SEATTLE – When it comes to hunting for a job, most college students understand that a firm handshake is now trumped by their digital footprint.
“It’s constantly in the back of mind,” said Matt Seguin, a University of Washington sophomore who recently attended a career fair in search of an internship. “I’m checking what pictures I’m tagged in, what I’m saying.”
The Internet gives companies a powerful tool when searching for the best job candidates.
“Your online presence gets looked at immediately after you’ve had your first interaction with the company,” said Ashish Pandey, senior vice president of business development at Popshops.com.
“What you put out online, that’s all we see as a first impression,” said Ann Gong of Redmond-based Avitech.
The Internet has become a lifelong archive of pictures and thoughts. And a simple Google search can quickly uncover red flags, from extreme party pictures to bashing of past employers.
That has prompted some students to take extreme measures.
“One of my best friends just deleted his Facebook and is trying to get me on that bandwagon,” Seguin said. “He’s like, ‘Oh, we’re applying for jobs right now and it’s better not to have anything out there.’”
Whether someone is looking for a job, promotion, scholarship or date, online reputations are more important than ever. It takes very little time to uncover personal information about someone – including a person's age, mortgage and salary.
“It’s not what you think is true about you or not what you think is the full story about you, it’s what the Internet thinks is true about you,” said Michael Fertik, founder and CEO of Reputation.com, a California-based company that specializes in online reputations.
Fertik’s company helps people and businesses take control of their online images by promoting the good stuff and hiding negative items.
Even without help from his company, Fertik said Internet users can do a few things to take control of their digital lives.
For starters, build a website with a domain name that is as close as possible to featuring your first name and last name, ending in “.com.” The site should feature a resume or biography that tastefully tells your story.
Other experts also suggest buying domain names for your children, so they have them in the future.
When it comes to social media pages, it is also important to use names that are as close to your first name and last name as possible.
“That’s what gives people the first impression about you and allows you to deliver the message that you need to deliver for yourself,” Fertik said.
It is fairly easy to use your name with Facebook and Linked In, but some people have Twitter handles that do not match their real names, which means their Twitter accounts may not show up if someone looks for them using a search engine.
Online reputations are becoming so important that Fertik’s company is in the early stages of developing a professional reputation score, something that quantifies information about someone that can be found online, using millions of different pieces of data.
“The information’s already out there now,” Fertik said. “It’s just it hasn’t been digitized and quantified in a way that’s very, very useful.”
The scores could become so mainstream, Fertik said, that applicants could use them to get jobs or promotions.
“They will start to rely on this in, say, the same way they rely on a FICA score in life transactions,” he said.
The scores could even help people chart career paths by determining the best colleges for various careers, the most lucrative degrees, the best companies to work for out of college and for how long employees should work at those companies.
“This is the future,” Fertik said with a smile.
Back at the UW career fair, several employers stressed the importance of candidates having a strong online presence, especially when it comes to social media.
“If you don’t have Facebook friends or connections, if you don’t have LinkedIn connections, that’s a huge red flag for us,” said Pandey of Popshops.com.
In fact, for many companies, that is far worse than a few online party pictures.
“We like to engage people with our social media, not to judge,” said Cami Zimmer of UIEvolution.
Vince Kenkel, vice president of development for Webtrends, agrees.
“We’re not interested in the personal aspect of it,” he said.
Rather, he thinks candidates need to do a better job of managing their online reputations. He noted that the Internet has leveled the playing field, but most do not take advantage of it.
“Google yourself,” Kenkel suggested. “Does it tell your story? And if it doesn’t tell your story, change it.”
To successfully manage your online reputation, experts suggest searching your name on a regular basis. The first page of results should feature only positive links from reputable sources, according to Reputation.com, with nothing negative for a few pages.
You can monitor yourself by using services like Google Alerts, which notifies you when your name is mentioned online.
You should also double-check your privacy settings on Facebook on a regular basis.
Finally, if there is something negative online that you cannot delete or get someone else to delete, it might be best to hire an online reputation manager. They offer services for both individuals and businesses. Prices range greatly depending on what someone needs, but the cost for some services is less than $10 a month.