Your digital dirt can come back to haunt you

2006

As we're often being reminded, the Internet has irrevocably changed the way that we look for and apply for jobs. But the web works both ways. So you may want to think twice about what you say in your blog or avoid posting photos from your last toga party online just in case a potential employer takes a look and changes their mind about you.

And this is no idle warning. According to a new survey by CareerBuilder.com, a quarter of hiring managers in the U.S. have used Google or other internet search engines to find out more about potential employees.

A web-savvy one in 10 have even gone beyond simple "Googling" and used social networking sites as part of their candidate screening process.

The survey of more than 1,000 hiring managers nationwide revealed the astonishing fact that half of those who have Googled candidates have rejected one or more based on what they found.

More startling still, almost two-thirds of hiring managers who used social networking sites to research candidates have also been put off hiring people as a result.

So what is it that they are discovering online that is having such a profoundly negative effect on recruiters?

Almost a third find that a candidate has lied about their qualifications. A quarter find that they have poor communication skills (so make sure that you proof-read those blog entries) and a quarter have found that a candidate was linked to criminal behaviour. One in five candidates also posted information about drinking or using drugs.

Be careful, too, about what you say about previous employers or colleagues. One in five hiring managers told CareerBuilder's survey that they took exception to candidates bad-mouthing their previous company or fellow employees while 15 per cent of candidates shot themselves in the foot by sharing confidential information from previous employers.

Those ever-so-funny-at-the-time snapshots could also ruin a career before it has even begun. One in 10 recruiters has come across candidates who have posted provocative or inappropriate photographs of themselves, while almost as many (eight per cent) have been put off a candidate because they deemed that their screen name was unprofessional.

"While sharing information online can have a potentially negative impact on your job search or career plans, it can also be leveraged as a tool to differentiate yourself to employers," said Rosemary Haefner, Vice President of Human Resources at CareerBuilder.com.

"Highlighting professional and personal accomplishments and showcasing your creativity can help a candidate make a positive lasting impression on employers and validate why he/she is the right person for the job."

In other words, the web-savvy job seeker can just as easily use the medium to boost their chances of landing that dream job as they can destroy them.

Two-thirds of the hiring managers surveyed said that they had found background information on candidates that supported their professional qualifications for the job and four out of 10 had gained the impression that a candidate was well-rounded and showed a wide range of interests.

Around a third also found material online that suggested a candidate had great communication skills, conveyed a professional image and would be a good fit within the company culture.

Rosemary Haefner recommends a simple mantra that we all ought to bear in mind to safeguard their online reputations: Be careful, be discreet and be prepared

Don't post anything on your site or your "Friends" sites you wouldn't want a prospective employer to see – and that includes derogatory comments, revealing photos or lewd jokes.

On social networks, consider setting your profile to "private," so that it is viewable only by people of your choosing.

And finally, check your profile regularly to see what comments have been posted. Use a search engine to look for online records of yourself to see what is out there about you. If you find information you feel could be detrimental to your candidacy or career, see about getting it removed - and make sure you have an answer ready to counter or explain "digital dirt."

Earlier this week, the Head of Content at UK digital consultancy Cimex warned that blogging, in particular, represents a "weapon of mass destruction" that could jeopardise the future of thousands of young career hopefuls.

"There is very little guarantee that a blogger can properly delete his (or her) adolescent ramblings later on in life," warned Dan Williamson in a letter to the Financial Times newspaper.

"Content may continue to haunt a jobseeker, thanks to cached pages on search engines and the blogging community's tendency to borrow content from other sites and republish it as their own," he wrote.

"The ability to publish and distribute one's own thoughts and ramblings to millions around the world with minimal effort or cost is clearly an attractive premise, but more must be done to educate young web users about the potential dangers."

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