Tory Johnson: Dusting Your Digital Dirt

Do you or your kids have digital dirt? If so, it might be time to start sweeping it up.

Digital dirt is the information about you -- your hobbies, your photos, your rants and raves -- that's available on the Internet through personal Web sites, profiles on popular social-networking sites, and comments on blogs. What you -- and certainly your teenagers -- might not realize is that employers are reading what's out there and in many cases these things can derail your job prospects even before you're called for an interview.

This all started with Google. The popular search engine enabled all of us to become private eyes -- we can look up anyone and anything on the Internet with the simple click of the mouse. This is a great tool for job-seekers. They can Google an interviewer to learn something about that person in hopes of using it to establish a rapport during the interview.

But there's a flip side: those same employers check out prospective hires. With basic online searches, they're finding risqué photos posted on personal Web sites and social networks. They're reading brags about excessive drinking and promiscuity, and plenty more …

Pay Attention, Parents

With the high costs of recruiting, training and retaining top talent -- from entry level to senior executives -- employers must be cautious about who they hire. As a recruiter, if I'm considering two college seniors for the same position and I come across an online profile for one of them that brags about rowdy parties and drunken escapades, I might think twice about that person. And I will likely lean more toward the candidate who has a clean online profile -- or none at all.

Clean Up Online Profiles

Why would anyone want the contents of a silly social site to be held against him when looking for a job? The safest, smartest option is to clean up online profiles. Instead of ordering your teens to remove their profiles, which won't likely go over too well with them, you can encourage them to have fun expressing themselves -- within reason. Nobody has to lose all her personality and creativity, but you should suggest that she remove questionable material so she doesn't jeopardize potential employment opportunities.

Several college career service offices have begun aggressively warning students that recruiters monitor their online stuff. In a competitive job market, students need all the ammunition they can get. And a heads-up on this growing trend has allowed many students to start pre-emptively dusting their own dirt.

(Incidentally, many college admissions offices now review the online profiles of high school seniors when determining their eligibility for admittance. Ask your son and daughter if they would want to miss out on the college of their dreams because they're boasting about skipping class and underage drinking.)

Prepare a Response

Some teens and 20-somethings hesitate to sanitize their online profiles. Many I spoke with say, "No employer owns me 24/7 -- I'm entitled to have a social life. Just because I like to party, that doesn't mean I'm a lousy worker."

For those who refuse to budge on the racy photos or salacious profiles, my best advice is to prepare to address profile contents if asked.

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