The Internet Is Forever: Mind Your Online Image!

Facebook is a fantastic tool for checking in with family and reconnecting with friends, and for letting everyone know what you’re up to. Why wouldn’t you want to join the online party?

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We’re not here to tell you to avoid Facebook – but we’d like to remind you that potential employers (unless they’ve been frozen in the Arctic ice for the past decade) have heard of Facebook, too.

Do prospective employers really Google candidates before hiring? Absolutely. If you were an employer, wouldn’t you want to find out all you could about a candidate before welcoming him or her into your workplace?

If your Facebook profile is accessible, you should assume potential employers will access it, and that they will draw conclusions — rightly or wrongly — about the content they see there.

What kind of content might concern a potential employer? Some of the first things that come to mind are the obvious: racy photos, and photos and posts that suggest substance abuse. Were you tagged passed out drunk in a flowerbed in a french maid costume last Hallowe’en? Hopefully you had the sense to untag yourself, and then to ask that the photo be removed from the site. But even if you do, can you be certain no-one will post another objectionable photo of you tomorrow? Or in the next hour?

Not all “red-flag” content is quite so blatant. Some items that seem innocent to you might be viewed in a different light by your employer. For example, if you are devoutly religious, posts about religious topics might alarm an employer. Why? Because the potential employer might assume you might be intolerant of people from other religions, or people who are non-religious. This may, of course, be completely unfair: you may be very sensitive to religious diversity. But if a potential employer has a stack of 100 resumes to assess, he or she may make snap judgments based on social media disclosure (too-much-information(TMI)).

The solution: think carefully about what you post, and take advantage of the privacy-protection settings available to restrict access to your profile. Because these settings change frequently, be sure to do a privacy check-up every few months to ensure you’re not disclosing more than you would like.

Facebook is not the only place on the Internet, of course, where you can commit a TMI offence. Another prime danger zone is the “Comments” feature below many online articles and blogs. Have some strong opinions? Think carefully before you post, especially if your name or email address will be attached to your comment! Your outrage at the blogger’s point of view may be fleeting, but the internet is forever.

Finally, you can land yourself in reputation trouble by talking about OTHER people, too. Have something negative to say about somebody? That doesn’t mean you have the right to say it publicly. Negative (even innocent “mocking”) online commentary about others can be defamation — something that could land you in legal hot water. Even neutral comments can be dangerous, because they can amount to a breach of confidential information about the other person. If a potential employer sees you commenting about others in a way that seems inappropriate, you can bet that you won’t be hired. Trust and good judgement are very important.

In a future issue of this newsletter, we’ll talk about why you need to be careful in your online activities even AFTER you get the job…in the meantime, protect your online image!

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