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Facebook, YouTube and… You, Unemployed

Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
September 2009 Issue
July 27, 2009

Facebook, YouTube and… You, Unemployed

For the past few years, I have told my students to consider carefully what they post online. Like many educators and parents, I want my students to think about their online reputations. But, the rules are changing and we’re losing some control over our online selves. What others reveal about you is as important as anything you might post online.

“Most of what I worry about, the job applicant didn’t actually post.”

As a human resource specialist for a large, national service company, the woman I was talking to hires young men and women who enter the businesses and private homes of customers. These employees represent their employer and its tech-savvy image.

Because I teach a professional development course for university juniors and seniors, I thought my warnings not to put too much personal information online was sufficient. I had overlooked that friends, those fun people you were at the party of the year with, can ruin your online reputation — without meaning any harm.

“Friends tag friends in photos or videos,” explained the executive. “That means someone like me searching for your name ends up seeing whatever you were doing in Cabo San Lucas last summer.”

Tagging photos and videos means that you can enter a list of people, places, or things appearing in an online posting. A popular trend among Facebook users is posting old school photos, tagging the pictures with names of former classmates. In the past, we wrote names and dates on the back of pictures. Now, those names become part of a massive, searchable database.

While you might remove photos, limit your online profile to “friends,” and avoid writing about your lousy days at work, your friends could still be denting your image. Friends post blogs, photos, and status updates. They even “tweet” on Twitter to share when they (and you) are having great fun.

“People don’t realize you can search anything posted almost anywhere online. What you post as private, a friend might not think twice about sharing.” This pleasant, charming executive was scaring me.

While I understand the divisions between private and public life are increasingly blurred, it does bother me that seemingly unimportant choices can haunt us later.

“I had someone say she was careful online. After the interview, I found pictures of her tagged on a photo-sharing site. She was wearing a t-shirt that mocked our service with some unfortunate words.”

I’m not sure what to tell students, now. Employers might be getting a bit overzealous with online searches, but that is unlikely to change. If anything, searching for hints of who we are is getting easier with each passing month.

The simple — and generally unrealistic answer — is to never do anything you might regret seeing or reading about online. The college students I teach are in a different world than the one I inhabited twenty years ago. No one at any party I attended in college had a cell phone, much less a phone with a camera and Internet connection.

I guess it is good that I lead a dull life, too.

Adults are just as likely to get a carried away online. The ease of posting videos to YouTube or quickly “tweeting” an update to Twitter is hard to resist. You might have the sense not to put stupidity on display, but could you resist posting a video of a stupid coworker?

Sometimes, the speed and ease of sharing in our virtual leads to problems.

Protect Your Online Persona

Remove photos, videos, and online posts that might affect your friends.
Ask friends to remove those things that might haunt you.
Delete any unused social networking accounts you have.
Update any online résumé postings on a regular basis.
Avoid posting negative blogs or updates about anyone!

According to the executive I met, postings about work are the most likely to hurt your career. These might even seem innocuous, such as a funny story about a difficult customer, but companies worry about being perceived as disloyal to clients.

It’s normal to complain if you are released from a position, but complaining online is a horrible idea. Few people in management enjoy cutting personnel. They definitely won’t appreciate being portrayed in a negative light. What happens if business improves and they think about rehiring employees? Would you rehire someone who insulted you in front of the entire world?

Searching for Yourself

Narcissists “Google” their own names to feed their egos. The rest of us should be searching for ourselves to protect our reputations. While it might seem as simple as searching via Google, that might miss potential problems.

Search for yourself on all major search engines, not just one.
Search for your name on photo-sharing and social networking sites.
Search YouTube and Twitter, even if you don’t use the services.
Search any names and nicknames others might know, especially if you’ve ever changed your name.

If you find something you believe is embarrassing or, worse, untrue, ask the original poster politely to remove the content. Be as polite as humanly possible to avoid turning a minor situation into a major mess. Most people will understand if you explain that you want to look good for customers and potential employers. It is also a nice gesture to mention that you’re also checking content you post.


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