Are you interested in minimizing your career opportunities? Do you plan on staying at your current position forever? If you answered “yes” to either of these questions, there’s no need to continue reading. If you answered otherwise, you might be surprised at how much your online presence is limiting your career and in ways not often considered.
Over the past six months, I’ve read no less than five different Web articles preaching about how individuals need to spruce up their Internet persona, but most of these suggestions seem to be written by someone who hasn’t hired someone in the past 5 years or who just recently discovered the Internets. These warning stories often focus on the need to avoid and remove embarrassing pictures, comments, or opinions that might hurt your chances with certain employers. Sure, this is sound advice, and if your heart rate is increasing just reading this, there’s no better time than the present to start thinking about the permanent nature of posting something to the Web.
For everyone else who realized the naked keg stand pic probably shouldn’t be in the public domain, the problem is much more subtle (or not subtle in some cases). Over the past several weeks, we’ve been trying to fill a software development position and during this time, I’ve been amazed at how many people have compromised their chances in the search pool due to their online apathy.
Here’s a sampling of my favorites. Granted, none of these would necessarily constitute a candidate veto; however, first impressions are still valid even in the cloud age.
1. Profile picture is the Geico caveman. The software craft is creative and all, but I have to wonder how many serious companies are looking for a senior caveman. For those Gen-Y’ers who are thinking “the codger doesn’t get it”, I challenge you to consider a few things. First, for every hiring manager that thinks this is clever, there are ten that wonder if this is a serious candidate. Second, if personal expression is the intent, I recommend something that exhibits originality a lot better than a plagiarized advertisement image. Advice: To create a connection with someone beyond what a boring resume can provide, upload a decent head shot of yourself.
2. Personal Web site has more broken links than a bicycle in a blender. For those in the more technical fields, this is a great way to immediately impress an employer with examples of your best work, and it’s a free advertisement for your ability to “get things done right”. Advice: Simply stated, your site needs to work, or it should be taken down.
3. Objective statement says NASA, but the work history says Sizzler. Shooting for the stars is admirable; however, making the move from part-time Frisbee golfer to senior VP of anything is likely to take more than one step. Advice: If you don’t like what you are doing, start a new career or create your own company, but if you want to progress in the same field, choose an objective that will convey that you understand your current skill set.
4. Where’s Waldo? If you have a name like “John Smith” or “Brad Pitt”, it’s understandable why you aren’t anywhere on the first two pages of a Google or Bing search. Typically, just being part of a couple of professional directories such as LinkedIn, Plaxo, or an up-n-comer like Brazen Careerist is enough to get the search engines to make you findable. Many readers will use the excuse that this will cause them to be spammed or have headhunters calling, but my many years of Internet transparency and exposure disprove these myths. Advice: Use the Internet as a tool to better your chances of being discovered and contacted by adding and maintaining a profile on one or more professional social networking sites.
5. You did what? Does that job at the global waste management company mean you were lifting trash or running the company? It’s always confusing to see a list of company names with no job titles or descriptions, especially when cut-n-pasting the information from your resume is so simple. Advice: Add job titles and some information about what you did at each job.
6. You are busier than every other busy person in the world. Having a subpar public profile is not helping your chances, but violating the rules of common Internet etiquette will absolutely destroy your chances now and possibly in the future. For instance, responding to email is the electronic version of shaking hands when it comes to building professional relationships, and this applies to the messaging systems that Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media sites use. Frankly, I’m always flattered if someone sends me a message via a comment on my blog or my Twitter account, so I do my best to always acknowledge this with a simple reply. Advice: Even if the job doesn’t interest you, the response and networking opportunity should never be dismissed. Also, confirm that you will be notified via the right email address or text message when people use the proprietary messaging systems used by social media sites.
While writing this post, I often received feedback that someone shouldn’t be excluded for one of these reasons. Sure, there’s no doubt a superstar candidate will overcome many online flaws, but the process for finding superstars is indeterminate. I was tempted to use cleaning up a house to be sold as an analogy for how to approach an online presence, but selling a house only happens a couple of times for most of us. Selling yourself, on the other hand, is a never-ending process, especially with technology allowing someone to market himself or herself globally, 24 hours a day for almost zero cost. Unlike sprucing up the landscaping, a professional network can’t be developed in day, and since you never know when someone is stopping by, why not get your online house in order.