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8 Ways to Ruin Your Online Reputation

Your Online Reputation, Your Self


Imagine being that lucky job applicant who gets the job only to have it snatched away by the seemingly harmless act of posting a message online. Online Reputation Management expert Andy Beal recalled a story that happened to a hapless California student whose boastful Twitter update about receiving a job at the tech giant Cisco led to a prompt retraction of the employment offer.

Think of the Internet as a public space and your online persona as being subject to judgment as you would by simply walking down the street. With basic information like a full name or email address, employers can find a wealth of information about you on the Web that can be a blessing or a curse for your career prospects depending on how well you manage it.

MainStreet lined up the most common mistakes that job-hunters should be aware of so they can make sure their virtual persona doesn’t sabotage their real-life job prospects.

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What Employers Want


Search engines like Google and Yahoo and social media sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter make it so much easier than ever before for employers to vet potential candidates even before they walk through the door.

According to a 2010 Microsoft study, nearly 70% of employers have rejected candidates based on information they found about the job-seekers online.

“Businesses are looking for cyber-skeletons in your closet,” said Beal. “Most people don’t consider that their online presence is the same as your résumé or portfolio.”

Dave Hatter, head of a professional service and consulting firm, said that employers are looking for anything that makes them pause and question your character, honesty, commitment and judgment. Speaking particularly about social media websites, Hatter said, “You must assume that anything you share, no matter how briefly, could be captured and shared by someone else and that it could literally last forever.”

Anything that raises a red flag should be purged or addressed the first time you meet a recruiter: Criminal records, media coverage, unprofessional or inappropriate posts and photographs can all be a potential liability in your job hunt.

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Using Vulgar or Profane Language


Many hiring managers say that one red flag is vulgar or profane language you may use in blog posts or on your social media profiles. Whether the words are used by you or a friend, they have a strong bearing on your professionalism and shed the wrong light on your communication skills.

“Employers want to see [job-seekers] exercise good judgment and appropriateness on the job,” said Shannon Wilkinson, president of an online reputation management service. “They want people who will act appropriate on the job and off the job if you still represent the company.”

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Ranting about Employers


Even if you don’t use a person’s or company’s exact name, what you post online about employers can still have repercussions for your current or future employment.

“If you want to be considered as a valuable employee in the future, [ranting about a former boss] will diminish your value as a prospective employee,” Wilkinson said. “If you do that once, the employer will assume that you will do it again.”

Daniel Wesley, a human resources manager, agrees. “Since you would essentially represent the company, your actions represent them, and should always be positive.”

As usual, the old adage applies: If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

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Using Unprofessional Email Addresses


Another irksome mistake hiring managers see is email addresses that are patently unprofessional. For instance, using an email address like “fuzzybunny21” or “goodtimegirl” can give employers the wrong idea about you. It shows that this is how you want to represent yourself.

“If you can't take the time to set up a professional email address, my first impression is that you might not be able to follow simple procedures or you really don't care about appearances,” Wesley said.

Beal advises that people take the time to create an email that is more professional, like your first and last name.

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Posting Scandalous Photos


“One of the worst mistakes that someone could make is including alcohol-related pictures on social networking sites.” Wesley said. “If you are a professional, this shows your poor judgment and lack of character.”

Wilkinson warned that photographs posted or tagged by friends without your permission can get indexed into search engines and “stay online forever.” They will also appear on simple Google searches, so make sure you are aware of where you are tagged.

Fundamentally, people should just be aware of their actions and the consequences of their actions, Beal says. “No one is going to post a picture of you getting drunk at a party, unless you go out and get drunk at a party.”

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Associating Yourself with Controversial People


It sounds harsh, but you may want to think twice if you’re part of an online group that has courted a lot of controversy, such as an extreme activist group or one that has negative press coverage.

Because no matter how cautious or well-behaved you may be online, Micheal Fertik, a privacy expert and CEO of Reputation.com, says, “you must remember that the actions of your network are also a reflection on your personal brand.”

Additionally, think about your friends on Facebook who are posting negative or unprofessional photos and comments on your profile as they may end up hurting your image by proxy.

“There's an associative picture that [employers] develop of you and then they make decisions about you based on those associations,” Fertik adds.

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Not Being Proactive


Beal says one of the worst mistakes you can make is to not Google yourself. He said that employers might see something that you may not want them to know or come up with something in the interview that you are not prepared for.

When an employer does a cursory search of your name and finds that another person with the same name is charged with a crime, this can sour first impressions. Hatter said that a potential client or employer can easily mistake him for his cousin who goes by the same name and was criminally charged in another state. He tells people beforehand that the person in question is not him.

“Unless you are proactive, you might not even know it’s out there,” Hatter said.

Wilkinson suggests setting up a Google Profile, LinkedIn profile or a personal webpage linked to your resume and highlighting other achievements, skills and work you’ve done. “Having this type of content online enables you to present yourself the way you want to be seen,” she said. Beal added that by providing this information up-front, you can keep employers from looking elsewhere that you may not like.

Wesley also recommended that people post a professional or decent picture of them and make sure that their posts are not filled with grammatical errors that may turn employers off.

“If you can’t withstand a superficial check of your online reputation, then make sure that you can. You don’t have to put out every fire, but make sure there’s not a lot of smoke because when there’s smoke, even a small fire can happen,” Beal said. “Don’t give employers a reason to dig deeper.”

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When You Can’t Erase the Past


Whether you have a criminal record or get vindicated, this topic can still come up in an interview. Although some say that any press is good press, job-seekers who have their names in the media should be aware that they cannot erase their past or prevent unwanted coverage from floating around in the virtual public space.

Beal advises that you be prepared to discuss any unavoidable red flags in your past in your interview and clear your name or present information that puts you in a better light.

“If you can’t get rid of it, you can work to post more positive content to get the negative information to be pushed down in search results pages,” Hatter said. “You might be able to make negative information harder to find.”

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