Since the Internet evolved in its infancy from a government pet project to a widespread digital superhighway, there have been plenty of stories of employees who got booted for posting their unvarnished opinions online. These days, the tales more likely involve some naughty vacation pics from Cabo that might sink any chance of a second interview.
But not all online profiles are dealbreakers?if an Internet aficionado is able to create a digitally based identity that’s rife with integrity, thoughtful insight and maturity, it could actually help a career, rather that derail it.
“If you approach online profiles as a way to present your professional side to the world, then you have a great opportunity,” says John Challenger, CEO of outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
Facebook may have started as a way for college students to get more information about each other, but it has become a standard in the business world, Challenger explains. Recruiters regularly surf its online pages and read about potential candidates, and many profiles tend to be more professional than that Wild West of online profile sites, MySpace, he adds.
Even more respected is LinkedIn, which allows users to post resumes and make connections in order to share networks with each other. Potential employers can scan a candidate’s connections list and job history, and make initial decisions about their “fit” for a company.
“Recruiters are taking a close look at those networks, since it’s like going through someone’s Rolodex,” Challenger says. In the past, he adds, proprietary databases were unique to a search firm, including information on larger networks, but these days, most rely on LinkedIn instead.
“They’re always swamping that site, because it allows them to search on very specific information. And as younger people move from MySpace and Facebook, it’s likely they’ll spend more time on places like LinkedIn,” Challenger says.
But these sites are just part of a larger online identity, notes Tuck Rickards, who leads the Technology Sector for the Americas for Russell Reynolds Association, a firm specializing in CEO and other senior-level recruiting.
“People have to think about their online footprint,” he says, a tactic that can usually be done easily by inserting one’s own name into a search engine. Facebook and blogs might come up, but also likely to pop into the results are comments written on an alumni page, executive bio pages, press releases and other random bits of digital data.
Much like tweaking a social site to reflect a more polished personality, these other sites can be used to create a broader image of an individual, giving an idea of writing style, for example, or personal philosophies.
“You have to be careful about what you say, but at the same time, you can have a level of control based on the site,” says Rickards. “You can leverage these networking sites and other sites as tools to create a nice profile of yourself with controls wrapped around it.”