Everybody knows the basic rules for success in job interviews: dress nicely, make eye contact, ask good questions, and do your research about the company ahead of time are just a few of the suggestions that are frequently repeated. And they’re good suggestions! But unfortunately, most people overlook a critical piece of the career management puzzle - and it’s one you have to think about long before you start looking for a new job: your online reputation.
What Does a Google Search Reveal About You?
What is the first thing a recruiter or prospective employer does when they meet you or receive your resume? They Google you. A quick Google search can pull up all kinds of information that might be helpful to someone who is considering hiring you. Any social media pages you have will come up, along with any criminal history and any news articles featuring your name. And while no employer will expect you to be posting only links to HBR articles on your Facebook page or pictures from work conferences on your Instagram, they will be forming an opinion about you based on what they find. They can learn how tech-savvy you are and get a sense for your written communication skills, for a start. But they can also get a snapshot of your personality, maturity level, and habits.
Is Your Online Presence Helping or Hurting?
Here’s an example: Let’s say an executive recruiter is working with a promising candidate. On paper, the candidate has everything going for him: he is degreed and has ten years of experience in a role similar to the one he’s being considered for. To be thorough, the recruiter runs a quick Google search - and uncovers several social media sites with inappropriate content. The recruiter decides not to pass the candidate’s resume along to his client, because he believes that in the long run, the candidate’s inappropriate behavior will reflect poorly on him and possibly affect the culture of the company.
This is a common occurrence, and it’s one that often catches candidates by surprise, especially if the inappropriate content was shared months or even years ago. The movie The Social Network said it best: “The internet is not written in pencil . . . it’s written in ink.” The pictures, links, and posts you share on social media can’t be completely erased even when they’re deleted. Your internet presence is a Forever Stamp of you and your character, so make sure you’re representing yourself well.
So What’s Safe to Share?
Your personal social media profiles (such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram) should be a reflection of who you are, but bear in mind that they are public and will be seen by everyone, including executive recruiters, prospective employers, and future co-workers, not just your friends and family. It’s appropriate to include photos of your family and friends - but it’s not appropriate for those photos to display illicit behavior. It is appropriate to share your opinions on things you’re passionate about in a respectful manner. It’s appropriate to tag yourself on vacation - but it’s not appropriate to publicly announce that you’re mis-using sick days from your current employer.
LinkedIn is a professional social media site, so the rules for appropriate content differ slightly. Your LinkedIn posts and comments should be focused on business-related topics. Politics, religion, and personal anecdotes should be avoided unless they’re directly linked to a business subject you’re covering. Your spelling and grammar are also important here - while text-style writing is fine on platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn represents you as a professional, so make sure to proofread your posts.
Are You Missing Out?
If you know that your social media sites contain inappropriate content, it’s not too late to correct things. Delete problematic posts and make sure any new content is more in line with how you want to be perceived. If you know of any Google results that will require an explanation, be upfront with your employer or executive recruiter: an honest discussion about past behaviors will show that you are trustworthy and responsible.
Don’t let your social media adventures cause you to lose out on potential job opportunities. Put in the effort and turn your online presence from a liability into a strength with responsible, appropriate content that lets your personality shine through!