Managing Your Online Reputation

by Anya Jennings on September 9, 2009

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Or, Personal Reputation Management for IT Professionals Part 2. You can see my original post here. A lot of people have asked me offline about what they can do “fix” some of the potentially negative information online that may be tied to their name. Here’s a bit more info and some tips on what you can do to improve your image online.

Another look back

Fifteen years ago, the web was more or less anonymous. The dangers of revealing personal data were screamed from every rooftop and you knew, just knew, that if you posted the town where you live, a serial killer would knock on your door 10 minutes later and start shipping body parts to your folks in Ohio. But things have changed.

modis-imageInternet crimes certainly do exist, but there are way too many things to be scared of, and internet fear has taken a back seat to the swine flu or health care death panels, or whatever the panic du jour is at the moment.

While it’s probably a good thing to be free of unreasonable panic, there is a hidden, and very real, danger to displaying personal information online. People are using it to judge you. Internet background checks are becoming more common and more persuasive every day. Harvard performs an internet check on perspective applicants, and if there are drunken pictures on your Facebook page, guess what? You aren’t going to Harvard. They probably won’t even tell you why, so you’ll never know that you ratted yourself out.

The competition for jobs is fierce, so if it comes down to equal qualifications and one candidate’s profile outshines the other, guess who gets the job?

Bob and Tim go job hunting

Let’s say Bob and Tim are applying for the same job. They have the same level of education and experience, but before the HR director makes a decision, she consults with her new best friend, Google. She doesn’t have to use any fancy tools- she just types in the names and waits about a sixteenth of a second for Bob and Tim to show their true colors.

She finds that Bob makes thoughtful, intelligent postings on tech boards, has recently proposed to Beth, his girlfriend of four years, and blogs about new technology and software projects he is working on in his spare time. He’s tweeted out pictures of himself and Beth on their latest rock-climbing expedition, of a professional seminar he attended recently, and of his best friend James accepting an award for professional excellence.

Tim’s blog details the frustrations of his job search. He describes how the last time he went to an interview, the receptionist was clueless and the interview was a joke. It was clear to Tim that the hiring manager knew nothing about IT or about hiring IT people, and was such a moron that he should be consigned to emptying wastebaskets and not determining the fate of IT staff. Tim’s recent tweets are about last night’s hangover, sleeping until noon, and the pop-tarts he had for breakfast. The pictures on his MySpace account include a close-up of a girl’s butt with a description that was overtly sexual in nature.

Bob is clearly a stable, well-rounded, mature man, a shoo-in for a responsible job. Tim, at the same age, is an arrogant train wreck with the emotional maturity of a teenager. Bob’s online reputation may well be a carefully constructed shell…but let’s be honest, at least he is smart enough to hide his warts.

What if it’s already out there -and how to fix it

The lesson is that everything you put out there can be archived and recalled, and there’s little you can do about it. But there are ways to make things you don’t want potential employers to see less visible. This is called reputation management.

  • Scrub the web. Find every instance of your real name on every account that has questionable content and change it to a username unconnected to your identity. Remove pictures that show your face, so they can’t be sure it’s you even if they do find it.
  • Remove cross-linking between personal and professional accounts.
  • Make accounts in your real name and fill them with things that would be of interest to employers. It’s perfectly ok to show a sense of humor, and you don’t have to be boring, but make sure you show them the qualities you want them to see. Thoughtfulness, problem solving ability, forward thinking, interest in you field, maturity, etc.
  • Join professional networking organizations and industry related forums. Be helpful and informative when answering questions.
  • Write articles, blog posts, and tweets about your love of all things IT. Link to the latest industry news and form opinions.

You cannot beat web archiving, but you can flood the web with positive information that will serve to bury the negative. Few hiring managers have the time or the obsession to go beyond the first page of search results, so make that first page work for you. Managing your online reputation is becoming increasingly important for everyone, but especially for job seekers. The best you can do is to make sure the good heavily outweighs the bad.

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