Is Your Digital Footprint Clean?

If you’re like most IT professionals, the Internet has become one of your primary sources for job leads and information about prospective employers. But as you search the online world for employment, keep in mind that hiring managers also may be using the Web to gather information about you. In fact, a growing number of employers are searching the Internet for details about potential hires.

As a result, it’s important to monitor and maintain your professional reputation online. The current economic environment has made hiring managers increasingly cautious, and any information that raises a red flag can take candidates out of consideration for a job.

Conduct your own search. Your first step should be to determine what information about you exists online. Even if you don’t have a personal Web site, you might be surprised by what you find. That’s because message-board comments, blog postings and social networking profiles can come up in a search. The easiest way to see what you are up against is simply to type your name into several popular search engines. If you have a common name, refine your search by adding your middle initial, hometown, alma mater or former employer, or try putting your name in quotation marks.

Take corrective action. If you discover an item that you wouldn’t want hiring managers to see — such as a harsh critique of a past boss posted to an online bulletin board — ask the person who posted the information or the Web site administrator to remove it. Some firms, such as ReputationDefender, actually specialize in helping professionals remove information about themselves from the Web.

Keep in mind that you may not be able to remove every piece of information you find. If damaging references appear to be permanent, be ready to discuss the information during any job interviews you go on. A hiring manager may not ask you about the incident, but it never hurts to be prepared.

Strengthen your reputation. Regardless of what you find online, it’s a good idea to stack the deck in your favor. A polished and professional Web site that features your resume, describes your professional accomplishments or includes links to articles you’ve written for industry publications could help you build a stronger reputation. You also may consider creating an account with business information Web sites such as ZoomInfo to enhance your credibility.

Move forward wisely. Be careful about how you interact with others online to avoid damaging your reputation. For example, be selective about which venues you participate in. If you regularly contribute to blogs or message boards, consider how your statements might be interpreted by others. You may even consider remaining anonymous or using a pseudonym for some posts.

Evaluate your Web site. If you maintain a personal Web site or blog, review the content you’ve posted. For example, would you want a prospective employer to see photos from your Super Bowl party or read about your political views? Remember that every piece of information you post can affect your reputation, so you may want to delete certain entries or change the privacy settings to limit access to your site.

Network wisely. Online networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook have grown in popularity in recent years, and chances are you belong to at least one. When interacting with other professionals through these forums, remember to be on your best behavior. You never know who you will be able to help you in your job search. Displaying the proper etiquette means following posted protocols, thanking people who help you and offering your assistance to those in need.

Also be selective about whom you invite into your network. If you make your contact list public, potential employers may reach out to these people for information about you. Guilt by association can be a factor if you’re linked to people with poor professional reputations.

Keep tabs on the conversation. Set up alerts using Google, BlogPulse, Technorati or other tracking services to help you track online conversations about you or Web sites you manage.

Finally, be prudent about your online activity even when you’re not looking for work. The business world is more transparent than ever, and that means you need to be aware that what you say and do online can have both positive and negative consequences.

For additional tips on conducting an online job search, download a free copy of “Search Smarts: Best Practices for Conducting an Online Job Search” at www.rhi.com/onlinejobsearch

Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. He can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

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