Last week I covered the issue of Facebook privacy in my article Facebook Privacy? What’s that?  While Facebook raises many privacy Online Reputationissues, your online footprint as a job seeker extends far beyond your Facebook profile. Even if you have avoided Facebook altogether, chances are you have not completely avoided the internet; and this means that you have an online reputation that can be explored—and exploited—by potential employers.

The Harvard Business Review published an article on April 3, 2012 by Michael Fertik entitled, “Your Future Employer is Watching You Online. You Should be Too.”  Before I read this article, I had not fully considered all the different ways employers might be researching candidates. I had seen statistics, which  Fertik also shares, that more than 75% of employers actively research candidates online (note this was a December 2009 statistic from Microsoft and is probably higher now), and that more than 70% of employers have decided not to hire a candidate based on what they have found online. I assumed that recruiters were looking at major social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn; but according to this HBS article, recruiters dig much more deeply, looking through “shopping profiles, online gaming sites, classifieds and auction sites (think eBay and craigslist) – and even in virtual worlds like SecondLife!”

You are always a shopper – and you are always the shopped

Are you as amazed as I am at the extent of targeted advertising on the web? I get Facebook ads put in front of me for services relating to yoga, healthy diet and personal growth, probably because of the yoga videos, green drinks and books I search for and/or purchase on Amazon. Google has made it spookily easy for advertisers to discover my personal preferences. Clearly, if advertisers can do it, employers can too. There is basically nothing to stop employers from profiling their ideal candidate based on qualities like political inclinations, preferred leisure activities, diet, languages, etc. Of course job history and skills are still the primary considerations, but to narrow down the field, screening for other traits seems a natural extension of what advertisers do every day.

Employers can search for you almost like they would for a pair of shoes. What Fertik drives home is that in today’s world, you are really always a job seeker whether you want to be or not. You *are* being researched. Whether you are found is another story. But if you are, you’ll want to look good when the right company finds you.

Steps to take

In addition to shopping only for items that do not cast doubt on your character, and of course ensuring that your Facebook and LinkedIn profile are professionally presented, there are additional steps you can take to manage your online reputation. Here are three important ones mentioned by Fertik:

  1. Check your own Google results. The first five results should make you look good. If they don’t, it’s time for an overhaul of your online reputation. Maybe it’s even time to create a website with the URL or as close as you can get. Does an unsavory character share your first and last name? In that case, address it up front with employers whenever possible so they know to look beyond those initial results.
  2. Establish yourself as a skilled professional online. Participate in reputable forums, LinkedIn groups, and anywhere else where you can establish thought leadership online.
  3. Don’t assume anything is private. There is always a chance that emails, e-photos, etc. will somehow be discovered or appropriated by a spammer. Privacy settings do not protect you the way you might like.

Have you Googled yourself lately? What did you find? Are you active in online forums? Do you think you would be chosen by an employer for the job you want? Please share your thoughts below.

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