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Protecting Your Social Media Identity From Potential Employers

By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group

Awhile ago, I heard a story on NPR (sorry-I can’t find it) about a man who legally changed his name.  As I recall, back when he was in college, he wrote some provocative articles for the newspaper that received wide distribution, and they have dogged him ever since.  A simple Google search of his name brought up the articles and the firestorm they provoked, and he believed it scared off potential employers, so he decided to change his name.

We all have lives outside of work.  But with the advent of social media tools like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Foursquare, to name a few, your entire life and your movements can be easily tracked.   Back when I was in college, I went down to Florida for Spring Break like thousands of students across the country.  I didn’t do anything that my parents would have been upset about, but I did see plenty of cameras snapping at drinking contests, wet t-shirt contests and other high jinks that one did on Spring Break.

Back then, those pictures would have been developed and either put into a scrapbook or just thrown in a drawer.  These days, people post their pictures on social media Web sites for the world to see.  Yes, you do have the right to enjoy yourself on your vacation.  And yes, you can post those pictures on your Facebook account.  But be warned — you are not just sharing your pictures with your friends.

A potential employer could easily pull up your pictures and see you doing some crazy things on that vacation, and they may decide you may not be the kind of employee they want representing their company.  We have all heard the story of Jon Favreau, President Obama’s chief speechwriter.  Pictures of him drunkenly groping a cardboard cutout of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton appeared on Facebook and spread like wildfire.  He apologized and kept his job, but those pictures will be a part of his unofficial biography forever.

Microsoft commissioned a report — Online Reputation in a Connected World — from Cross-Tab Marketing Services that found:

  • The recruiters and HR professionals surveyed are not only checking online sources to learn about potential candidates, but they also report that their companies have made online screening a formal requirement of the hiring process.
  • Of U.S. recruiters and HR professionals surveyed, 70% say they have rejected candidates based on information they found online. Though not as frequently, respondents from the U.K. and Germany report the same trend.
  • Recruiters and HR professionals surveyed report being very or somewhat concerned about the authenticity of the content they find.
  • In all countries, recruiters and HR professionals say they believe the use of online reputational information will significantly increase over the next five years.
  • Positive online reputations matter. Among U.S. recruiters and HR professionals surveyed, 85% say that positive online reputation influences their hiring decisions at least to some extent. Nearly half say that a strong online reputation influences their decisions to a great extent.

Is it fair? No. but that’s the world we live in today.  There are things you can do to protect your online identity.  For Facebook, start cleaning out the names of people who you don’t really know or who are friends of friends. That helps cut down on your information being passed along.

The Mashable blog has this great post on how to split your personal and professional sides on Facebook.  ReadWriteWeb has invaluable information on tools you can use to manage your online reputation.  And the MakeUseOf blog has some great tips on how to protect your Twitter information.  I have a professional and personal account, and the two rarely meet.  I keep the Tweets on my private account protected.  I don’t have anything to hide, but you can never be too careful.

I took a great course with Sree Sreenivasan, Columbia Journalism Professor & Dean of Student Affairs and Tech evangelist/skeptic, and he advised that we treat social media like a party.  You think about the people you want at your party, and whether you want them out in the back yard, in the living room or using your personal bathroom.  So who do you want where?



Home of the National Association of Black Journalists's (NABJ's) Digital Journalism Task Force

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