Fortunately, my record is pretty clean. And those who share my name seem to be upstanding citizens, as well. There are a couple of college instructors, an attorney, a British television writer/actor, and a few others who don't appear to raise any red flags.
So, if my mom knew how to get on the Internet, she wouldn't be embarrassed by anything she read about her son. The question is: What would your mom find out about you?
If that raises fear in your heart, think about the managers you just interviewed with. What could they find out about you online?
You might have wowed them when you met, but what could they find out about you on MySpace or Facebook? Would they see a different side of you, maybe at a party doing something that toes the line of illegal-or goes beyond it?
Maybe you keep your own Web page clean, but what about your friends' sites? Are you easily identifiable at one of their blowouts doing things you would rather not have a potential employer see?
A Shrinking World
The Internet has made the world a much smaller place, and continues to give immediate celebrity to the unknowing and the unwilling. Sometimes, it's good for a laugh-a little embarrassment is OK among friends. But do you really want to share some of those embarrassing stories with the boss you will report to one day?
What about your blog, for example. Do you rail against professors? Complain about school? Or that "goofball" you just interviewed with? It's certainly your right do so, but just because you can do it, doesn't mean it is the wisest move. If you didn't want to discuss any of those topics in an interview, than you probably don't want to write about them online, where they are readily available for potential employers to read.
Fact or legend or somewhere in between, you've likely heard stories of job-seekers being caught red-handed-or red-faced-on the Internet by potential employers. Just ask anyone in your Career Services office; I'm sure they have a story or two they could tell you. So why chance it?
Before you begin meeting with employers, take a quick inventory of your online world. Does it match your job search persona? Use the list below as a starting point to create a professional online impression.
- Email address. It's time to upgrade your Internet ID. If an employer can reach you at "firstname.lastname@example.org," switch to your school account or create one that's more professional.
- Google yourself. If you haven't already, give it a try and see what comes up. And remember, not all search engines are created equally, so use Yahoo!, MSN and others as well. If you find anything compromising, do what you can to remove it.
- Online resumes. Do you have resumes posted on various job search sites? That's OK, but make sure all the information is updated and consistent. Tailoring your resume to the job you want is a great idea, so there's nothing wrong with creating two or three versions of your resume. But if you post these online, be aware that Employer A might be able to view Resume B, so you don't want any contradictory data.
- Personal blogs. Give your blogs a once-over. What makes good fodder for discussion among your friends won't necessarily play well with employers. Remove the more controversial items and anything that would portray you as a disgruntled employee waiting to happen.
- Communication. The way we communicate online is usually very casual. Shorthand is common when it comes to emails, text messages or instant messages. But now that you're looking for a job and not talking to your "bff," you need to write like a professional. And when in doubt, pick up the phone. It's always best to make a call rather than send an email.
Like everything else in your job search, it's important to take extra time to make a great impression. That goes for your resume, your cover letter, the clothes you wear to an interview, and the thank-you note you send once the interview is over. After all that hard work, don't be caught by a loose end online.
The Internet has blurred your personal and public life. Your office persona is probably different from the regular you, and that is fine. You should carry yourself a bit more polished and professional in the office then when you're out on the town. But keep in mind that the Internet has the potential to give people access to all sides of yourself. So be careful, and tread lightly.
And don't forget to Google yourself!