We've all done it…made a controversial 'wall' comment, written a cheeky blog post or suffered as friends tag questionable photos of a big night out. It's a bit of harmless fun - until your intentions turn professional and you begin approaching prospective employers and contacts for a new job. Have you ever considered they might be sneaking a peek at your online profile? Can your professional network find your personal details on Facebook? Is your LinkedIn profile true to your professional resume? And, how can your online activity impact your career potential?
The Privacy Issue
Online privacy is a controversial issue and not just for the sporting world or celebrities! It is well acknowledged that globally legislation is having trouble keeping up with the pace of new technology. Right now, unless it is considered 'defamatory,' there is little you can do to offset the publishing of your personal information; once it's there, it's there.
So, should prospective employers be privy to your personal or social information? The simple answer is no; your job application should be based on merit and all other factors discounted; however if you do publish personal information on the internet and it is easily accessible, hiring managers can and might learn more than you want them to know. This includes content posted on personal websites, blogs, social sites (e.g., Facebook, Twitter), old resumes and out-of-date information on professional sites and comments in forums. Also consider content on your friends' forums as on some websites your information can be viewed via the activity of others, despite your privacy settings.
What Should You Do?
Online and social media tools can be critical to your job search, whether you are a member of niche job boards or blogs, are making the most out of career networking sites, or are receiving Twitter updates about the latest contract opportunities. However, it is important that you consider the personal/ professional divide carefully and are aware of the pitfalls of being social media savvy.
Not all publicity is good publicity and while you are actively job seeking, it is worth carefully considering the type of information that is out there and the potential impact of your online footprint.
Do a quick online 'health check' by conducting a Google search on yourself. Whatever you find is pretty much what your prospective employer will see. If there's something potentially embarrassing or inappropriate (like that tagged photo), try to get rid of it.
If there is a media article that is contentious that you cannot remove, be prepared to cover it off in your interview as chances are your prospective employer has seen it.
Review your privacy settings. You can determine who sees your status, photos and posts and even your political and religious views. During your job search, it's probably a good idea to restrict all permissions to 'Friends' only.
If you don't have a LinkedIn profile, get one, or if it's incomplete, update it. Most employers and recruiters are now using LinkedIn to find potential job candidates. A LinkedIn profile will give you the opportunity to post a professional photo of yourself, write a respectable bio, and connect with other industry professionals. Remember to make sure your profile information is consistent with your current resume.
A blog is an extremely effective way to demonstrate your expertise on your profession's subject matter. By posting relevant content and educated opinions, this establishes your commitment to (and interest in) your industry, builds your credibility and also enhances your chances of being found by a headhunter. A professional blog also allows you to effectively build your own 'brand', encourages dialogue with like-minded professionals, and gives you an 'industry expert' reputation.
Do review and adjust your social media privacy settings whilst job hunting.
Do try to clean up anything that's potentially embarrassing or inappropriate.
Do use professional networking sites such as LinkedIn to create a professional online profile.
Do consider posting anonymously or using a 'nickname' if you contribute to a blog or site that you don't want 'published' professionally.
Do post a decent profile picture.
Don't include a link on your resume to sites or blogs which include inappropriate/ personal content.
By performing some basic searches and cleaning up anything that might not be appropriate for your professional network, you can avoid being discounted for a job for which you are otherwise qualified.