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Guard Your Professional Image

From Career Tips
2007 Volume 9, September 2007


The August 20 issue of Time magazine reported that:
  • 12% of employers consulted social networking sites such as Facebook.com for help with their hiring process.
  • 63% of those who did, declined to hire an applicant because of what they found!

    Why do social sites generate such a high hit rate of unfavorable decisions? One reason is that we are very conscious of our professional image when we are in professional situations, and let our guards down in social situations. How many careers have been derailed by careless comments or actions at the company holiday party, the after-work gathering at the bar, the backyard barbeque, or even the family gathering?

    How many have assumed those were "safe" social environments, only to find out later on that someone knows a boss, co-worker or potential hiring manager? Or that one was present when a story you told at that gathering was later shared by someone else? (And how many never found out why a job opportunity dried up, because they weren't able to trace it back to the unfortunate remark or activity that started the chain?)

    Internet sources have a very long-lasting electronic trail. Jennicam was shut down in 2003, but photos and discussions still show up in Internet searches.

    An old copy of a resume or profile may be saved somewhere unexpected; postings you made to newsgroups or listserves will likely show up in searches for years. And I can guarantee you that the 12% of employers who consult social networking sites will grow rapidly as such sites become more prevalent, and more widely used among aging baby boomers.

    Here's a recent high profile example: the A&P video case. 2 brothers made a video parody in an A&P where they worked as stock boys, using produce in questionable ways. They posted it on YouTube and their own website, and soon A&P fired them and filed a $1 million defamation lawsuit against them. Whether or not anything happens with the lawsuit, the ripples from this event will certainly follow both brothers for the rest of their careers. Any search done on their names will forever bring up references to the lawsuit and the video.

    A less public case was related in a recent Harvard Business Review article. A senior executive was poised to hire the daughter of someone he knew. She brought an excellent package of skills and experience for the role, and had a stellar set of interviews. Then an HR manager brought results of an online search that showed a period when she had been a high profile activist. Reluctantly, he passed on her candidacy.

    Now consider the broader perspective of everything you post, anything that might turn up in an internet search. For example, have you ever:
  • Posted to a newsgroup or Yahoo networking listserve?
  • Responded to a question posted on LinkedIn, Yahoo, or anywhere else on the Internet?
  • Posted your own questions to any site?
  • Set up a profile on LinkedIn, ZoomInfo, Yahoo, MySpace, Facebook, ...
  • Shared personal photos on-line?
  • Posted to a blog?
  • Set up your own personal or professional website or blog?

    Any of those may show up in an Internet search. Even if you carefully mask your identity by using a screen name or other alias, after several postings under that name, your alias will become recognizable, particularly if your postings are at all controversial. It's not hard to imagine how that might eventually get associated with your real name, and then all bets are off.

    Experts advise us to only write in emails what we would be comfortable sharing with the world. I would suggest you take the same approach to any profiles you set up, even in the 'social' stratosphere. Assume that people will know it's you, and that current and potential employers and professional networking contacts will see it.

    One final step: Find out what others will find out about you. Set up a Google Alert on your name. Use Google and sites like ZoomInfo to do a periodic search on your name and see what comes up. Check any profiles you have set up on Yahoo, Google, MySpace, LinkedIn, etc. periodically to see if they still reflect the image you want to project. Consider asking a trusted colleague to do the same and give you an independent opinion.

    Be careful to present a consistent, professional image. And make sure you are monitoring what's out there about you so you can do 'damage control' quickly if it's ever needed!


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    (C) 2010 John West Hadley, All Rights Reserved
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