Tory Johnson: Dusting Your Digital Dirt

An interviewer might say, "So I saw your MySpace profile and you certainly like to have fun, don't you?" Instead of saying, "Hey -- that's none of your beeswax," you'll want to take a less defensive approach. "Yes, I enjoy being with my friends. I'm also a great student and I've worked very hard to maintain a strong GPA. I believe that it's OK to relax and have fun, too. That's never affected my performance on the job, nor will it."

But again, keep in mind that you might not have the chance to defend yourself because someone might nix you from the running without even asking you to explain the online profile.

Implement Safety Controls

Many of the popular social-networking sites allow users to post comments about fellow members. This means that friends and strangers can comment on you, your photos and other content. To avoid having such comments from working against you, especially if they're off-color, activate the features that block such comments. You can also manually delete anything you find objectionable.

A senior executive at a top company shared with me a recent example of how such comments spiraled out of control for one new employee. She had photos of herself in a bikini during spring break posted on her online profile. What she didn't realize -- because she didn't check her profile frequently -- was that visitors to her Web page had posted the equivalent of lewd catcalls. That proved embarrassing to this young woman among her new co-workers.

She could have prevented this by implementing comment blocks or by frequenting her profile and deleting such comments.

Not Limited to the College Crowd

All of us -- regardless of age or position -- are subject to online searches by current and prospective employers. I know many companies that have ruled out candidates -- and even rescinded offers -- because of what they found online. Digital dirt included misstated academic qualifications, radical political views, objectionable jokes posted on personal Web pages and even negative comments about former employers submitted to blogs.

Narcisurf Today

Do some narcisurfing! It's a term that's cropping up relating to Internet searches that we conduct on ourselves. Not only can you Google yourself, but you should go to, too. Dogpile retrieves information from multiple search engines and gives different results than Google or Yahoo! does.

If you have an online profile on any of the social networks, carefully review its contents to see if there's anything that would make an employer wince. If there's information on your personal Web page that you wouldn't want your current or future boss to see, then change it. If the objectionable information about you is on another site, you can contact the webmaster about having it changed or removed. And if that's not possible, you'll have to be ready to explain it if asked.

Consider Professional, Not Social Networks.

Since there are indeed great advantages to online networks -- including promoting your professional strengths and personal interests as well as connecting with like-minded people -- consider creating a free account on a site like LinkedIn. Unlike the social networks like MySpace, Facebook and Friendster, this service, which has 5 million registered users, focuses much more on the professional than the personal.

To connect directly with Tory Johnson or for other information on career advancement, visit

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