The Ins and Outs of Protecting Your Online Information
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The Ins and Outs of Protecting Your Online Information Before a Job Interview

In today’s world, most job seekers have been active on social media and the Internet.

Whether it is an active Facebook account, online discussion group or comments to various online newspapers and focus groups, a modern job seeker is likely to have at least some online presence that can be easily reviewed by his or her potential employers.

In fact, a growing number of companies have made a survey of a job applicant’s online activity an integral part of their hiring process, both as a pre-interview screening system and to help determine what subjects will be explored during the job interview.

For this reason, managing an individual’s online reputation can be a vital part of ensuring that he or she will remain eligible for the desired job. In addition, preparing for interview questions related to an individual’s online activities is now a vital part of the interview preparation process.

Post Only What Would be Acceptable in Public

managing your online reputationThe simplest and most important aspect of online reputation management is to post only those things that would be acceptable to say in public to respected associates or coworkers.

Many individuals who have posted vulgar, sexist or racist statements on the internet have found that their actions have had severe professional consequences. It is important to remember that the only way to be certain an employer will never discover online activity is to never engage in that activity.

This should also apply to anonymous accounts and accounts created under another name. The state of the law regarding how far a company may go in investigating an individual’s online activities is still very unsettled.

Furthermore, records of online activity may persist for years or even decades, presenting a long-term threat to the individual’s career.

This can be an especially serious issue for individuals who are seeking a career in education or other fields where they may be exposed to public scrutiny.

This can be especially important due to the way that Facebook and Twitter both encourage a style of exchange that is reminiscent of a private conversation.

Such an environment can often lead to intemperate statements made in the heat of an argument or jokes that an individual would never make in a formal setting.

Job seekers and currently employed individuals alike need to remember that unlike a conversation, an inappropriate or embarrassing post can remain accessible for quite some time.

The Job-Seeker Should Carefully Manage His or Her Online Profiles

In many cases, an employer will perform an examination of social media and professional networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook. For that reason, anyone seeking employment should make certain that their profiles are both complete and formatted in such a way as to present the best possible face to any potential employers. For this reason, these profiles should always be designed to present the candidate’s professional strengths, experience and any interests that could make the candidate more valuable to an employer.

However, so long as they are professionally and socially acceptable, a candidate should ensure that their online profiles also refer to their private activities.

This can be especially important due to the fact that some companies may wonder if the profile is in fact an accurate example of the candidate’s interests. In extreme cases, an interviewer may decide that a generic professional profile was created solely for the purpose of obtaining employment.

The candidate should always stress useful business-related skills and outside interests that demonstrate leadership qualities. This can be especially important if the candidate is seeking a management or customer centered career.

Stress Positive Activities

Any online profile or social media activity should stress the candidate’s positive qualities. These can include the following:

  • Leadership activities.
  • Hobbies and interests that are relevant to the job opportunity the candidate is pursuing.
  • Friends and acquaintances who may be able to attest to the candidate’s character or professional qualifications.
  • Previous job experience. The candidate should only post that information about previous jobs that he or she feels comfortable in making public. Furthermore, confidential contact information for former employers should never be placed on an online profile.

Avoiding the Release of Improper Information

As useful as social media can be, there is a variety of information that should be kept off of profile pages and online chat logs alike. Even information that might otherwise seem innocuous could have a negative impact on the applicant’s job interview.

Inappropriate Interests or Actions:

An individual’s online activity should never contain information about inappropriate actions or interests that might negatively impact the candidate’s value to his or her potential employer. For example, a profile page that lists street racing as an interest could see an employer questioning the candidate’s maturity or wisdom, especially if their job will involve the use of company vehicles.

Negative Comments about Previous Employers:

Many individuals see their online world as a useful place to air their grievances with previous employers or supervisors. However, this often brands that candidate as being unprofessional and difficult to work with.

In some cases, overly heated statements may make it seem like the potential employee could pose a workplace safety risk to management and coworkers alike.

Racial or sexual slurs could open the danger that the employer might face a workplace discrimination complaint from the individual’s fellow employees.

Even if the employee feels justified in his or her anger at a former employer or coworker, airing such sentiments online may lead to severe professional consequences.

Negative Comments about Customers:

Especially for customer centered careers, finding out that a potential employer shows contempt and disrespect for those customers that he or she has worked with can be a red flag for an employer. This is especially true given that the employer must consider the possibility that a current or former customer may also discover the comments at some later date.

Inappropriate Photos or Videos:

Visual media involving excessive drinking or sexually explicit activities should never be uploaded to any type of social media. In addition, some career paths and employers may demand that their employees refrain from certain actions. For that reason, only videos of those activities that do not have the potential to cause offense should be uploaded to the Internet.

Preparing for the Interview: Self-Examination

One important step a potential employee should take before any interview is to use search engines to see what type of information will appear. Not only can this help the candidate fine-tune his or her own online information, but it can also help determine if there is a danger that the employer may obtain information about an individual with a similar or identical name. By being able to immediately point out that such individuals are not related to the candidate, he or she can avoid the danger of the interviewer making a decision based on incorrect information.

How to Use Search Engines

When reviewing online information, the candidate should be certain that he or she is not using a search engine that provides personalized results.

Many search engines are designed to adapt to their user’s interests in order to provide results that are more relevant to their personal needs.

However, by specifically avoiding this service, the candidate can obtain the same types of results that his or her interviewer will.

At the Interview: Discussing Online Information

In many cases, the interviewer will discuss the candidate’s online activities and interests over the course of the job interview. The candidate should answer any questions frankly, while being prepared to expand upon those points that may help demonstrate the benefits he or she could bring to the company.

The candidate should never seem evasive or defensive regarding any of his or her online activities. In fact, they should be seen as a means of showcasing the candidate’s personal and professional skills.

Questions of Mistaken Identity

The candidate should be prepared to clarify issues of mistaken identity. It is likely that hundreds or even thousands of individuals share the candidate’s name, and he or she may find that another individual’s information has been obtained. This is a common error, and the candidate should calmly correct his or her interviewer.

The potential employee should never become angry or flustered by erroneous information. In fact, by being able to accurately and politely correct the interviewer, the candidate can help emphasize his or her professionalism.

After the Interview

Unless the interview was confidential or the applicant was specifically asked not to mention it online, he or she should update any professional profiles to reflect the fact that the interview took place.

Should the interviewer conduct a post-interview survey of the candidate’s online activities, this will demonstrate that he or she regularly updates the relevant online profiles. Doing so will help convince the interviewer and his or her superiors that the candidate will be a professional and diligent employee.

Finally, the applicant should monitor his or her online profiles and accounts for any later activity on the part of the potential employer. He or she should immediately respond to any online comments, whether they are positive or negative. This is not only important for the current job the candidate is seeking, but can also have an impact on the candidate’s future professional options.

When it comes to having a positive interview experience, an individual’s online existence is just as important as their physical actions.

By ensuring that their online information is presented in a positive manner, applicants can be assured that their online activity will be an asset when it comes time to sit down in front of their interviewer.

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