How To Click and Clean Your Online Profiles | Reader's Digest

How To Click and Clean Your Online Profiles

Your cyber identity could keep you from a potential job. Find out how to clean up your online profiles with sites like Facebook and MySpace.

By Andy Simmons from Reader's Digest | April 2008
Protect Yourself OnlineCredit: Clipart.comIf you're looking for a job, potential employers may be looking at your Facebook or MySpace profile.

Here’s an interesting fact: Every American has, at some point, appeared naked, drunk, unconscious, rude, crude or felonious online.

Okay, maybe not everyone, but surf the Net and that’s the impression you’ll get. On social networks like MySpace and Facebook, you can find pages only a hedonist would love: “Thirty Reasons Girls Should Call It a Night,” “Beer Pong Dream Team,” … you get the idea.

There’s a photo of a young man named Carl on yet another page. He’s fast asleep — passed out, actually — and his friends have sketched scars, a mustache and graffiti on his face. (By the way, we deleted his last name, but it’s right there on the site.) Katie is there too. She’s wasted and naked and has her head resting on a toilet seat. Her photo comment? “Not my finest hour … what a classy chick!”

This generation didn’t invent stupidity, of course; it’s just the first to post it online for all the world to see. And that’s the rub: Employers are getting savvier about looking you up online. How? In some cases, just by Googling your name.

More and more companies — 61 percent, says the Ponemon Institute, a privacy research organization — are running online background checks of prospective hires. And 43 percent of those potential bosses nixed candidates based on what they found out about them. As one consultant told the New York Post, “Your Google results are your new résumé.”

Hiring someone is risky business. Employers, after all, don’t like surprises. They look at what people post and wonder, Is that new salesperson, the one who flashed her breasts on collegehumor.com, likely to do the same at a convention? Will the new guy in advertising turn off clients with endless chatter about his World of Warcraft score? No question, the easiest way to deal with a potential problem is before the hire.

Brad Karsh, president of JobBound, an online employment company, found a young man who was perfect for an open position there. Before he made the offer, he checked out the prospect’s all-too-public Facebook page. The job seeker had listed his No. 1 interest as “smoking blunts with the homies.”

“The guy was completely lacking in judgment and maturity,” says Karsh. “He was not ready for prime time. Especially since our company advises people on how to get jobs.”

Miscreants and college kids aren’t the only ones running into trouble. Their parents are no better. One candidate for a position selling software was a shoo-in for the $100,000-a-year job. Until the employer took a peek at his MySpace page and saw this:

“40 years old and like ‘em younger!”

“He could have been talking about wine,” says Tony Beshara, president of Babich and Associates, a job-placement firm in Dallas. But he wasn’t, and that’s not how it was interpreted.

Anyone applying for a job would be wise to review his or her online persona from an employer’s perspective. “I had a candidate who wrote on a religious blog things like ‘We’re right and they’re wrong and they’re all going to hell,’” says Beshara. He didn’t get the job, because the employer feared he’d spend his days preaching to co-workers. Then there’s the guy who got passed over after bragging about how well he did in Vegas. To one potential boss, that screamed “Gambler!”

Yes, religious platitudes are protected speech, and gambling in Vegas is legal. But take note: If the boss has concerns, he probably won’t hire you.

And it’s not just about getting hired. Chris Skiles, 25, couldn’t believe it when his former bosses at a Houston publishing company took exception to what he wrote on a friend’s MySpace page. “I left in a very professional manner so I could get a good reference,” says Skiles. “Then I wrote a two-line comment, a little ha-ha funny. But I guess if you read the post out of context, it wouldn’t seem too funny.”

What did his former employer take out of context? This: “Thank God this is my final day in this hellhole. May they all die a horrible, fiery death in the bowels of hell for the rest of eternity! Muah-hahahaha.”

“I should have used common sense,” Skiles admits, his chances of getting that reference now shot. “Anything that you put online is public information.”

This should seem pretty obvious to the generation who grew up on these sites, right? Maybe not, says Bari Norman, PhD, director of Expert Admission, a Manhattan-based college counseling service. When it comes to the Net, she says, young people tend to fall for two traps. One: “Many of them believe it’s truly private, and they’ll determine who gets to see what, and it will stop there.” Wrong! And two: “Their sense of what things will be like in the next stage of their life is not realistic.”

In other words, they don’t always grasp the fact that first impressions are often last impressions. They figure, I’m a good person, I’m a smart person, and eventually everyone will see that. “Teachers will give you the benefit of the doubt,” Norman says. “But employers aren’t rushing to do that.”

We all make mistakes, but posting a picture of yourself in Power Rangers underwear isn’t just a mistake. It shows bad judgment. And companies hate bad judgment.