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Your Online Reputation Matters Wed 07 Apr 10

A positive online reputation is important for both individuals and companies

Avatars brtsergio We've all heard the stories of Joe, a job candidate who was a shoo-in to get that great job until the hiring manager decided to take a look at the candidate's Facebook page. Suddenly some photos of a wild party and comments that his hobby is getting wasted every weekend scuttled Joe's prospects. Joe doesn't get the job and has no clue about why he seems to be so unlucky.

Our online reputation matters. We know this anecdotally, from what we've seen and done as hiring managers, and now there is some data to support this. In January Microsoft published survey results of how our online reputations affect our job prospects. Three-quarters of U.S. survey respondents said their companies have formal policies that require hiring personnel to research applicants online; 70% of hiring personnel rejected candidates based on data found online.

As people become more aware of this, I've seen a number of articles about managing your so-called "digital dirt" and a simple internet search turns up many more. I've even heard that this has spawned a new industry where companies will help you clean it up. Rather than rehash all of the tips on how to clean up your online reputation, I'd like to address two other aspects.

First, as I said, our online reputation matters and not just when it's bad. The Microsoft survey also found that among U.S. responders, 86% stated that a positive online reputation influences the candidate's application to some extent; almost half stated that it does so to a great extent.

Résumés are the age-old tool of job seekers, but my friend and job-search expert, Rick Gillis, calls them obituaries. They tell prospective employers what we've done and give clues about what we could do for them. But résumés don't say much about us as a person.

Résumés don't give an indication of how we think, what kind of leaders we are or what our philosophy of life or business is. They give no indication of what makes us tick. Ultimately, that is extremely important since you only have to read or hear about a number of high-profile executive departures to get an understanding of how important "fit" is. How well someone fits with the company culture can be just as important, perhaps even more important, than capability.

I think this helps explain the impact of the positive online reputation shown in the Microsoft survey. The implication is that we should not only strive to minimize "digital dirt" but also use social media technologies as a positive way to let the world know more about you.

Not having any digital dirt is good but having no online reputation is almost suspicious, especially for younger job seekers. If you Google someone and find no LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter account and no other reference, it almost makes you wonder if they are trying to hide something. Their online reputation is made conspicuous by its absence.

Some people are trying to hide their online reputation by hiding Facebook pages , by setting them up under nicknames or variations of their real names. While this may work for a while, it is a dangerous game to play as it could imply deviousness, hardly an endearing quality to hiring managers.

The bottom line in this is that if you don't have an established online presence, your career would be well served if you create one (provided you follow the previously mentioned tips and do it right).

The second aspect of all this: Hiring managers also need to think about their online reputation, too. The great thing about technology is that it can be used to communicate both ways. Sites such as glassdoor.com and others give job seekers an opportunity to share information about companies, the interview process and even individuals in the company.

Just as damaging information about an individual can last "forever" on the Internet, the same holds true about a company's reputation as a place to work and its hiring process. Companies should monitor their online reputation, assess the feedback and take appropriate corrective actions if needed.

The current economic conditions may make it a buyer's market, but it won't always be that way. Besides, good candidates always have options. A bad online reputation can sink a company's potential as easily as a job seeker's.

"Avatars" photos by brtsergio / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

This article is also posted on Forbes.com.  Feel free to join in the discussion either on this site or at Forbes.com

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