Social suicide: Don't let the Web kill your professional reputation

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Who you are online can kill your chances of snagging your dream job-or even your next job. Make sure your Web presence isn't hurting your hirability with these tools.

You've probably heard stories about professionals who've lost job opportunities because of something they've posted online. (Click here to peek at how many team members have had a post come back to bite them.) New research reveals that everyone—including veterinary team members seeking new employment—is much more at risk than you may have thought.

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Specifically, 70 percent of recruiters have rejected a candidate for employment simply based on text, photos, or videos they discovered about that person online, according to a Cross-Tab survey of more than 1,100 human relations professionals. The rejections often go beyond the typical "regrettable picture from a college kegger party" variety. For example, Brenda Tassava, CVPM, hospital administrator at Broad Ripple Animal Clinic in Indianapolis, says she recently passed on an applicant after discovering that job seeker was gainfully employed rather than unemployed as she had represented.

"A Google search showed that she had just been welcomed as a new associate veterinarian at another practice a few weeks earlier," says Tassava, a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member. "This disqualified her, as she was dishonest on both her application and in her telephone interview."

Even more of a head-scratcher: There are still people who are getting bypassed for jobs simply for posting images of drug and alcohol use. Stacy Pursell, founder and president of the VET Recruiter has seen this firsthand. "One of our clients recently passed on a candidate after he saw her MySpace page," Pursell says. "She had a good resume, our client liked her in the phone interview and was going to invite her in for a face-to-face interview. But after he saw her MySpace page he decided to pass and move on to other candidates. Be cautious about what you post online. It's a good idea to change the privacy settings so the entire world can't see what you did last weekend."(Click here to see who's beefing up security.)

What's the big deal?

"An applicant's online reputation can be very important in the hiring process," says Monique A. Honaman, CEO of human resources firm ISHR Group. "Essentially, this person will be representing your business, your brand. It behooves a company to be sure that the individual represents the company in the manner in which it wants to be known."

Indeed, many of the HR professionals participating in Cross-Tab's "Online Reputation in a Connected World" study say Web screening of candidates has become a formal requirement in the hiring process. And an overwhelming majority believe such screening and monitoring will weigh even more heavily in hiring decisions over the next five years.

What's more, most human resources pros surveyed readily maintained that they considered no online venue exempt from investigation. In addition to typical social networks like Facebook and MySpace, these execs thought nothing of checking out online gaming sites and virtual worlds, as well as retail, auction, and classified sites like Amazon, eBay, and Craigslist before offering a position.

All told, an overwhelming majority of human resources recruiters (84 percent) believe poking into people's personal lives online is perfectly acceptable. Even more (89 percent) believe investigating professional credentials online should be the norm. (Click here for a list of websites employers use to scope out candidates.)

All access granted

Recruiters most comfortable with online screening also freely admit they're able to unearth much more information about a person online than they're able to—or even permitted to—via traditional job interviews and background checks. Conventional job interviews, for example, generally do not probe into a candidate's religious, political, or other affiliations, nor have such interviews typically delved into a job applicant's financial situation, medical health, and the like.

But online, much of this information is freely available if you know where to look, and many recruiters are doing just that. The result: Some job applicants are being rejected based on their membership in certain groups online. Others are falling victim to comments made about them by friends, family, or colleagues. (Click here for tips to clean up your online image.)

Beware of secret admirers

For potential employers, perhaps the greatest power in online screening is anonymity. Essentially, both in-house and third-party staffers can pretty much stop anywhere they'd like on the Web, take a look around, and be gone without anyone being the wiser. The practice manager you interviewed with, for example, may come across an online photo of you at a political rally because the photo was tagged with your name. This manager could then consider that political affiliation as a factor when hiring you, regardless of whether you happened to be attending that rally as an ardent supporter or interested observer.

Currently, such debatable photos are generally created and shared between friends on social networks. But new online technology—like the free Polar Rose website—means it's possible to automatically match images of people with their names. In the not-too-distant future, it may become very easy for a complete stranger to take a picture of you anywhere, in any number of compromising or otherwise private situations, and instantly post that image to the Web—right along with your name and other identifying information.

"Today, facial recognition technology is standard in many new digital cameras, and applications like Polar Rose are soon going to be fused with the cameras and Internet connections on users' phones," says Mary Madden, a senior research specialist at Pew Internet, a nonprofit research group. "Google Goggles, a service that lets you use pictures taken with your mobile device to search the Web, doesn't offer facial recognition for now, but the underlying capability is there."

The increasing intensity of Web monitoring is a somewhat chilling trend in an era during which millions of people are socializing and cavorting online without a second thought—as the national unemployment rate hovers stubbornly above 9 percent. All this may seem a little unreal. And the possibilities may be scarier than the reality. But when your reputation is at stake—and, potentially, your job—you just might want to err on the side of caution.

Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan, N.Y. To comment on this article, visit dvm360.com/comment.

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