Monday, March 03, 2008

Social Media and the Rising Workforce: What Does the Web Say About You?

I have to admit it – I’m glad I made it out of school and into the working world before the likes of MySpace, Facebook and YouTube took over the Web. Back in the “old days” getting hired depended on a well-crafted resume, good references and a great interview. Other than what your references said and some intuition on the part of the interviewer, you had ultimate control over your image and the impression that you made. It goes without saying that putting together a great resume, gathering solid references and nailing the interview are still important, but they’re not the only things to consider anymore.

Today, with the glut of personal information that is available online, it is too easy (and too tempting) for a potential employer to learn oh-so-much-more about you than a piece of paper and an interview would ever reveal. A quick search on your name might bring up a MySpace page with a picture of you doing a keg stand at a college party. Or, for those of you who graduated college long before social media (dare I say, long before the Internet, even!) perhaps you’ve posted an unflattering rant on a political site or a scathing review on a consumer site. The fact of the matter is that, yes, we’ve all had fun and done stupid things in our youth, or flown off the handle in the heat of the moment, but never before has it been so easy to publicize it to the masses. And once something’s out there on the Web, it can be close to impossible to get rid of it.

While I’d like to think that most employers, remembering their own escapades, wouldn’t hold it against you, you can’t bet on it. That’s why I encourage any job seeker to check out their online presence in addition to prepping their resume and brushing up on interview skills. Do some ego-surfing by searching for variations of your name on Google to see what turns up or set Google Alerts for your name. While some things can’t be removed, some can be fixed. For example, keep your personal profiles private (accessible by friends only), and instead, create publicly viewable professional profiles on networking sites like LinkedIn, ZoomInfo and Naymz.

I’ve been focusing on how social media can negatively impact the hiring process, but let’s not forget about how it can help you land a job. You can show your smarts and your interest in your particular industry by taking the time to comment on relevant blogs, creating your own blog, joining a Facebook Group, or contributing to a Wiki entry about your specialty. As mentioned above, creating professional profiles on key networking sites will also help expand your positive presence and spread the word about your expertise and your job seeking status. These are all great ways to show that you are engaged and passionate about what you do and may help you stand out from the crowd. They may also help to push down any “less than favorable” listings that show up for your name.

The beauty of Web 2.0 is that everyone has a say. Just think twice about what you choose to say, as it can make or break your chances when it comes time to get a job.

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