Create Your Digital Identity

by Johnson, Tory Thursday, September 08, 2011
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Step 1: Clean Up Your Digital Dirt!

Do you or your kids have digital dirt? Digital dirt is the information about you – your hobbies, your photos, your rants and raves – that’s available on the Internet through personal Web sites, profiles on popular social networking sites, and comments on blogs. What you – and certainly your teenagers – might not realize is that employers are reading what’s out there and in many cases it can derail your job prospects even before you’re called for an interview.

This all started with Google. The popular search engine enabled all of us to become “private eyes” who can look up anyone and anything on the Internet with the simple click of a mouse. This is a great tool for jobseekers. They can Google an interviewer to learn something about that person in hopes of using it to establish a rapport in the hiring process.

But there’s a flip side: those same employers are checking out prospective hires. With basic online searches, they’re finding risqué photos posted on personal websites and social networks, for instance. They’re reading brags about excessive drinking and promiscuity. And there’s plenty more.

Pay attention, parents.

With the high costs of recruiting, training and retaining top talent – from entry level to senior executives – employers must be cautious about who they’re hiring. As a recruiter, if I’m considering two college seniors for the same position and I come across an online profile for one of them that brags about rowdy parties and drunken escapades, I might think twice about that person – and I will likely lean more toward the candidate who has a clean online profile – or none at all.

Clean up online profiles.

Why would anyone want the contents of a silly social site to be held against them in the job search process? The safest, smartest option is to clean up online profiles. Instead of ordering your teens to remove their profiles, which won’t likely go over too well with them, you can encourage them to have fun expressing themselves – within reason. Nobody has to lose all of their personality and creativity, but you should suggest that they remove questionable material so they don’t jeopardize potential employment opportunities.

Several college career service offices have begun aggressively warning students that their online stuff is being monitored by recruiters. In a competitive job market, students need all of the ammunition they can get. And a head’s up on this growing trend has enabled many students to clean up their profiles

(Incidentally, many college admissions offices are now reviewing online profiles of high school seniors when determining their eligibility for admittance. Ask your son or daughter if he or she would want to miss out on the college of their dreams because they’re boasting about skipping class and underage drinking.)

Prepare a response.

Some teens and twenty-somethings are hesitant to sanitize their online profiles. Many I spoke with say, “No employer owns me 24/7 – I’m entitled to have a social life. Just because I like to party, doesn’t mean I’m a lousy worker.” For those people who refuse to budge on the racy photos or salacious contents of their profiles, my best advice is to prepare to address profile contents if asked.

An interviewer might say, “So I saw your MySpace profile and you certainly like to have fun, don’t you?” Instead of saying, “Hey – that’s none of your beeswax,” you’ll want to take a less defensive approach. “Yes, I enjoy being with my friends. I’m also a great student and I’ve worked very hard to maintain a strong grade point average. I believe that it’s ok to relax and have fun too. That’s never affected my performance on the job, nor will it.”

But again, keep in mind that you might not have the chance to defend yourself because someone might nix you from the running without even asking you to explain the online profile.

Implement safety controls.

Many of the popular social networking sites allow users to post comments about fellow members. This means that friends and strangers can comment on you, your photos and other content. To avoid having such comments work against you – especially if they’re off color – activate the features that block such comments. You can also manually delete anything you find objectionable.

A senior executive at a top company shared with me a recent example of how such comments spiraled out of control for one new employee. She had photos of herself in a bikini during spring break posted on her online profile. What she didn’t realize-because she didn’t check her profile frequently was that visitors to her Web page had posted the equivalent of lewd cat-calls. That proved to be embarrassing to this young woman among her new co-workers. She could have prevented this by implementing comment blocks or by frequenting her profile and deleting such comments.

Not limited to the college crowd. All of us – regardless of age or position – are subject to online searches by current and prospective employers. Many companies have ruled out candidates – and even rescinded offers – because of what they found online. Digital dirt includes: misstated academic qualifications, radical political views, objectionable jokes posted on personal web pages, and even negative comments about former employers submitted to blogs.

“Narcisurf” today.

Do some “narcisurfing!” It’s a term that’s cropping up relating to Internet searches that we conduct about ourselves. Not only can you Google yourself, but you should go to dogpile.com too since it retrieves information from multiple search engines and gives different results than Google or Yahoo will.

If you have an online profile on any of the social networks, carefully review its contents to see if there’s anything that would make an employer wince. If there’s information on your personal webpage that you wouldn’t want your current or future boss to see, then change it. If the objectionable information about you is on another site, you can contact the webmaster about having it changed or removed. And if that’s not possible, you’ll have to be ready to explain it if asked.

Step 2: Create a Professional Online Identity

If you’re an employee or entrepreneur looking for a job, a promotion, new clients or better business opportunities, there are several smart ways to create and enhance your digital identity. Take a few minutes to use technology to your advantage in the workplace.

Set up electronic profiles

Everyone should Google their name to see what comes up…hopefully good stuff. But many people find that nothing came up when they searched for themselves. In this Internet age, it’s smart to have an online presence and there are easy – and safe – ways to do it.

One of the best sites is LinkedIn with more than 16 million users in the U.S. You can create a free professional profile where you control the content. Then your name and a link to your profile are indexed on the search engines like Google, Yahoo and others. So when someone Googles your name, this profile will appear in the search results. This is an ideal way to showcase your skills and expertise. Recruiters are now using professional networking sites like LinkedIn to look for new talent. And because it’s known as a professional networking tool – unlike online job boards – you don’t have to worry that your boss will assume you’re job searching if or when they find your profile there.

Three tips for maximizing your success with LinkedIn:

1. Select “Full View” of your “Public Profile”

By selecting “Full View,” you will enable more information to be shown from your profile even when a Web user is not logged in to LinkedIn. The more content you display, the more likely your profile will show up in the search results on sites like Google or Yahoo. This is a great way to control what people can learn about you if they Google you. (Don’t worry: personal data, such as your contact information, is never made public by LinkedIn.)

2. Claim a “Vanity URL” using your name

When you create a free profile on LinkedIn, you can opt for a customized uniform resource locator (URL) using your full name instead of using the default URL assigned to you. For example, Tory Johnson’s LinkedIn public profile URL is www.linkedin.com/in/toryjohnson .

3. Invite friends and/or desired professional contacts to link to you

The power of LinkedIn rests with the ability to use your connections to connect with other people. Think of the business world as having “six degrees of separation.” In other words, the people you really want to reach are just six steps away. When you invite people to be one of your LinkedIn connections, you then have access to their connections and so on. This helps people find you, and of course it helps you find someone at the company of your choice or in your field of interest.

Other resources You can also create a free profile at ZoomInfo.com , as well as look for people and companies of interest to you. Professional women and entrepreneurs can create free profiles on the Women For Hire Network at network.womenforhire.com . This is a source used by employers to find new hires and for women to help other members to make introductions to the business associates and decision makers they’re trying to reach.

Definitely get your professional profile on networking sites like Twitter.com and Facebook.com. Twitter allows you to keep your network of contacts updated on what you’re doing right now. Facebook helps you connect and share specifics about yourself with the people in your life. Used professionally, these tools keep track of your skill development and career advancement as they occur. Remember to keep your profile clean and respectable, and only link to friends and family who do the same.

Subscribe to Google alerts

Since being an expert in your chosen industry is important for anyone who wants to advance, it takes only a minute or two to set up Google Alerts . You can indicate the desired key words – perhaps specific companies you’re interested in working for or an industry or particular trend you want to keep abreast of – and Google will send you links to news articles and relevant items as they’re posted throughout the Internet.

You can choose to receive them as they happen or once a day. It’s fast and free – and it’s a fabulous way to stay up to the minute on news as it happens in your field. And then you’ll showcase that new found knowledge to your peers or managers.

For example, if you’re eager to know everything that’s happening on Good Morning America, you’ll want to set up an alert about the program. You could also sign up for alerts about ABC News so you’re up on what’s happening within the whole news division. Google alerts will send that information right to your Inbox.

Create a blog

Creating a blog sounds intimidating because we think it requires extensive technical expertise or a commitment to typing away all day, every day. Neither of these impressions are true. Blogging is a fresh way to get noticed – and to put the knowledge gained through those Google alerts to good use.

Technology companies have been scouring blogs to find new talent for a while, but now recruiters in other industries – retail, hospitality, sales, marketing, advertising and so many more – are checking out blogs to find talented people who are passionate about their skills and knowledge.

Among the popular sites to set up your own blog include Blogger.com, Vox.com, WordPress.com and LiveJournal.com . (Check each site before settling on one so you’re comfortable with the format and requirements.) Follow the easy-to-use instructions on how to create a blog on the topic of your professional expertise and then decide on your content. You can offer your opinion and expertise on current hot button issues in your field or you could go the opposite route and use the blog to dissect obscure aspects of your field. Link to articles and other blogs of interest, and then ask those bloggers and writers to link back to your stuff too.

Your resume is the document that states what you claim to know, and a blog is an in-depth forum showcasing or proving what you know.

Just like company websites have an “About Us” section, you should create an “About Me” section, including details on your education, work experience and skills and interests.

Be sure to use “public” not “private” forums so your content is searchable and accessible by everyone, not just those you designate. This enables recruiters and hiring managers to find you.

Submit your blog at no charge on Technorati.com , which is a search engine of thousands of blogs searchable by category. Be proactive about promoting your blog by sending links to your musings and work to people in your field who would likely be interested.

Above all, pay particular attention to your writing skills. Even if your thoughts are great but the spelling and grammar leave a lot to be desired, you’re not delivering the right impression.

Post expert opinions

Get your name and your knowledge out there by posting reviews to books on Amazon.com or other similar sites related to your expertise. You can also post comments on industry blogs and message boards that showcase your knowledge. All of this content becomes accessible by other people who are interested in the same topics. And they’re becoming a primary source for recruiters.