With unemployment hovering around 9% and underemployment still a painful reminder of the recession, you might think people searching for a job might be happy to receive a job offer from just about anyone. Think again. Candidates are closely scrutinizing the online reputation of potential employers and changing their minds based on what they read online. In a Q3 2011 Corporate Executive Board survey of 4,000 people who were looking for jobs in the previous 12 months, 66% responded that they lost interest in a potential employer because of something they learned online. Applicants are frequenting company review sites and checking with people in and outside their social network to get a better sense of what it’s like to work at a particular company.

Businesses that are not carefully managing their online reputation, risk losing highly qualified candidates to their competitors. Companies that have negative reviews online, but otherwise enjoy loyalty and support from their staff can encourage their current employees to leave reviews that more accurately reflect reality and offer prospective employees a wider variety of opinions upon which to base a decision, rather than relying on what could be a small number of disgruntled former employees.

Some of the most successful companies encourage the use of LinkedIn not only for current employees, but also to cultivate connections with alumni. Social media engagement can pay dividends down the road in many ways and safeguard corporate reputation from attack by providing multiple channels to respond to an online reputation crisis. With LinkedIn, you can have your rapid response team on standby.

As part of the exit interview process and when seeking a new job, people frequently look to their former employer as a reference. Similarly, companies should consider the reverse: identify former employees who could be a reference or reputation defender should the need arise. Unlike current employees who may have a perceived bias towards their current employer, former employees may have more credibility to the media or jobseekers looking for an insider’s view. This is just one of the many online reputation management strategies companies are using to attract the best and most qualified candidates for open positions.