How to Sabotage Your Job Prospects with Online Profiles

By Elizabeth Millard  |  Posted 2008-06-03

Maybe you’re happy at that passion-free, entry-level job, and the only reason the resumes keep getting sent out is to quell the anxiety of your parents, or reassure that fretting romantic partner that you’ve got ambition and drive. If that’s the case, there are plenty of ways to utilize the Internet to make sure that hiring managers never actually call.

Since so many of them now just type a candidate’s name into a search engine, or look for blogs and professional online profiles, here are a handful of methods for keeping your phone from jangling with job prospects:

Eliminate the Distinction Between Personal and Public
As a larger strategy, creating a digital persona that captures every mundane nuance of a person’s life is ideal for avoiding HR calls. Articulating every thought and presenting it for public consumption, no matter how inappropriate it might be for the corporate realm, is a sure-fire way to seem less professional than your peers.

“Your online persona is like a billboard that you present to the world,” says John Challenger, chief executive of executive outsourcing firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “What would you put up there? Hopefully, it’s the reasons why you’re a great candidate.”

Personal blogs have their place, and HR managers aren’t going to balk because someone seems to love cats or wants his or her wedding photos to be shared. But having more personal information online than professional data—such as resumes, white papers and bio pages from former employers—shows an imbalance, Challenger adds.

Also, it could reveal poor decision-making qualities, notes Dr. Terry Gudaitis,
cyber-intelligence director at security firm Cyveillance. If someone spills personal secrets online, it may send up a red flag to a potential employer that the candidate is comfortable with disclosing more than he or she should.

Such free-flowing thoughts can also be detrimental to internal operations, Gudaitis adds, pointing to a case where a manager was going through a nasty divorce and posted a long diatribe on MySpace about how much he hated women. When some women working for him didn’t get promoted, they filed a class-action lawsuit and used the MySpace page as evidence.

Subvert the Dominant Corporate Usage Policy
For those who are employed, posts created during usual working hours but not on the lunch hour—say, Monday at 2:30 p.m.—emphasizes how much someone is willing to break corporate policies about using the employer’s network for personal use.

Extra points are awarded here if the comment includes an admission of being at work and shares some detail about a colleague, even if it’s thinly veiled, such as, “Boss with Terrible Goatee is hitting on the admin again.”

Complain Frequently, About Nearly Everything
Even if someone doesn’t insult a former employer (or a current one), posting negative opinions online can create the impression that the candidate doesn’t actually see the world in an optimistic light.

So, perhaps you hate your lawn service, Taco Bell chalupas, that neighbor three doors down, hybrid cars and airplane seats. Why wouldn’t an HR rep assume you might also come to hate your boss, desk, co-workers and duties? It’s not much of a leap to think that someone who complains online frequently will also grouse often in everyday interactions.

Don’t Post Your Credentials or Contribute Thoughtful Insights
Also, when embarking on these formidable complaint sessions, avoid any kind of proper grammar, spelling or other writing rules. Ignore sentence structure, creation of well-articulated thoughts and valid points.

“What you write online can be seen as an example of your writing style, no matter what type of site includes that writing,” says Tuck Rickards, who leads the technology sector for the Americas at the Russell Reynolds Association, a firm specializing in CEO and other senior-level recruiting. Since so many positions rely on employees’ ability to articulate their ideas in a straightforward, professional way, those who are able to maintain a high standard at all times in their writing—even if it’s just for a blog—will have a better chance of standing out from other candidates.

Other differentiators are posting online a complete resume that might also include writing samples, relevant work with client names and details deleted, and professionally taken photographs. Those who boost their professional profiles by contributing to industry-specific online forums are even more impressive, since they’re demonstrating an ability to be engaged with the larger industry, rather than just looking for a job at one specific company. So, if you’re not interested in being hired, don’t even consider doing any of these things.

Ignore Your Larger Network
Sites like LinkedIn exist so that people can tap direct and indirect connections without having to attend in-person events, make small talk or drink bad wine while perusing tiny name tags. Some people just accept anyone who asks for a connection, even if they don’t know the person, more intent on boosting their number of professional links than creating a truly useful network of professional contacts. But even more egregious is to ignore this group entirely during your job hunt.

“Maybe you are embarrassed to ask for help or contacts,” notes Patricia Frame, founder of Strategies for Human Resources, provider of consulting services and management support. “Or you don’t ‘have time’ to contact someone—even if they could help you understand the organization and tailor your application. Besides, you hate to ask anyone you know for their support and risk hearing ‘no.’” She adds that many companies have employee referral programs, which could make contacts eager to help, rather than feeling burdened by a request.

If you’re actually looking for a job and want to appear professional online, it may be time to work those contacts, delete the photos and stop grousing in online forums. Personal and professional time may be merging more often as people achieve a balance between their life and their work, but mixing the personal and private online is different, and potentially hazardous to your career.