Reputations made, broken through social media

Once the preserve of college
students, social network applications like Facebook have crossed the
generational divide. However, with the wider interest in the technology new pitfalls
have also arisen. Whether you are aware of it or not, chances are you have an
online presence. Unless you manage this presence very carefully, you could find
your chances in the working world influenced in a very negative way.

With a
move toward more user generated content and user interaction with sites, the
world wide web has changed to what has become known as Web 2.0. This differs
from the earlier days of the Internet during which Internet users were
passively taking in information rather than creating the content. Yet with
great power comes great responsibility and the ability to generate content has
for many not yet led to a greater awareness of how this content may affect them
and others down the line.

The personal-professional divide

Information
posted on the Internet can often be viewed by an unintended audience. This
means that photos of Friday night happy hour could end up being viewed by your
boss on Monday morning. The gap that once existed between the well-managed
professional image and the private party animal is melting away faster than the
polar ice-caps as your private and public personas become inextricably linked
on the web.

“Before
the Internet and social networks, unless a person was in the same place at the
same time as an employer or co-worker, the likelihood of an employer seeing the
private persona was minimal. With  the
Internet and social networks being readily available and regularly used by
companies to assess potential and current staff and their behaviours, it is
very likely that their private persona will be revealed,” says Ciara Aspinall,
partner and operations supervisor at SteppingStones, a local recruitment firm.

Photos
or comments posted of you by other users can be just as damaging as anything
posted by you. The Michael Phelps marijuana pipe incident dispelled any doubt
about just how damaging a moment of indiscretion can be. A photo that showed
Phelps inhaling from a marijuana pipe at a party was posted on the Internet,
which in turn led to an international outcry, public apologies and the loss of an important sponsorship contract. With the advent of
cameras in mobile phones, the danger of private moments becoming public
knowledge has grown exponentially. The experience is somewhat similar to living
in a small town, where everyone knows what everyone else is up to, only in this
case the small town stretches around the globe.

According
to a survey commissioned by Microsoft, recruiters and human resources professionals
around the globe are using the Internet to check up on prospective employees.
The survey polled recruiters in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and
France as to how often they use the Internet to check on prospective employees,
which resources they use, and which percentage of people are rejected due to
information found on the Internet.

The
numbers make for interesting and rather scary reading.

In the
United States, 79 per cent of the companies polled did online research on job
applicants, while 75 per cent reported that it was company policy to do such
checks. A whopping 70 per cent of companies also reported rejecting applicants
due to information found in the Internet. It is also not just information about
your professional life that may end up being used against you – even though 89
per cent of recruiters said it was appropriate to consider professional online
data, 84 per cent found it appropriate to consider personal online data as
well.

When it
comes to managing a your online profile, it is also important to note how the recruiters
went about checking up on applicants. Search engines like Google were used by
78 per cent of recruiters, while 63 per cent used social networking sites like
Facebook. However, the more worrying statistic is that photo and video sharing
sites like Flicker and YouTube (59 per cent) beat out professional and business
networking sites like LinkedIn (57 per cent). Personal websites and blogs
garnered just under 50 per cent, while recruiters also trawled sites like
Twitter, online forums, online gaming sites and even classifieds and auction
sites for information.

It
might be easy to believe that the trends in the United States will not apply to
Cayman. However, according to Aspinall, using the Internet to research
prospective employees is accepted practice in the industry in Cayman as well.

“We do
use search engines and social networking sites to check behaviour of
prospective employees. This is a standard employment procedure that is used in
addition to reference and background checks and often impacts our decision to
recruit a potential candidate. It is not only standard for us as a recruitment
agency but we know that our clients employ the same strategies when screening
prospective candidates for positions within their organisations,” says
Aspinall.

It is
often debated whether an employee’s actions outside the office that has no real
impact on the employee’s ability to perform their work should concern the employer.
It could be said that as long as these actions remain in the private sphere it
should not affect the employee’s position in a company. However, photos and
opinions posted on the Internet are in the public domain. An employer can argue
that any photos or opinions of the employee that can reflect badly on the
company or do damage to the professional image of the employee can be a matter
of grave concern to the company. One of the biggest problems faced by many
Internet users is that they do onto have full control of their presence on the
web. In fact, according to the Microsoft study, 43 per cent of rejections were
influenced by inappropriate comments or text written by friends and relatives
of applicants.

Even though many recruiters will
reject a job applicant based on negative information gleaned from the Internet,
an even greater portion, 85 per cent, say that a positive online reputation
will influence their decision on whether to hire someone. This means that a
well-managed online presence can be highly beneficial.

Although social networks can pose
dangers when it comes to the job hunt, it is also possible to use them to your
advantage. As these networks allow you to keep up contact with old friends and
casual acquaintances, there might be someone on your friends list who can help
you find a job.

Recruitment
firms are also making use of social networks to build awareness of job
opportunities.

“Social
networks assist with our overall search engine ratings (which means more people
are accessing our website since we started using social networks) this optimises
the number and calibre of candidates that SteppingStones is able to attract.
Social networks generate traffic to our business and allows customers and
candidates to access information about international opportunities and our
contact details,” says Aspinall.

It is
vital that people consider the impact a photo or comment might have on their
future employment.

“Be
careful about what you post and what other people post about you,” says
Aspinall.

“Think
about whether or not this reflects your office persona, if it does not reflect
your office persona then think about changing it as your image has the potential
to be viewed by thousands of people and it could have an impact on your current
or potential employment.”

Being
aware of the possible impact of your digital self on your job prospects can set
you on the path to a more successful career.

According
to Aspinall, careful management of your online profile and careful
consideration of what you post is vital.

“When
providing careers advice to candidates, this is something that we cannot stress
enough to them as it can and does cost candidates jobs.”

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