Cleaning Up Your Social Media Profile

Today’s Boston Globe ran an interesting story that you should read if you are hoping to secure a job in the future. So that means pretty much everyone.

The takeaway: your online footprint is easy for people to discover, and potentially very dangerous for your future.

It’s great to hear that schools like Boston University, Boston College, Brandeis, and Northeastern are taking the issue seriously. The article discusses programs and workshops at each university to help students build a positive online profile. But the article also identified companies — some fledgling, some more established — to help you “clean up” your online image (for a fee).

This points to the biggest problem potential employees will be facing: the need to fix, repair, or clean up an internet reputation. No matter how many workshops you attend to perfect your LinkedIn profile, you cannot reverse the damage done by one inappropriate picture or Tweet.

So ask yourself: if an employer (or admissions officer) engages in a search of your background and cyber footprint, what are they going to find? What will they see? And what might they think?

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you’re planning your professional future.

  1. “First, do no harm.” It doesn’t apply just to medical ethics. Before you post something on Facebook, or Tweet your thoughts on a TV show, or pose for a picture that may be posted online by a friend, ask yourself: how might this be interpreted by a person who is far more conservative and shy than you?
  2. Know Your Privacy: If you aren’t acutely aware of your privacy settings and public/private status of your social media outlets, you are doing yourself a disservice. You should always know when something you say is shared or re-Tweeted, and when an image of you is tagged or posted. In most cases, if someone else references your words or image online, you can contact them to remove the material. And if you don’t know them well enough to make that request, should you really be posing for them to take your photograph?
  3. Your Friends Can Kill You: You can stop updating your Facebook status and disable your Twitter account. That doesn’t mean your friends (and distant acquaintances) will follow suit. Every photo you’ve been tagged in, or comment of yours that was re-Tweeted, or Instagram photo posted by someone else could be located by a potential employer. Oh, so your Facebook page is only viewable by friends, you say? That’s great – but if one person in your social network is not so private about his own privacy settings, it provides an entry point into your background.
  4. Get Yourself Audited: It’s always better to know what’s in your cyber footprint than to be surprised. Before you send in a resume or cover letter, or schedule the interview for your dream job, find out what people might discover about you online. You can even ask someone who is not your closest friend to dig around online – and not just for five minutes. Have him probe and turn over every rock. No matter how bad the discovery, it’s easier to answer questions if you know what is coming.