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November 4, 2011
Sticks and Stones CAN Break Your Career Bones
We all love Facebook and the many other social networks out there, but based on information I learned from a recent career industry conference, it is important to know how these outlets are actually transforming and re-shaping how employers perceive prospective employees.

Think you don’t need to worry about it? Think again.

Believe it or not, not even having a presence online now is a bad thing… silence speaks louder than words. If you aren’t online, this screams to employers that you are technologically behind the times. And employers are seeking out cutting-edge subject matter experts who stand out in their field. So if you haven’t jumped in and gotten a LinkedIn profile, you’d better.


Latest statistics show that four out of five employers are now conducting online searches on applicants to see what they can find. If you aren’t on there, you are sending a loud and clear message: You are off the merry-go-round. Game over!

Conversely, on the flip side, there are also others who have absolutely embraced social media to the point that they “over share” — we all know who these people are.

They are the ones that frequently post… and from an employer’s perspective, this looks like the individual is spending too much time socializing online and not enough time actually WORKING.

Other folks reveal every single facet of their lives, including things that might scare a prospective employer away, like: “Just had surgery to remove tumor in left foot. Feeling good.” Unfortunately, statements like that can reveal things about you that can make employers nervous and are the very questions they could never ask of you, but when you VOLUNTEER information like that and it is publicly accessible, you’d better believe that this information can factor into an employer’s decision to hire you…or not.

Don’t think that privacy settings can mask your online persona. Many times, there are ways around that and software programs that can make it simple and easy to bypass settings.  Some even send handy little digests into employer inboxes that summarize all of your activity online. Pretty scary, huh?
But what happens if something gets online that is potentially a liability? How can you deal with it?

Here are five tips to follow to build a positive online reputation and deflect any harmful data that could torpedo your career:

1. Do an audit on yourself.  Using a simple Google Search or other online social media measurement tools is a good way to gauge your overall presence and can help uncover what people are saying about you or any damaging information that has come to light. You need to know where you stand before you start taking action.

2. Get out there. Get on the major social media sites and start cultivating a presence. They can’t find you if you aren’t on there…so DON’T be MIA…that can hurt you almost as much as having negative information online!

3. Build a positive presence. What you say and how you say it impacts people’s perception of you. Your goal: become a subject matter expert in your industry through blogs, posts, and tweets. You can add personality, but don’t get so personal that you lose sight of your goal: a distinct career presence online.

4. Deal with negatives directly. Ask a negative poster to please take information down. If they won’t (likely answer), then your task is to bury it with as much positive data as possible; write articles for organizations that get published online and build your positive content so eventually you can push the negative stuff down to second- and even third-page search results. Be aware that there are bad people out there that might share your own name, and if you know that in advance, you can proactively address it in an interview.

5. Cultivate your brand. What is it that you want to be known for? A generous expert helping others? Think about ways that you can make that known in all of your channels… i.e. “John Doe recently donated time at the shelter providing marketing support services” could be a powerful statement about your character.

Everything you do online is now very transparent, and human resource staff/hiring managers are doing everything they can to make sure that they are making the right decision in hiring you by thoroughly researching prospective employees.

Remember, what you do in Vegas stays in Vegas, but what you post about Vegas on Facebook stays online forever.

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Dawn Rasmussen, CMP, is the president of Portland, Ore.-based Pathfinder Writing and Careers, which specializes in mid- to upper-management résumés. She is an active volunteer in her community and donates her time teaching a résumé writing class at the Oregon Employment Department every week to help empower unemployed professionals and workers.
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