What does social media say about you?

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Since graduating from college I have been on a number of great interviews but still haven’t found a job. I don’t understand it. I have a degree in computer science from a great school and some relevant work experience as a summer intern. Any idea what I could be doing wrong?

The person who asked this question also sent me a copy of his college resume. I gave it a quick look and thought it was fine, nothing outstanding, but well done and certainly job worthy. I then talked to him on the phone for a few minutes and he seemed articulate, well-mannered and knowledgeable in his topic of expertise. Truth be told, at that time I didn’t really have any good advice for him. It seemed that he was doing things right and has been trying hard to find a job. I told him that I thought it would, most likely, just be a matter of time before he found a job; after all, he had already been among the final candidates at three potential companies. A couple of months went by and just by chance he recognized my name at a networking event. I was wearing a name badge, like all others attending the event. He still didn’t have a job.

In trying to brainstorm with him about potential job hunting ideas, I asked him if he was using social media as part of his job search. He said he was continually looking for openings on various job boards, but he wasn’t using it to network with other people via the web. He went on to say that he used social media just for fun. He was on Facebook, a number of open discussion boards on topics he liked, and a couple of gaming sites.

I told him that many company Human Resources departments do background checks on potential new employees using Google and/or other search engines. He then looked at me and his expression turned from interest, to understanding, to fear, to panic. I asked him what was wrong and if he was ok. He said yes, but there was unprofessional stuff about him on the web. He did nothing bad or illegal, but there were pictures of him drunk at parties, in compromising positions with friends, and generally doing college kid kind of stuff that would not be considered professional.

He then took out his smart phone and ran a web search on his name. Unfortunately for him, his name was not very common or the same as a well-known celebrity. As a result, various pieces of information about him came up on the first two pages of the search results and it wasn’t good. It looked like fun, but not the types of things that would be of value to him in his job search. In fact, it seemed very possible that it was his social media presence that was causing the problem.

I suggested that he analyze his searchable presence on the web using both Google and Bing. This would give him a good idea of exactly what was out there about him that was, let’s just say, less than professional, and one by one, try to remove inappropriate pictures and materials using the steps below.

1. Stop putting this type of material on the web. Additional material of this type will only make the situation worse. Also, generally speaking, newer not only shows that you are still doing it, but will more likely be displayed because of its newness.
2. Modify your public Facebook page, keeping it friendly, but free of non-professional content.
3. Contact friends who had “tagged” him in inappropriate pictures and ask them to un-tag his name.
4. Go to discussion boards where you made inappropriate comments and remove the comments or at least reword them so they would not be seen as offensive from a professional viewpoint.
5. If the discussion board comments could not be removed, then modify your profile by modifying the spelling of his last name and replace his picture with a cartoon figure to help mask his identity.
6. Do this same rewording and identity masking on gaming and other websites where you participated.
7. Start to blanket the web with positive, constructive, and professional activity. This activity should include;
a. Participation in professional technical discussion boards, ideally by answering difficult technical questions; this not only shows your willingness to help others, but also showcases your strong technical ability.
b. Participation in Twitter, with following business leaders and technical visionaries, and also by re-tweeting interesting professional articles, which will show that you are well-read.

I went on to tell him that the combination of systematically trying to remove unflattering content about him and flooding the web with new, high quality, professional material would have the following benefits:

• There would be less professionally damaging information to find.
• Some of the information that could not be removed would be harder to personally associate with him.
• The great new professional information he was creating would help showcase his abilities to potential employers and begin building a high quality personal/professional brand.
• Over time, this new content would push the remaining unprofessional content farther down in the search results, thus making it a little more difficult to find.

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at
eric@ManagerMechanics.com
or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom.

Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to grow.

Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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