You’re a high school student, or a college senior, or maybe you’re ready to re-incarnate yourself in a new career. You’re looking for a job. There are some very important things you’ll want to know about social networking. Some of them you will wish you knew before your first foray onto the Internet, but we can still try to minimize any damage done. The most important thing to remember is: “Once it’s on the Internet, it never really goes away.” Sounds scary, but stay with me.
Increasingly, companies will search for your presence on the Internet. Human resource managers are learning how to find every trace of you online. With this in mind, you need to know the big 2 ideas:
1. Never post a picture online you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see.
2. Never post comments online under your given name that you wouldn’t let your (potential) boss or your grandmother read.
The given name comment is a hint. On a social networking site like Facebook, or Twitter for example, you should have 2 accounts. One with your given name, used for networking, the other with a nickname of some type to be used for social connections, like your best friend, college roommate, or potential dating partners. Ask your friends not to tag you in pictures or videos with your given name.
Potential employers will see everything with your name on or in it. That includes the pictures taken at the kegger after graduation, the rant you posted about your idiot teacher/professor, or the profile where you claim to be the leading expert on disguising marijuana as a houseplant. None of these things will endear you to anyone, particularly the hiring manager.
Once you have your proper accounts set up, you need to work backwards and check yourself out. Do a search on whichever social networking site you use (consider asking your friends what sites they use in order to maximize your efforts). Use all versions of your name (first-last, first-middle-last, nicknames, and initials) in your search. If you are tagged in a photo or video that could prove embarrassing, you can untag yourself. You should also request the person owning the photo or video not tag you again. Most people will comply once you explain your reasoning. If you are mentioned by name in an online article, you can ask to have your name removed, or the article taken down.
If you have a problem with a website that displays unflattering information about you which the author refuses to delete there are options. First, contact the owner of the hosting service (whoever owns the server that displays the website). The name will usually be in the url (mediacom=mchsi.com, yahoo.com, etc.). Most companies don’t want the hastle of a potential lawsuit and will take down the site. If this doesn’t work, consider an attorney. Even a simple letter from a lawyer is enough to scare off most people.
Next you need to take on the rest of the Internet. Using the same versions of your name, do searches on the major search engines (google, yahoo, meta-crawler, bing, dogpile, altavista, and lycos). Follow the same procedure for any questionable material posted about you. Ask nicely first, then become agressive if you don’t achieve your goal. Your name is what you trade on. Don’t allow anyone to trash it.
Once you have taken care of these things, your last step is to create an email account that is appropriate. There are many sites that offer free email, google, yahoo, and msn are three of the biggest. These sites are best because you can keep them even if you move multiple times. Home internet services offer email accounts, but if you discontinue the service, you lose your email. That means going back to every contact and job search site to give new email information. Tedious at best. Also, consider choosing a name that represents your job interests, for example: firstname.lastname@example.org. This is good advertising for you.
The best protection is to avoid having to move backwards and try to undo what has been done. Search engines cache web pages (you can view a picture of a web page even if it no longer exists for a period of time) for an undetermined amount of time. It’s much easier to keep a clean presence online. Consider your actions. There are password protected sites for pictures and videos you wish to share. It is possible to have your own webpages password protected. Use these ideas, and be a step ahead of other people applying for your next job.