Some employers are searching the Internet to see if they can catch a glimpse of you beyond your sterling resume or fabulous interview performance. If the two pictures don't match, that internship or job you've been pursuing -- or are already in -- could potentially vanish. To wit:
A chemical engineering student at a university in the Northeast was eliminated from consideration for a job opening after a company recruiter Googled the student's name, discovering, among other things, that he liked to blow things up.
A student at a school in the Southeastern US was being courted by a small business owner for a key position -- that was until the owner saw the student's Facebook profile, which featured explicit photos and stories about the student's drinking and pot smoking.
A recent graduate of a small upper Midwest university was only a few weeks into her first postgraduation job when the boss called her into his office. He had discovered the young woman's personal blog, where she had been writing in detail about how miserable she was in her new position. She soon became a former employee.
If stories like these have a faraway, it-happened-to-my-sister's-best-friend's-cousin feel to them -- the kind of vibe that makes you skeptical -- you're not alone, according to Jill Wesley, a former Purdue University career counselor who recently became director of career services distance education at Indiana Business College.
"Although some employers are checking profiles, it takes a lot of time and is dull work," Wesley says. Moreover, "there are also some legal gray areas, and I don't think any employer wants to be the test case for them."
Still, Wesley stresses, it's critical for you to remember that with few exceptions, whatever you put on the Internet is public -- and very often available indefinitely. So you need to make sure your online presence is working for you, not against you. Here's how.
The Job Seeker Self-Audit
Wesley and former Purdue colleague Kimberly Shea created a "Personal Internet Presence Job Seeker Self-Audit." It's a handy checklist you can use to see how you might be perceived in your online pursuits. Among the steps it suggests you take:
Google Yourself: Use the popular search engine to look up your name. You may want to try a few other search engines too, like Yahoo! and AltaVista. Does anything potentially damaging turn up? If so, consider contacting any sites where you found the information and ask to have it removed.
Assess Your Social Networking Site Profiles: Have you posted stories or photographs on sites like Facebook and MySpace that could turn off a prospective employer? Have friends posted any potentially damaging information that could somehow be associated with you? Are you a member of any Facebook groups whose names and activities could be deemed suspect? When in doubt, take it out.
Do a Content Inventory of Your Personal Web Site or Blog: Have you written about -- thus sharing with the world -- any topics or experiences that might give a prospective or current employer pause?
When you're done, your overall online presence should pass the "would you be comfortable if your grandmother saw this?" test, says Wesley.
Grandma may never really look you up online, but an employer certainly might. What will he discover about you?
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