(Photo Source: ezioman)
“We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.”
-Lakota Native American Proverb
Cautionary Lessons from a True Story
As a rising second-year student, Felicia’s law career was off to a great start. Although it was a hectic time with advanced courses, Law Review, and applications for summer jobs, Felicia had an excellent GPA and was able to obtain references from two of her school’s most esteemed professors. She was on her way to being hired for a high-paying summer associate position that would help take care of her student loans and get her foot in the door of a highly competitive job market.
On the night before her first job interview, Felicia “Googled” herself out of curiosity during a period of procrastination. To her horror, her Twitter page was the first search result. When Felicia first signed up for Twitter, she listed her real name—first and last. Since 2007, Felicia regularly tweeted about her controversial political views and her tumultuous love life.
Felicia quickly made her Twitter account private. Problem solved, right? Wrong. On the Internet, there are hundreds of websites that leech off of Twitter, indexing tweets and account information. Although her Twitter account was now private, these other sites still displayed her old tweets upon Googling her real name.
But even more terrifying—her Net Trail was exposed. Everything she had done on the Internet under her one username could now be found by anyone who wanted to look for it.
Your Net Trail: What is it and Why Does it Matter?
Your Net Trail is the accumulation of information—message board posts, blog comments, photos, Twitter updates, etc.—that you leave on the Internet whenever you post under a unique username.
The rising popularity of websites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Myspace are problematic for job seekers because these sites present employers with another way to screen applicants. You don’t want an employer to find your Twitter account that lists all of your innermost or controversial thoughts, and you certainly don’t want an interviewer finding visual proof of just how much fun you had last weekend.
In addition to Felicia’s above true story in which a simple Google search of her first and last name revealed her username and Net Trail, consider the following scenarios.
Scenario One: Unique Email Search
Let’s say that for your whole life you have used the alias “Sample9687” whenever you posted on the Internet. Your email address is Sample9687@gmail.com, your Twitter account is http://twitter.com/Sample9687, and your Facebook address is http://www.facebook.com/Sample9687 (activated through http://www.facebook.com/username).
A prospective employer gets your resume. At the top of your resume, is your contact information, including Sample9687@gmail.com. Either out of curiosity or standard screening procedure, the employer searches for “Sample9687” in quotes.
With one easy search, the employer has found your Net Trail. Rants, debates, videos, pictures, online journals, etc. are now at the employer’s fingertips.
The employer finds your old Webshots account that you haven’t touched since the beginning of college; in fact, you even forgot it existed because who uses Webshots anymore? A picture of you looking less than professional after a night of partying leads the employer to conclude that you are not the type of candidate that he is looking for.
Scenario Two: Facebook Email Search
Your name is Chris Johnson, and you’ve done everything right. Your Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/ChrisJ19823, is private. In fact, you used a fake name—your Facebook friends know you as “Big Chris Daddy,” which you find hilarious. You’ve applied to jobs using your professional school email address, which is “email@example.com.” However, you forgot that you registered for Facebook using your university email address.
The employer gets your resume and, as a standard screening procedure, she enters your email address into Facebook’s search feature. The search returns one result—the profile for “Big Chris Daddy.” Even though your Facebook profile is private, your picture and “likes” are still visible. Both come across as extremely unprofessional.
In the address bar of her web browser, the employer sees “http://www.facebook.com/ChrisJ19823.” Her interest is piqued and immediately she does a Google search for “ChrisJ19823.”
Chris’s Net Trail is exposed. The search reveals that he has extremely strong political views that the employer does not find amusing. In fact, Chris frequently posted under ChrisJ19823 on CNN.com, vehemently flaming and cursing at anyone that disagreed with his viewpoints.
Needless to say, Chris is not hired.
Internet Reputation Management: Critical Advice for Job Applicants
Felicia is not the exception. Most people post online using the same username for everything that they do without even thinking about it. In fact, we believe that Net Trails will have a huge effect on politics in the near future. Think of how easily a candidate’s past Net Trail could be exposed and used to cast doubt on his or her character.
For a comedic look at the future of Net Trails in politics, see comedian Pete Holmes’ stand-up routine at around 1 minute and 10 seconds into the video located at: http://comedians.jokes.com/pete-holmes/videos/pete-holmes—internet-sleuth
The implications, of course, will vary for each individual. Some people have nothing to hide. Others do. Still, it is important to be aware that everything you do online leaves a discoverable Net Trail.
Being proactive and managing your Net Trails is an often overlooked aspect of getting a job. If you take anything out of this post, it should be this: if you want to be a professional of any sort, then you need to 1) reconsider what you are putting out into cyberspace, and 2) make sure anything private is either locked down or untraceable to your real identity.
Internet Reputation Management Guidelines to Follow
- Separate the personal from the professional. Do not link the email address that you put on your resume to any social media account like Facebook. Doing so makes you easily discoverable through a simple email search.
- Never use your real name on a public website. Note: this applies to private Twitter accounts. Even a private Twitter account can reveal your Net Trail, and anyone can search messages that are written to you by searching for @yourusername in the Twitter search feature.
- Master the art of “preemptive detagging” This means kindly declining to pose for potentially embarrassing or incriminating pictures before they are taken.
- Google yourself periodically, or set a Google Alert (http://www.google.com/alerts) with your name so you are notified of anything written about you. If you have a common name, add in various modifying search terms. For example, if you are John Smith and attend the University of California, search for things like “John Smith UCLA” for a more accurate set of results.
- If you discover any offensive content when Googling your name, email whoever posted it and politely ask him or her to take it down.
- Double check your Facebook settings to ensure that they are indeed private. A good way to test this is to have a friend “defriend” you for a few minutes and ask them to visit your page to see what they have access to.
- Use different usernames for different websites and message boards. This fragments your one Net Trail into many, and thus makes it extremely hard to trace everything that you do online.
- If you must engage in an Internet flaming match, make sure you use an entirely new and anonymous username.
But my Twitter is Private
It will still reveal your username and thus your Net Trail, and by going to the search feature and typing “@yourusername” anyone can see who is communicating to you on Twitter.
But my Facebook is Private
It can still reveal your username in the URL bar of the browser, and it will still display one profile picture and sometimes will display your “likes.” Make sure none of this is incriminating or unprofessional.
But I have a fake name on my Facebook
If the email on your resume is linked to your Facebook account, even as one of multiple email addresses on your profile, employers can easily find you. Remember the case of “Big Chris Daddy” mentioned above.
Use these rules of Internet Reputation Management and be proactive about removing content that can cost you the job. It may seem like overkill to some, but trust us, it is absolutely necessary—you never know who is watching… or Googling you.