Don’t think your online activities can hurt you? Just ask former Congressman Anthony Weiner who is now a joke, not because of his name, or at least not because of his name alone, but also because he Tweeted pictures of his privates. Or rapper 50cent who complained on Twitter that his grandmother told him to take the trash out because apparently he’s too rich and famous to help his grandmother. The reality is that what you do online is a reflection of your character. Worse yet, what’s done online can’t easily be undone.
In the pre-digital age, your personal antics didn’t impact your ability to get or keep a job. Employers judged you using your resume, interview and references. The Internet has changed that. Today, employers still use traditional methods to vet you, but they now also search the Internet to learn about your character. As a result, you may be qualified for the job, have a fantastic interview and stellar references, but may not get hired because of inflammatory comments, vulgar language or drinking pictures from your trip to Cancun. You can argue that it’s not fair, but it’s the reality of today’s job hunting world.
You can avoid this scrutiny by staying offline all together or by always keeping your posts, comments and pictures tame. But what if you’ve already a history of online rants? The bad news is that the Internet is like an elephant, it never forgets. The good news is that you can clean up your online reputation and work to hide the bad stuff in low search engine rankings.
1. Search your name with and without quotes on Google or other top search engines. This will give you an idea of what employers will find when they search your name. If you have the same name as someone with a questionable character, consider including your middle name or using an alternative version of your given name. For example, instead of James Smith, use James Theodor Smith or Jim T. Smith.
2. Delete questionable posts, pictures and comments from your social networks, forums and blogs. This includes items that have profanity, hate, negative messages or concepts that might offend a prospective employer. If you can’t delete the material yourself, ask the site owner to remove it for you. A faster option, particularly if there is an abundance of negative material, is to delete your accounts and start over.
3. Post positive content to push bad content down in search engine results. You don’t have to be Pollyanna, but you should remember that anything you post online can be seen by a potential employer. Social media, blogs and forums can be a great way to network and strut your stuff, so consider posting content that shows your skills, experiences and other traits that make you employable.
Don’t underestimate the power of social media to hurt your job prospects. While it doesn’t seem fair that your private life is used to evaluate your fitness as an employee, in today’s online world, it does. At the same time, social media can also be used to help your job prospects simply by posting items that reflect a conscientious, hardworking person.
Leslie Truex is a career design expert who has been helping people find or create work that fits their lifestyle goals since 1998 through her website Work-At-Home Success. She is the author of “The Work-At-Home Success Bible” and “Jobs Online: How To Find a Get Hired to a Work-At-Home Job”. She speaks regularly on career-related topics including telecommuting and home business.