Managing Your Online Persona: How You May Be Damaging Your Future Job Prospects

by Michael Peterson, Senior IT Recruiter, www.linkedin.com/in/michaelpetersontheoris/

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If you’ve been half-awake in the last decade, you’ve probably heard of popular websites like Facebook and Twitter.  We call them social media sites as they serve as a means for us to socialize on the internet.  YouTube, Google+, Spotify, Pandora, Tumblr, Instagram…the list goes on and the savvier of us probably have accounts on all these sites and more.  Regardless of how plugged in you are to these sites and the use of the internet in general, a troubling theme seems to show with a lot of people I work with, socialize with, and relate to.  What could that be?  Too many Farmville invites?  To many followers of reality TV stars?….Maybe.  But I’m talking about is the amount of inappropriate and incriminating content posted publicly to social media sites.

            We’ve all done it to some degree.  Put an angry status on Twitter or Facebook, realized it was a bit too extreme and deleted it.  I’ve seen this problem with all demographics, not just the older users but more often with younger users.

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There was a recent news story in which John Walsh described the exposure of a crime ring ran by teenagers in their apartment complex.  The biggest tip off?  The teenagers tweeted about it and posted pictures bragging about their crimes.  For some of us it seems like common knowledge but not everyone realizes that once you post something on the internet, even if it’s private, it’s there forever.  You can delete your uploaded video or picture or post but it will remain in the archives of the host site and can be retrieved by authorities and used against you.

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This activity doesn’t even have to be of a criminal nature or something that you post personally.  Recently a teacher in Georgia was fired because a friend tagged her in a photo on Facebook where she was enjoying a beer.  She wasn’t friends with any of her students and her privacy settings were set high but it was discovered by school administration and she was promptly let go.  Just simply being at an event where something incriminating is happening can come back to haunt you.  If you’re not being filmed by a security camera, chances are someone has their phone out and will post it up on YouTube with you in the footage somewhere.

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Social Media trawling is the term applied when someone searches social media sites for negative content to use against an individual.  This can be done by the authorities, cyber bullies, or even potential employers!  So how can you help yourself?  Try these simple steps to clean up your online persona:

1.       Google yourself.  Seriously.  Try using your name and if it’s common, other identifiers like your hometown, work, or school.  See what results pop up in the first few pages.  Any results beyond that is usually a waste of time.  If you see something about you that you don’t like, get rid of it!  If you don’t own the content (for example you show up in a YouTube video) contact YouTube and its parent company Google and ask for it to be removed.

2.       Research the privacy settings on your social sites.  Set your privacy settings to adjust the audience for your content.  Every social media site has a help section to assist with this or you can search help on Google or just find a friend that’s in the know!  Remember that if you have to severely lock down access to certain content it might not be worth posting.  Weigh the consequence versus the reward.

3.       Use a pseudonym but remember that it’s not foolproof.   You can still incriminate yourself with the law here as most blogs and social media are tied to an email account that can be traced back to you.  What it can do is prevent you from showing up in a search by a prospective employer if what you’re saying is emotionally charged, political, or in opposition to the views of an organization.

4.       Be impersonal and try to stay general with your statements.   Instead of saying something like, “I downloaded free music at this site” try, “some people have been known to download free music at this site.”  Review your statements to remove yourself as a participator in any act that may show you in a negative light out of context.

Ultimately, there are several things you can control to keep your online persona pristine.  Those running for office or a high-level position at a publicly traded company will obviously have to be more diligent than a local business owner but remember this: What you put out there stays out there.

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