Managing your online reputation

The chances are that even if you’re not a regular blogger or social networker, it’ll be still possible to find something about you on the web. And if you’re looking for a new job, what’s found could make the difference between an offer and a rejection: it’s estimated that over a quarter of HR professionals have rejected an applicant on the basis of what appears on the web.

This should have you rushing to Google your name to see just what is out there about you. 60% of employers are said to run a candidate’s name through the search engine as a way of finding out more about you beyond what they found on your CV – and what they find isn’t always favourable.

n this guide we look at how to manage your internet reputation – your netrep – effectively.

Why your online reputation is important

Creating the right impression about your attitudes, competency and personality is rarely more important than when you’re job-searching. Unfortunately, the truth about all these attributes – or something resembling it – is increasingly being recorded on social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. Unlike the early days of the internet, these opinions are rarely aired behind the protection of an alias – even YouTube has made real names compulsory.

Every moan about work, every drunken photo and every off colour remark you have ever made online can be found (and taken out of much needed context) with a less than thorough search of these profiles. Managing these instances – and preventing them from happening in the future - should therefore be a priority.

It’s probably worth deciding if you want an online reputation in the first place. If you decide to build one that works to your advantage, consider what you’d like your name to be connected to. What impression of yourself you want to project. Then spend as much time managing your online reputation as you would on crafting your CV. If it all sounds like too much hassle and you’d just prefer to stay firmly offline, remember to close down your accounts from Facebook to Flickr before forsaking the online world.

Employers do look and make decisions

Whether or not an employer actively uses social media as part of their recruitment process, you can be pretty certain that you’ve been checked out online. With the current appetite for wearing our hearts on our electronic sleeves it’s not surprising that when you join an organisation your new colleagues will know much more about you already than you might be comfortable with.

Professional networks like LinkedIn and Xing should pose little problem – assuming your details are backed up by your CV and the “real” you. Mentioning CVs here is pertinent: best practice for job seekers has long been to write a CV that paints them in the best light. But it would be a waste of time to browse the Badenoch & Clark job database, submit a CV and then fail to give your online reputation a double check.

Your Bebo, Facebook and YouTube activity may give an employer a very different picture and there’s not much you can do once the impression is made. Employers do run some risk in vetting potential recruits via their online footprint, but as long as the decisions they make are not based on any legally discriminatory grounds – age, sex, religion and the like – then you’re going to have a tough job proving that your ill-considered remarks or pictures contributed to the nicely worded rejection letter.

Consider too that such searching activity isn’t just limited to your future employers. Your current box may well run checks. So too may your colleagues or the clients that you are dealing with.

Dealing with bad netreps

Like a regrettable drunken tattoo, your reputation damaging activity can be partially removed with the right corrective treatment. However, your netrep cleanup will involve fewer lasers, while being approximately as time consuming.

Many social networks and forums allow you to remove comments you’ve made, but many do not and even if they do, you’ll have to remember your old login details. Photos and videos you appear in may not even be yours – you’ll have to contact the owner to un-tag or delete them, but expect some resistance.

For those comments you are not able to do anything about, don’t worry, time is a great healer. The longer a web page has little or no activity, the lower down the search results it will go so older comments about less topical items will have less of an impact. Post worthwhile questions or add sensible and considered comment to discussions on your own or other people’s blogs and professional discussion groups. You’ll not only position yourself better professionally when you do come up in a search, but also push more of the outdated poorer content further down the search results. If all else fails hire an expert who will clean up your profile for a fee.

Get positive

If you create the right perception, it can only help in opening the right doors. So consider actively cultivating a positive online presence. Decide what you want your netrep to look like, and target media that will help you achieve it.

Professional networks give you a great opportunity to demonstrate what you’ve done and how others regard you. Write helpful articles, post insightful reviews or answer someone’s burning question. By actively contributing to online forums, social and professional media networks, you can position yourself as an industry authority. But be mindful to stick to the site rules to avoid expulsion.

As with many things on the internet, a diversity of sources is preferable to sending positive signals from only a single source. Do some offline networking – speak at events and involve yourself in corporate social responsibility initiatives. Doing this will get your name on high authority websites, and will demonstrate values that may be invaluable when applying for positions in any industry that values such things.

Make sure your content is appropriate

There is one simple rule for all online activity: if you wouldn’t let your mother read or see it, it shouldn’t be on the internet. If you contribute with this in mind, you’ll never have to worry about most of what you have posted on the internet – though unless your mother specifically has the same values as a corporate boss there may not be a comprehensive overlap.

What may seem like harmless fun to you and your friends, may cause others to see you in a different light. Here are some simple rules to bear in mind:

  • It’s easy to get carried away by the banter on social networking sites. Be careful not to be drawn into expressing extreme views that you may later regret.
  • Take care when updating your status. It may well have been a difficult day, or a colleague may have upset you, but avoid making derogatory or personal comments. And constantly talking about your glee at going home time may draw into question your commitment.
  • Think twice before posting embarrassing, funny or risqué photographs of yourself and/or your friends. If you wouldn’t display them on your desk, don’t display them on the web.
  • Avoid posting during the working day. Many sites show the time and date of a post – a sure giveaway that you’ve wasted time at work.
  • Abide by the rules. If your employer has strict rules about the use of social networking sites, then stick to them.
  • Moderate your comments and feedback. Ten years ago letters of complaint to organisations were private affairs. Today, many companies have comments pages or individuals will have established sites dedicated to criticising leading brands. While you may not wish to work directly for the organisation you’re criticising, remember that it may be a customer of a future employer.

Network, network, network?

For someone who truly nurtures their relationships with contacts, social media can be the biggest referral network available. But networking online also has an impact on your netrep – particularly recommendations. It’s important that you manage any online recommendations effectively.

Remember how important it is to decide on your references – online recommendations are no difference. Below are a few guidelines to follow:

Remember that asking for or getting recommendations is normally a sign that you’re looking for work – this means that any current colleagues that are on your network will know that you’re on the market. Do you really want people asking those questions yet? One suggestion is to ask a manager or contact at the completion of a specific project you’ve worked on – that way they’re providing a recommendation based on a particular piece of work you’ve completed and not necessarily asking for recommendations at the time of sending your CV to recruiters.

Think about whom you ask for recommendations – both their position and how many people you ask are important. As with anything, more doesn’t necessarily mean better! People looking at your profile will look at not only what has been written about you, but by whom. Who should you approach for a recommendation? Senior management who clearly have a link to the role you did; clients that were in a senior or decision making role; employees who worked for you if you’re in a management role. Avoid asking work colleagues that you shared drinks with on Friday evenings – it will be evident from their own position or what they’ve got to say about you.

As with references, a recommendation is as much about what isn’t said as what is said. Think very carefully about asking people to make a recommendation – if you ask someone who isn’t in a position to give you a glowing recommendation, they may use words or terms that at first glance appear fine, but in effect make evident areas that you may be lacking in. For example – “Jamie is enthusiastic about any new project” – may suggest to some readers that Jamie isn’t a completer.

And don’t be offended if people decline your request for a recommendation! Just as this offers advice on how to manage your netrep, even those you approach for a recommendation may be concerned about their own netrep. A recommendation for you remains in the public domain for life!

Access limits have their limits

So you’ve done what you can to protect your own reputation; you’ve commented in a professional manner and where it is most appropriate; managed your “fun” profile so that only friends can see it; restricted your rants and raves to only those closest to you or, where you’ve unwittingly gone off the boil online, you’ve done it anonymously. But is it enough?

Sadly, the answer is no. Even though you may have been a digital saint and limited whom you network with and how you network with them, this doesn’t make you bullet proof.

The nature of social networks is such that the conversations you are having with friends and the pictures that are for their eyes only, are not necessarily going to stay that way. There is always the threat you will be found through your friends; your friends’ friends; your friends’ friends’ friends – you get the picture.

However, by following a few simple rules you can limit the damage done:

  • Consider a full lock-down: use the strictest privacy settings, set high levels of security. Don’t make it easy for people to find you
  • Self-audit: Remove everything you wouldn’t want employers to see. Personal information, pictures, references. The works
  • Ask your friends and colleagues to do the same as a personal favour to you – identify where they have made negative references (even in jest) and ensure that your extended network isn’t working against you
  • Don’t stop checking your online footprint just because you’ve got a new job: there’s no telling what is being said about you, or what search updates have managed to dredge up about your past

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