Protect your digital presence

by Brent Anthony
Internal Talent Acquisition & Operations Lead at Charles Aris Inc.

One of the joys of parenthood for me is watching my child learn. Seeing how my nearly 3-year-old overcomes the problems she encounters, develops new vocabulary, attains new skills – it is just an amazing journey to witness.

One of the most striking things my wife and I see is how quickly she adapts to technology. Place a touchscreen in front of the child and within minutes she is operating it like an old pro.

Seeing these interactions got me thinking long and hard about an important lesson that she needs to learn. I want to instill in her a healthy respect for technology and the impact it can have on her development, her education, her reputation and her career. It is a lesson we all need and would be wise to heed: Protect your personal and professional digital presence.

We all hear about the dangers and economic ramifications of identity theft. In the United States, $54 billion is spent each year on digging out of identity theft. The resulting lost time and lost wages are staggering.

These losses are solely limited to identity theft, though. Ever thought about how much could be lost simply through benign neglect or outright self-sabotage?

Recently, Charles Aris colleague Brenna Gerhart discussed some of the ways in which recruiting professionals get your name. As Brenna stated, we use online sources, social media, word of mouth – you name it, we will use it to find the right hire for our clients. Companies retain us to locate top talent and, between you and me, we’re pretty good at finding just that through research and referrals!

While we do find great people through that research, we also find some fairly career-damaging content as well. Be it a simple Google search of a candidate, a sweep through Twitter or a glance at Facebook, you might be amazed by some of the things we’ve seen over the years – some of which have caused us to pass on this candidate or given us pause about presenting that candidate to our client.

Your online presence is your brand and it must be protected.

In the movie “Gladiator,” General Maximus Decimus Meridius (portrayed by Russell Crowe) states that “what we do in life echoes in eternity.” Anything you place in the digital domain – whether it’s public, protected by a password, flagged for friends only or intended for controlled access – could be (and probably is) accessible in some fashion and likely will be accessible in perpetuity.

It is critically important to recognize what that means. If you put content out for consumption, it will be accessible for consumption. Someone is going to consume it, so it better be what you want representing you.

Consider this. You’re a recruiter and you see two profiles on LinkedIn. On both, you see the type of talent background that your client seeks: a top-tier MBA pedigree and exemplary recommendations from colleagues. Accordingly, you plan to reach out to both but decide that it’s worth the extra minute to run a quick Internet search on each of the prospects.

Candidate A’s Facebook page is public, listing a variety of alumni gatherings, pictures of her friends, and a posting here and there about her favorite sports team.

Candidate B’s Facebook page is also public, but unlike Candidate A’s profile, it has several disparaging and vulgar postings about his boss, a few questionable Liked pages, and a profile picture of him drinking an adult beverage straight from a funnel.

Now I’m willing to go out on a limb here and guess which prospect you’re more likely to call. If you were my client, I think I also know which prospect you would prefer presented to you as a formal candidate once properly vetted. (And yes, in case you were wondering, these are actual profiles I recently ran across; no need for hypotheticals here.)

Corporate clients hire professional recruiters to find individuals who are not just qualified but who also are going to be excellent cultural fits in their organizations. This type of content may not tell the entire story of cultural fit, but it’s hardly a great first impression. It could very well be an impression that causes a researcher or recruiter to bypass Candidate B despite that prospect’s otherwise impressive credentials.

Ultimately, social networks can be fantastic and far-reaching ways to stay connected and build your professional brand through blog posts, article sharing and journal authoring, for example. But as Uncle Ben Parker famously put it in the Spider-Man comics, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

Be responsible with what you place in the digital domain – you are signing that content with a virtual pen whose ink is likely permanent.