By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation WeekGroup
I went to college during a time when there was no Internet. I wasn’t a wild child, but I did have some fun during a trip to Fort Lauderdale during spring break my senior year in college. I didn’t have to worry about folks carrying smartphones ready to photograph and video the festivities.
But times have changed — drastically. This topic came up after I read a recent article in Gizmodo: “I Flunked My Social Media Background Check. Will You?” It serves as a precautionary — and frankly, scary — tale of how your social media past can be held against you by potential employers.
I do resume reviews for NABJ members (my offer to review yours — for free — still stands). As matter of course, I do a Google search of every name. I also look at Facebook and Twitter accounts. And trust me, employers are doing the same. You would not believe the materials that are floating out there.
As we all prepare to go to this year’s National Association of Black Journalists’ Annual Convention and Career Fair in Philadelphia Aug. 3-7, many attendees will be there looking for jobs. So now — not when you hand that resume over to a prospective employer — is the time to do a social media check.
Start by Googling your name. See what comes up, especially on the first page. When I did this, everything was professional — the top link was my company-linked Twitter account. The rest were links to blog posts about the aviation industry. There’s nothing in there that could cause any problems for employers.
Next, go to Facebook. Do a check of all your friends. Are they really friends or someone you met years ago and don’t really know? Start purging. I did this and managed to dump “252″ people.
Also create separate Facebook friend lists to control who sees what. I have Friends, Professional Benet and Limited Profile lists, and everyone is in their proper place. Check out this great post on Strategies, Tips & Tools For A Wired Life on how to do it.
Go through your photo albums and pictures where you’re tagged. You may have had a really good time at that frat party, but a potential employer will not look kindly on you drunkenly “backing it up” on the dance floor. This Tutorial Bite post shows you how to protect your photo albums. And check your friends’ albums to make sure there are no embarassing photos of you.
I take lots of pictures at the NABJ conventions, and I ask people to go to my Facebook and Flickr albums to tag them. I have had some requests to remove some of my pictures, and I always comply. But what about others taking photos who don’t announce their intentions?
Next, go to Twitter. Make sure you have separate accounts for personal and professional. And don’t assume that just because you have a locked account, your Tweets won’t go out. Folks can easily retweet your comments for the world to see. So either create a personal account that covers your identity (like @FlyGirlBWI) rather that @benetwilson, or just resolve not to Tweet anything you wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the New York Times.
Check your LinkedIn profile. Make sure it’s close to 100% completed as possible. Many employers are going to this site to find potential employees. And resist the temptation to link your personal Twitter feed or personal blog to your account unless you feel it’s relevant — and not damaging.
If you have a Flickr account, take the time to check the privacy settings. I have more than 1000 pictures of my daughter in my account, but no one but me can see them. You remember all those pictures you posted fron this year’s Urban Beach Week in Miami? Your potential employer doesn’t need to see them.
In the end, the absolute best way to protect your online identity is to make sure you don’t do anything that could cause a red flag. But should you find yourself in that position, be prepared to shell out some money for the services of a company like Reputation.com, which helps monitor and remove negative information about you. And I’ll see you in Philly!