Does Your In­ter­net Rep­u­ta­tion Mat­ter to Em­ploy­ers?

The Washington Post Sunday - - AN ADVERTISIN­G SUPPLEMENT TO THE WASHINGTON POST - This spe­cial ad­ver­tis­ing sec­tion was pre­pared by in­de­pen­dent writer Leigh Goessl. The pro­duc­tion of this sec­tion did not in­volve the news or edi­to­rial staff of TheWash­ing­ton Post.

Over the past two decades the In­ter­net has grown to house an in­cred­i­ble amount of data. All you do is plug in a name, lo­ca­tion and other known de­tails into a search box and a wealth of in­for­ma­tion is placed right in front of you. The de­tails avail­able about peo­ple can be pretty stag­ger­ing.

This read­ily avail­able stream of in­for­ma­tion has cre­ated a sig­nif­i­cant blur in the line be­tween pub­lic and pri­vate. What peo­ple do with their per­sonal time is a lot more wide­spread than it was back in the pre-Web days. As a re­sult, there is a lot of clash­ing of “on­line” and “off­line” lives, re­sult­ing in an over­flow into some gray ar­eas. Add so­cial me­dia to the mix and this fur­ther mud­dies the vir­tual wa­ters.

Does your In­ter­net rep­u­ta­tion mat­ter to em­ploy­ers? In­di­ca­tors seem to say it does. Un­for­tu­nately, this of­ten leads to a dilemma for peo­ple seek­ing jobs. Many feel what they do on­line in their own pri­vate time is their busi­ness and present a good ar­gu­ment. How­ever, the re­al­ity is em­ploy­ers are ac­tively search­ing out job ap­pli­cants on Google and so­cial me­dia.

Sta­tis­tics back in 2006 in­di­cated a whop­ping 77 per­cent of em­ploy­ers used search en­gines to re­search can­di­dates. Fast-for­ward to 2010 and that num­ber edged up to 80 per­cent. To­day it’s a given em­ploy­ers are go­ing to search out em­ploy­ees on­line. Ad­di­tion­ally, a 2015 poll in­di­cates em­ploy­ers don’t just Google prospec­tive em­ploy­ees, 52 per­cent ac­tively dig around on so­cial me­dia to learn more about their ap­pli­cants.

That be­ing the case, it’s a good idea to keep reg­u­lar tabs on your In­ter­net rep­u­ta­tion. Here’s why:

Mis­taken iden­tity. Many peo­ple find, even if they have worked to cre­ate a stel­lar on­line pres­ence, some­one else with the same name might be sul­ly­ing their good rep­u­ta­tion. If this hap­pens to you and the lat­ter shows up first in Google search re­sults, the em­ployer may dis­miss your re­sume right off the bat as­sum­ing that per­son is you. Ex­perts of­ten sug­gest keep­ing a close watch on your name to en­sure noth­ing detri­men­tal shows up. In fact, on­line rep­u­ta­tions have be­come so im­por­tant, an en­tire in­dus­try has been born of this is­sue to “clean up” peo­ple’s In­ter­net pres­ence.

What you say on­line mat­ters...and what your friends say mat­ters too. Some sta­tis­tics sug­gest 56 per­cent of em­ploy­ers in the U.S. are in­flu­enced by “in­ap­pro­pri­ate com­ments and text” posted by the ap­pli­cant, 55 per­cent by “un­suit­able pho­tos, video and in­for­ma­tion” and 43 per­cent by “in­ap­pro­pri­ate” post­ings by friends and rel­a­tives. Other fac­tors, to a lesser de­gree, in­clude crit­i­cism of jobs or col­leagues, mem­ber­ships in on­line cir­cles, false in­for­ma­tion shared and poor com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills.

You never knows what may come back to haunt you some­day or what mis­in­for­ma­tion might be out in cy­ber-land. Pri­vacy set­tings help, but keep in mind, noth­ing is fool­proof—

glitches hap­pen. Al­ways be smart when post­ing on­line whether it be com­ments on news ar­ti­cles, Face­book, Twit­ter, blogs or any­where else. Even email is not as pri­vate as you’d think.

Em­ploy­ers worry their brands could be

at stake. In ad­di­tion to ac­tively search­ing out ap­pli­cants on­line, em­ploy­ers of­ten keep tabs on their cur­rent em­ploy­ees. They are con­cerned the im­age em­ploy­ees present could neg­a­tively im­pact their brands. Over the past sev­eral years there have been sev­eral in­ci­dents where peo­ple have been fired for on­line be­hav­ior. Some have been fired for so­cial me­dia post­ings, which in­clude: • Post­ing un­kind com­ments about

cus­tomers, bosses or col­leagues • Mak­ing racist and/or dis­crim­i­nat­ing posts • In­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iors at work that are

shared on so­cial me­dia • Shar­ing provoca­tive pho­tos (ei­ther

in­ten­tion­ally or ac­ci­den­tally) • Pho­tograph­ing re­ceipts with com­ments

left by cus­tomers and post­ing on­line This is­sue treads into murky wa­ters due to free speech rights, but in many cases, a fir­ing would be jus­ti­fied, es­pe­cially with at-will em­ploy­ment.

In­ter­net rep­u­ta­tions do mat­ter to em­ploy­ees and, al­though, some sug­gest this trend may phase out in time—that re­mains to be seen. Bot­tom line is peo­ple will think what they want to think, and it’s worth weigh­ing out the (usu­ally short-term) value of what is be­ing posted on­line vs. a long-term pro­fes­sional rep­u­ta­tion.

Should you con­nect with your boss on Face­book? On­line so­cial­iza­tion has un­der­gone a big trans­for­ma­tion over the past 10 years. Back in the old days peo­ple didn’t re­ally have to worry about what they did on­line since most used anony­mous and vague chat names. To­day so­cial net­works, such as Face­book, re­quire real iden­ti­ties to be shared on pro­files. This has been a real game-56 per­cent of em­ploy­ers in the U.S. are in­flu­enced by “in­ap­pro­pri­ate com­ments

and text” posted by the ap­pli­cant, 55 per­cent by “un­suit­able pho­tos, video and in­for­ma­tion” and 43 per­cent by “in­ap­pro­pri­ate” post­ings by friends and rel­a­tives. Other fac­tors, to a lesser de­gree, in­clude crit­i­cism of jobs or col­leagues, mem­ber­ships in on­line cir­cles, false in­for­ma­tion shared and poor com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills.

You never knows what may come back to haunt you some­day or what mis­in­for­ma­tion might be out in cy­ber-land. Pri­vacy set­tings help, but keep in mind, noth­ing is fool­proof— glitches hap­pen. Al­ways be smart when post­ing on­line whether it be com­ments on news ar­ti­cles, Face­book, Twit­ter, blogs or any­where else. Even email is not as pri­vate as you’d think.

Em­ploy­ers worry their brands could be

at stake. In ad­di­tion to ac­tively search­ing out ap­pli­cants on­line, em­ploy­ers of­ten keep tabs on their cur­rent em­ploy­ees. They are con­cerned the im­age em­ploy­ees present could neg­a­tively im­pact their brands. Over the past sev­eral years there have been sev­eral in­ci­dents where peo­ple have been fired for on­line be­hav­ior. Some have been fired for so­cial me­dia post­ings, which in­clude: • Post­ing un­kind com­ments about

cus­tomers, bosses or col­leagues • Mak­ing racist and/or dis­crim­i­nat­ing posts • In­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iors at work that are

shared on so­cial me­dia • Shar­ing provoca­tive pho­tos (ei­ther

in­ten­tion­ally or ac­ci­den­tally) • Pho­tograph­ing re­ceipts with com­ments

left by cus­tomers and post­ing on­line This is­sue treads into murky wa­ters due to free speech rights, but in many cases, a fir­ing would be jus­ti­fied, es­pe­cially with at-will em­ploy­ment.

In­ter­net rep­u­ta­tions do mat­ter to em­ploy­ees and, al­though, some sug­gest this trend may phase out in time—that re­mains to be seen. Bot­tom line is peo­ple will think what they want to think, and it’s worth weigh­ing out the (usu­ally short-term) value of what is be­ing posted on­line vs. a long-term pro­fes­sional rep­u­ta­tion. Should you con­nect with your boss on Face­book? On­line so­cial­iza­tion has un­der­gone a big trans­for­ma­tion over the past 10 years. Back in the old days peo­ple didn’t re­ally have to worry about what they did on­line since most used anony­mous and vague chat names. To­day so­cial net­works, such as Face­book, re­quire real iden­ti­ties to be shared on pro­files. This has been a real game-changer be­cause peo­ple can no longer freely post or share what they’d like with­out risk­ing a level of back­lash.

Should you be Face­book friends with your boss? Be­fore mak­ing the de­ci­sion, it is a wise idea to weigh out the pros and cons: • So­cial in­ter­ac­tion could cre­ate

awk­ward­ness in the work­place • Slip ups in com­plain­ing about work, bosses, col­leagues or cus­tomers can cre­ate prob­lems • Your pri­vate life is not sep­a­rated from

your job This is a highly per­sonal de­ci­sion and it is not one that has a black or white or one-siz­e­fits all an­swer; there is a lot of grey area where friend­ing a boss is con­cerned. Many suc­cess­fully con­nect, but other times it ends up in disas­ter with real con­se­quences in pro­fes­sional lives.

Watch­ing over your dig­i­tal shoul­der. On one hand, it can be ar­gued that peo­ple have a right to their own lives, but the on­line re­al­ity does not work that way. The In­ter­net is not a pri­vate space, and it should be as­sumed any­thing said on­line will be pub­lic, even if pri­vacy set­tings are used. Fair or not, many em­ploy­ers are us­ing Google, Face­book and other ways to search out peo­ple they are con­sid­er­ing hir­ing or al­ready have hired.

Peo­ple’s lives have es­sen­tially be­come an open book and, as a re­sult, job ap­pli­cants and even em­ploy­ees would be wise to be mind­ful to what they post on­line. And it can be a dou­bleedged sword too be­cause sta­tis­tics sug­gest 35 per­cent of em­ploy­ers are “less likely” to in­ter­view ap­pli­cants they don’t find on­line, says CareerBuil­der. So while it may be a good idea to lock down all ac­counts and/or keep your­self in­vis­i­ble on­line to main­tain pri­vacy, that could come back to haunt you too.

Right or wrong, In­ter­net rep­u­ta­tions mat­ter. An on­line rep­u­ta­tion can be an as­set or a li­a­bil­ity, de­pend­ing on how it is man­aged. What it boils down to is keep­ing a healthy bal­ance be­tween your on­line and off­line lives. Don’t be afraid to have a pres­ence, but it’s a good idea keep a pulse on your In­ter­net rep­u­ta­tion and keep an eye over your “dig­i­tal­ized” shoul­der too.

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