet the challenge of balancing the personal with professional on social media sites, separate the two. Use a first name or a nickname for personal sites, and your real name for professional sites. Sites like Google+ allow you to develop one profile, but to control which information is seen by profile contacts, who are divided into categories.

You can commiserate with those in your personal category over the losing record of the Red Sox, but those Yankees fans in your professional category will never know!

8. Not Having the Right Affiliations

Search Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media platforms for relevant industry groups, and make your presence known. Comment on industry blogs, tweet about the latest industry news, and join in professional conversations. Be sure that posts are well written, relevant, intelligent, and can’t be construed as too controversial.

A Little Common Sense Goes a Long Way

The bottom line is make sure the person you Google is a person employers want to hire.

Before posting on social media sites, ask yourself what might happen if your post or picture ended up on your permanent online record. While you can clean up your online presence to some degree, it’s simply not possible to completely erase your Internet footprint. The best tactic is to take a proactive approach, and to walk the straight and narrow to begin with.

If you have made a gaffe in the past, the tactics outlined in this article can help you minimize the negative while putting the focus on the positive. Good luck!

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