Maintaining a Good (Online) Reputation

My web presence has gotten out of control. I just spent the last few hours pruning it down to something manageable. I still have to go through the accounts I’m keeping to make sure that everything is appropriate for any potential boss to see. I’ve made sure that anyone who isn’t a Friend on Facebook can’t see my pole dancing photos. They also don’t need to see photos of me in the hospital during labor (thank you, husband, for taking them to begin with), so I’ll be going through Flickr this weekend to put restrictions on some photo sets.

This may sound a little over the top, but a survey found that 45 percent of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates (more than double from the year before). Industries that specialize in technology and sensitive information are most likely to screen job candidates via social networking sites or online search engines. If you’re indiscreet on Facebook, who’s to say you can hold your tongue about Top-Secret government programs?

The survey also reported the top reasons why an employer did NOT choose to hire certain job applicants:

  • Posted inappropriate photographs or information – 53%
  • Posted content about them drinking or using drugs – 44%
  • Bad-mouthed previous employer, co-workers or clients – 35%
  • Showed poor communication skills – 29%
  • Made discriminatory comments – 26%
  • Lied about qualifications – 24%
  • Shared confidential info from previous employer – 20%

Even your emoticon usage could be detrimental as 14 percent of employers rejected candidates for using them!

This does not bode well for me. (I would like to go on record, however, by saying that I have never used one in a cover letter or email to potential employer.)

Fortunately, most stumbling blocks can be avoided by making most things on your profile only visible to friends. One thing you DO have to worry about is what other people write on your wall. Don’t be afraid to delete your friend’s funny comment about that drunken night out if you’re currently applying for jobs. You both had a good laugh, but get rid of it afterwards. Look at everything through the eyes of an extremely conservative CEO.

I have also gone through my list of followers on Twitter to make sure that certain people can’t read what I write. And when I do vent about clients or work, I never name names and I always remain vague. Your close friends will get it, so you don’t have to be detailed. Better yet, avoid Internet venting altogether.

Another tip: when sending out your resume or using a job search site, use an email address unlike the one you use for social networking. That way, when prospective employers search Facebook using the email address from your resume, nothing will come up.

Not only have I decided to do all of the aforementioned things, but I’m also in the middle of redesigning my website. It will have a conservative public section and will have a section will all of my “life” items and social media links that I don’t necessarily want potential employers to see. That half will be only be accessible by a short list of people I deem cool enough. I’ll let you know how that goes. J Oh no! I just emoted.

I’m doomed.

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Stephanie is a graphic designer who has managed art departments in the non-profit and corporate worlds. She is currently Work(ing)Awesome(ly) at home with her company Studio Lewis Graphic Design.


  1. Mario Andrade on the 30th March

    I actually got a job before where my social presence had an important role for me to be chosen.
    Personally I find myself “managing” social profiles without thinking that I’m managing them. I will share what I feel reasonable to share with other people. Friends or not. People will know me for that and so will my future employer.

    On the other hand some people are almost forced to create a Avatar, a different identity in order to have a web presence for possible jobs and another one where they will act, talk, interact as they feel like and not worrying about their professional future.

    The same way an individual only shows the best works on the portfolio, the same should be with social media profiles.

    Nice post Stephanie Lewis 🙂

  2. Stephanie Lewis on the 30th March

    oh darn. WordPress doesn’t seem to allow emoticons in posts. Just so you know, I didn’t just type a random J for fun.

  3. Rondal on the 31st March

    Great pose, Stephanie. I never really considered social profiles as a potential employer setback, but it makes a lot of sense. I guess its all part of what I’ve heard referred to as “cultivating your personal brand.”

    Who knows… maybe in another 10-20 years we’ll be having this same conversation in regard to our children’s social profiles having an effect on what school they go to. Haha, now there’s a scary thought.

  4. Yari on the 31st March

    Hmmm I never really considered social media as something clients use to “scope you out”. Although, it makes sense, because I would probably do the same. I do keep my personal and work accounts separate, but I definitely do have to go in and make sure everything’s kosher. Thanks for this post, it was very informative!

  5. Jaime on the 31st March

    Also, keep in mind that sometimes (depending on the field you’re applying into, or the culture surrounding the job or company) you can have the exact opposite result. A whole lot of new media, publicity and tech companies have a different culture than your local bank, insurance, law firm, etc… outfits. I’d argue that even though I actually do look into the social networking lives of the people I hire, someone too conservative will probably not seem like a fit for the culture I want my company to have. Honestly, a funny picture of a drunken night out where a potential employe decides to showcase the benefits of using a lamp shade as a hat would spike interest in my book (and I speak for a bunch of other entrepreneurs that strive to keep a fun youthful culture). On the other hand, I’d be honest and ask the candidate (after I ask him if it was a fun night) if he’s the kind of employee that will miss meetings because he’s hungover. My preference is to employ people with a good sense of humor, a youthful (regardless of age) personality, and a strong character over a person that displays the unequivocal characteristics of a corporate drone and/or a grumpy persona. I want to be amused by a lame joke, impressed by an awesome creative solution, and intensely challenged on a decision I want to take (as long as it’s a respectful and intelligent insight, off course) on a single meeting. I want happy employees and strong charactered people on my side, and sometimes, this characteristics are seen in your social network personas.

  6. Thekla Richter on the 31st March

    The rest make sense, but emoticons? Really? That is just so petty and silly.

    I personally wonder how many have rejected candidates for discriminatory reasons based on things they learned about someone through social media. For instance, what if they learned about someone’s religion or sexual orientation? I’m not sure that they’d admit this in a survey, but I know that fear of that possibility is causing some large companies to disallow Googling candidates or looking into their social media profiles. There’s also always the chance that an employer could assess someone based on someone else’s profile, especially if they have a name less unusual than mine! That sort of thing could cause a perfectly good candidate not to get hired.

    Personally, I hope that social media research gets regulated a bit. I think that that research should be done only post-offer as part of a background check, and that employers should have to advise candidates of something negative that they are using to not hire them, so that if it’s not actually about them that they have the chance to defend themselves. Of course, having such rules and enforcing them are not the same thing.

  7. Lauhakari [mikko] on the 31st March

    people really didn’t think employers checked social-profiles?? Wow, thought that was old news..

    Like some said here I too try keeping my personal & business/work/professional accounts separate. although sometimes the line is thin cuz many friends are in the biz.

    My tip to everyone is not to befriend your bosses, co-workers and so on, on any personal accounts. Unless you REALLY become friends. And keep all these profiles private!!! Facebook is a good example, just show very VITAL information to all and the rest to your friends and friends only! If you need create a page for yourself where you can share som more info to potential clients and employers.

  8. Paul Letourneau on the 31st March

    Great Post!

    I’ve been talking about this almost daily with my girlfriend. She is applying for Engineering positions around the world and has been ‘pruning’ her facebook page as of late.

    Also, great idea about getting your site up the way you like it. I would also add that anyone that doesn’t yet own their own domain name ( should asap. Why only be reactive when you can be proactive and put the things you WANT employers to see out there.

  9. Cyn on the 1st April

    GREAT advice about avoiding internet venting. A rule I’ve successfully lived by for years.

  10. Julius on the 1st April

    I know a friend who keeps a social network account which she keeps public and another one where she writes freely. This may not be a good solution for most of us, but it can be an option.

  11. Matt Kocaj on the 2nd April

    I have to agree with @Jaime and @Thekla. Employers who are going to judge you on vague impressions that your social media habits exhibit might not be the ones you really want to work for. I think this generally might be self regulating – you should be able to tell if the interviewer or HR staff are weighing these less-relevant “personal” factors too heavily. In my view, if the guy can do the job and do it well whilst at work then their private lives should not concern me (a whole lot).

    Like it seems Jamie is, I’m also in the tech sphere and actually redesigning my CV right now. One of my focuses is to try to target those employers who fit -my- style while finding the happy medium that still does not reject the more traditional of CEOs.

    Your boss may pay you but provided you work in a country where there is a free economy, you as the employee (the “resource”) call the shots. Don’t get too hung up on vetting your Facebook or tweets (even if they may offend some) too much. It’s like making friends face to face – if your interviewer has scoped you out online, you’ll detect it. If you don’t like them, don’t work for them.

  12. Brett Widmann on the 21st December

    This is a great article. Having a bad online reputation could ruin you for for many years and keep you from getting great jobs,

  13. Versie on the 20th June

    Mario Andrande knows what he’s talking about. If you set up a social account, why start lying in it, posting stuff that just isn’t you, trying to hide from your true self, and from employers as well.

    Think of it this way, whoever accepts everything you have in your social profile, then that’s a boss worth working for. If he doesn’t like something about you or something you said in your profile, then you’re better off not working for them and they are better off not having you in their team. Least that’s how I see it.

    Obviously there’s the internet defamation attacks that can make your social profile their target, meaning they’ll spread lies about you, as a person, that might hurt your future career opportunities. Those you need to take care of as soon as possible because they can really hurt your image.

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