Picture this: You just nailed your interview with Dream Corp. You took plenty of time to make sure you look good in person and on paper. Plus, you're a great fit for the job.
[InvestingAnswers Feature: How to Ace Any Interview]
But there's a second, invisible interview that most applicants don't know about. And it can mean the difference between being hired and never hearing back from Dream Corp again.
Perplexed? It's really simple, actually; the second interview is with your online self. Job recruiters type your name into Google (NYSE: GOOG) and make decisions based on your search results. In fact, 75% of job recruiters are required to research potential employees online; 70% reported that they've rejected candidates based on those searches.
It may seem unfair -- neither that racy inside joke nor those Halloween pictures of you in drag are related to the job -- but that doesn't make it illegal.
Companies can't discriminate based on gender, religion or race, but they can and will look at your online presence to get a larger understanding of who you are and how you may represent them.
Prospective employers look at all social media platforms, including Facebook (Nasdaq: FB), Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn (Nasdaq: LNKD). A general search for your name will generally pull up blogs, comments you've made on websites, articles you've written, interviews from 10 years ago, even Craigslist posts... In other words, anything on the Internet that mentions your name.
Want to know what potential employers will see? Google yourself right now, and view the results through your potential employers' eyes.
What Are You Judged On?
Username. It sounds silly, but that handle you thought was sexy at 17 sounds trashy at 24. Change it to something more professional. You can't go wrong with [email protected].
What you write about. Do you gripe about work on Facebook? Do you occasionally tweet about your late night escapades? Post videos or pictures of your extensive gun and knife collection? All these things say a lot about who you are. You may think it's funny to join a group called 'This Is America. I Shouldn't Have to Press 1 for English,' but your employer may wonder whether you dislike people who don't speak English.
When you write it. Are you posting regularly during normal work hours? If so, those posts are losing your company money and your boss knows it.
Pictures. Photos of you enjoying the Mets game are great. A photo of you slugging some guy at the Mets game and enjoying it is not great. If you could potentially be breaking the law, that photo will have human resources putting your resume in the do-not-call-ever pile.
The Mom Baseline -- Sorting the Good from the Bad
If you're not sure something is employer-friendly, just use the Mom Baseline. It's fairly easy. Just ask yourself:
'Would I want my mom/grandma to see this?'
If the answer is no, then keep it to yourself. Another good guide to follow: If you don't have anything nice (or productive) to say, don't say anything at all.
But what about the stuff that's already on the Internet? Everyone knows that once you send something into cyberspace, it's out there forever. But that doesn't mean it's too late to clean up your act.
Privatize. If any social website that you use (Facebook!) has a privacy setting, use it. Protecting your privacy is important, and not just for job-search purposes.
Un-tag yourself in certain photos. Want to unassociate yourself from that picture of your brawl at the Mets game? Just un-tag yourself (remove your name).
Use an alias. There are some things that many find controversial, such as politics, religions and social leanings. You have a right to express yourself, but when job hunting consider using an alias if you feel that these opinions could hinder you from getting the dream job.
A great alias could be as simple as using your middle name as your last name. (John Adam Smith's alias would be John Adam.) Most people don't list their middle names on resumes, so companies will have a hard time finding you.
Build a Positive Presence and Reputation by Being Helpful
A 2009 CNN article on digital dirt says that 'helping people is the perfect way to showcase your talents to employers.' To prospective employers, cultivating a positive online presence shows that you care about your professional community, are up on the latest news and have an educated opinion that may make a difference. Here are some quick ways to get noticed:
Blog. In the blogosphere you have many options: build your own blog around your professional passion; comment frequently on other professionals' blogs; write guest posts on several professional blogs. Just remember that your comments and topics should pass the Mom Baseline, or else you're not doing yourself any favors.
Respond to forum questions. Join some professional websites, ones with credibility and association, and become a forum member. Taking a few minutes to answer a question about your area of expertise gives your spirits and your Google presence a lift.
Make some recommendations. Go to Amazon (Nasdaq: AMZN), Yelp, and other online marketplaces associated with your profession, and write thoughtful reviews based on your experiences.
Another very tangible and very beneficial outcome of all this work is that new content with well-chosen SEO keywords (which is what you're doing by commenting in forums and blogging) goes to the top of a search engine results page. That fumbled news interview from years ago will be pushed way down in the results, pages away from your new image. Employers only have so much time to research you online, so make sure that the good stuff is front and center.
The Investing Answer: Investing in your career takes more than a clean suit and a freshly printed resume. How you present yourself online can undo all of the time and effort it took to ace the in-person interview. Make sure your online personality is equally presentable for the job and meets the company's criteria.