Online Rants, Raves and Resumes: The Digital Dirt You Leave Behind
Every few months I’m asked to speak at a university regarding job placements for soon-to-be graduates. My opening question remains the same: “How many of you have a MySpace, FaceBook or Friendster profile?” And as more than half the students begins to raise their hands, I say, “my question is rhetorical, I really don’t want to know!”
I tell them that, if they, like many of today’s well-educated Gen Y’ers, have an online social profile, personal digital page or blog, they need to start analyzing the digital dirt they’re leaving behind.
Digital dirt is the information about you that is available on the Internet. Digital dirt can be a posting to someone else’s Web site, information about your likes and dislikes, your hobbies, photos, profile, rants, raves, resumes, and the list goes on. And the trail of information that you leave is usually in plain view for others to see, including prospective employers and future clients. When was the last time you typed your own name in Google?
Dishing dirt can create a dilemma . . . .
It is becoming more and more common for employers and recruiters to look to these sites to qualify job prospects before being called into an interview.
I served on a panel recently were we met with more than fifty graduating seniors from a Philadelphia-area university. When I brought this very subject up, one of my male colleagues said that he researched a prospective employee before conducting an interview and found some indecent spring break photos of her posted on an online profile. Because the interview was already scheduled, he asked a different colleague to conduct the interview because he felt uncomfortable addressing the young lady after seeing her undressed online. Needless to say, she didn’t get the job.
In fact, a higher education institution that I know of dedicates a portion of their Assistant Director of Marketing and Communications’ time to surfing enrolled student’s online profiles on sites like MySpace and FaceBook. The assistant director has found disturbing photos, blogs and other information that has lead to the expulsion of several students.
Another human resource employer told me that she compares resumes submitted to her company with those posted in online forums such as monster.com, jobs.com and careerbuilder.com. She looks for inconsistencies so she can be sure the interviewee is on the up and up.
A 2006 Wall Street Journal article by Jared Flesher states, “According to a 2005 survey of 102 executive recruiters by ExecuNet, an executive job-search and networking organization, 75% of recruiters use search engines to uncover information about candidates, and 26% of recruiters have eliminated candidates because of information found online.” Just think: this number has likely increased since the survey was conducted.
But I’m already employed . . .
The problem with digital dirt doesn’t only apply to those seeking employment. It also applies to those who are already employed. Human resource directors and supervisors are watching what you’re doing online as a way to monitor business productivity. According to a recent Gallup poll, the average employee spends more than 75 minutes per day using office computers for non-business related activities.
According to Neen James, an international productivity expert, “Employees waste valuable company time with inappropriate Web behavior including social networking, sending and receiving personal email, instant messaging, and personal blogs.” These activities cost American companies billions of dollars per year. “But those who embrace business productivity are really cracking down.”
And those who embrace productivity are watching their employees’ moves. Some employers are just blocking the ability to access certain social and consumer sites. Others monitor usage and reprimand employees when the behavior is inappropriate. Even others will shadow employee computer usage and watch everything they type, email, access and instant message.
A relative of mine manages more than fifty people in an International company. He told me that one of his employees has been cautioned several times for inappropriate online activities – including the use of MySpace. He then proceeded to do some digging and found rants and raves about their company and its management using the “F” word and other foul language – all of which were posted during normal business hours. As I write this article, the employee’s employment future looks grim.
Five steps to creating clean dirt . . . .
I’ve always been intrigued when I pass work sites with signs that say “wanted – clean dirt.” What an oxymoron. Right? So think about it, how do you get clean digital dirt? It’s not as easy as one may think!
Step one: Narcisurf. Search for your name on the Internet to find your "digital dirt." Search yourself every way possible. Go to Google, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Dogpile, and every other search engine imaginable. Type your name in quotes and see what comes up. Then, type in your phone number, your online aliases, your first initial and last name, your full name with your middle initial, etc.
Step two: Clean your profiles. Go to every site on which you have a profile that you can control and clean it up. Make sure that everything on that profile is 100% accurate. Then make sure that if you have posted something, you would forward it to your grandmother or future employer to read or see.
Step three: Ask to be removed. If you have a posting on a site that you cannot control, contact that site’s webmaster and ask that your post be removed. If you can’t get through or if the answer is “no,” make sure you are able to address any question that may arise in an interview or by your employer regarding the matter.
Step four: Fill in with clean dirt. Sometimes, the irremovable dirt can be covered up a bit with clean dirt. Crowd your Internet profile search with positive information about you or your studies. For example, create a blog based on an academic subject, business area of expertise or hobby for which you have an interest. Keep it neutral.
Step five: Monitor yourself. Set up a Google Alert with your name included. Be sure you know what’s being said by and about you.
It’s important to remember that every nugget of information that you post on the Internet or that someone posts about you can last for many years to come. I recently searched archive.org for my company and found archived postings from 2002. The information is there for any current or future client to see. The good thing is that I have nothing to hide. Do you?
About the author: Owner of Furia Rubel Communications, Inc. (www.furiarubel.com), a public relations agency in Doylestown, Pa., Gina Rubel is a strategic public relations expert, attorney publicist and client advocate. With more than 15 years experience, her legal, nonprofit, healthcare and education clients have received everything from national prime time television placements to cover stories and features in consumer and trade magazines. Gina teaches public relations programs to corporations and universities throughout the U.S. and is regularly published.