Does Your Internet Reputation Matter to Employers?

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-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-size-fits 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 double-edged 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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