Remember that time in college when you dressed up like a gay Klingon and did a semi-naked tap dance to “Puttin’ on the Ritz” at a Leonard Nimoy book signing during ComiCon? No? Well, I’m not surprised since you were six sheets to the wind after closing down the Babylon 5 party where the booze flowed as freely as Superman’s cape. But since you didn’t know anyone there, it doesn’t matter that you made a total ass of yourself, right?

Wrong! Just about everything these days ends up on the Internet, especially if it’s crazy and makes someone look out-of-control. Now with digital cameras on even the cheapest of smart phones, everyone from a seasoned news reporter to a third grader can document anything, and might even become famous for doing so. At the risk of jeopardizing your reputation do you really want to become fodder for someone else’s 15 minutes of fame?

That’s why it’s more important than ever to pay attention to your online image. Human Resources departments, as well as head hunting companies, are turning to the Web and social networking to do background checks on prospective employees. It may sound like an invasion of your privacy (and in a way, it is), but when you sign up for Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Digg, a chat room, a blogsite, or any one of the umpteen social media outlets, you’re opening yourself up to future employers cyber stalking you.

And rest assured that they will. According to The New York Times and a recent Microsoft survey, 75% of people in hiring positions (i.e. recruiters and Human Resource professionals) do online research about their candidates before they even call them in for an interview. The first place they look? Facebook and spin-off websites like LOL Facebook Moments, where the website posts the most embarrassing and incriminating pictures they can find of regular, ordinary people. As a result, 70% percent of these recruiters have reported they’ve rejected what appeared to be perfectly good applicants based upon unflattering personal material they found about the applicant on the Web.

So what’s an innocent person to do? Well, first off, get a grip and quit acting like a total goon in public, because eventually it will come back to haunt you when you go looking for a job. And by the way, being in public extends to attending a private party, or even whooping it up your own home. Just because you’re not posting pictures, video, or blogs about yourself doesn’t mean others won’t do it for you. You have no control over what someone else posts on their Facebook page or website, so it’s best to avoid acting like an organ grinder’s monkey in the first place. And true, you can take steps to have incriminating material removed, however, it’s kind of like unringing a bell. Once it’s out there, and enough people have seen it, it tends to linger in the public’s collective consciousness (not mention, others have probably made copies).

Sometimes however, you can become the unintentional victim of misrepresentation on the Web. For example, if you have the same name as an infamous character, or you happen to be in the background of a naughty party picture posted on a social media page, or you really did do something stupid and need to minimize it, then you’re the one who has to fix it. In this case there are companies out there that take on the task of tidying up your online reputation, the most popular being Reputation Defender, based out of Redwood City, CA. Reputation Defender protects the online images of both individuals and businesses by providing the tools necessary to define an image. But even companies such as this will tell you, the best way for you to maintain a favorable online image is to not compromise it in the first place.

Getting a job right now is hard enough. You don’t want to decrease your chances of finding employment by doing something dumb and then having it splashed all over the Internet. If you’re currently looking for a job (or even if you’re not) you might want to take a moment to clean up your Facebook page. After all, you may think that Halloween picture of you dressed up as a transvestite vampire is hilarious, but it may not play so well when you apply for a job as a preschool teacher in the Bible Belt. Fair or not, we now live in a world where an online image speaks louder than even the most impressive of resumes.

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