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Don't Let Digital Dirt Derail Your Career

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You are who the Internet says you are.

"Googling" someone is routine nowadays, but when we first researched how recruiters were using the Internet to influence hiring decisions in 2005, few were aware of this practice. Executive recruiters have since made Googling a vetting standard: 90 percent of search firm recruiters look online to find anything that helps draw a complete picture of a job candidate -- up from 75 percent in 2005.

As a result of their digging, 48 percent of recruiters have uncovered "digital dirt" causing them to eliminate candidates from consideration. These digital deal-breakers include: ethics violations, falsified qualifications, felony convictions and sexual harassment complaints, among other things. Rejections have risen 85 percent since 2005 largely due to the proliferation of web communities and the increased comfort of information-sharing and living openly online.

But recruiters are not online hoping to disqualify good candidates; they want to ensure great hires. Eighty percent of corporate and search firm recruiters reported a candidate's job prospects improve when positive information (such as subject matter expertise, community service activities or published articles) is found online.

The challenge to professionals is twofold: create a positive identity and suppress a negative one. In 2010, if there are no Internet references to your success and history of accomplishments, you don't exist. Crafting an online identity is not exclusive to job seekers, and just about half of executives we surveyed worked to become visible on the web in the last year, actively launching controlled reputation management and brand identity campaigns. CEOs, who know their continued success in attracting business partners and opportunities depends on a strong reputable image, organizationally lead the way in establishing themselves online.

Here are some tips to maintain control over your online identity and positively manage your Internet reputation:

Know What the Internet Says About You: Conduct frequent self-searches using terms that include your full name, professionally used name, recent employers, industry, function or keywords related to your personal brand.

Monitor Your Moniker: To quickly learn about content containing your name, or any query you specify, establish alerts through Google, Yahoo! and other online search systems to monitor your Internet reputation for you. The alerts allow for faster reaction time and damage control, in the event that negative information arises, while also keeping you apprised of any accolades that you may want to add to your résumé or website. Include tools that track social media sources such as SocialMention.com.

Build an Online Portfolio: Buy your domain name and set up a website to serve as a platform highlighting your skills, experience and accomplishments. It will act as a showcase to display your résumé, bio and various self-marketing documents, along with links to articles you've published, information on conference panels where you've participated, transcripts from speaking engagements, etc.

Take Control: Blogging, commenting, posting, updating, publishing articles, participating in online conversations, connecting with peers, seeking out specialized communities and attracting positive attention are now everyday activities. Be generous with your time and expertise and you could wind up contributing to content published by others, which generates third-party promotions and gets noticed by search engines.

Tune Privacy Controls: Many social media sites have settings that enable the user to control the flow of public and private information, who can view and share your content, the types of searches where you appear and how you can be contacted. Carefully adjust settings before posting anything to avoid personal information from becoming universal.

Dual Digital Identities: Consider a boundary between what you display on business networking sites and information that is more appropriate for friends and family. Reserve an invitation-only site, such as Facebook, as a private and digital playground, and you'll never have to worry about those costume party photos appearing during an interview.

And Just in Case... You've identified the dirt, worked hard to bury it and were careful not to create anything else that could damage your reputation, yet there is still character- and potentially career-blemishing online information attached to your name. If you posted the controversial or offensive information, have an honest and regretful response prepared in case it arises in interviews or employment situations. Address the circumstances, your poor judgment, lessons learned, and move the discussion forward. Negative information about you posted by others requires quick damage control, which can range from polite requests to remove the content to full-scale marketing and PR identity-repairing campaigns.

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