Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Privacy & Reputation Guidelines for Job Hunting in the Internet & Social Media Era

If the most recent presidential elections of George W. Bush and Barack Obama should have taught us anything; it is that yes, what you did 20 years ago in your military service or whom you have associated with in the past, even casually or just in college, can come into public focus at any important point in your life. Even for those that may never aspire to be POTUS, what you do now without thinking can and will make a difference in your life and may even haunt you for years. This is a more severe reality for all people seeking employment than in any other time in history as we are all now in the era of the Internet and social media. The newspapers and magazines from past generations eventually got thrown away, and there was something to the saying “Today’s news is tomorrow’s garbage wrapping.” Today, we don’t wrap garbage in newspapers even if we still buy an actual newspaper. News doesn’t get thrown out with the garbage daily and generally forgotten by next week. Today, today’s news is forever news. Even newspapers with news articles from former generations are being digitized and stored online available for anyone to search in an instant and read, so in today’s reality, even news from 1909 is now forever news in 2009.

The good and bad news about the Internet is “everything” stays available forever somewhere even if something is taken down or deleted. Social media posts on Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, etc are mini-personal newspapers created by us with us as the featured headliner of every news story. General personal privacy will never mean what it once meant. Personal privacy and reputation is no longer something you don’t have to think about unless you get into trouble somehow or you are written about in a newspaper or magazine. Unless you can control the privacy settings of your 100 FB friends, and they can control the privacy settings of each of their 100 FB friends, which of course is impossible actually, your post or comment to a friend’s post has the potential with just 100 friends each of having 10,000 or more possible people looking at what you have said. If you each had only 40 FB friends, the potential is 1,600 or more. This is even if you have set your privacy to be “Friends Only”. Any application you authorize is set to “Everyone” unless you specifically go to each application privacy setting and set the privacy for the application. Any page that you “Become a Fan” or group you join on social networks is set to “Everyone” and may be displayed with your public profile page. The privacy setting for every comment you make to fan or group page is controlled by the page or group, not your personal privacy setting.

What is posted about you or your own posts, tweets, or blog can be a silver bullet ricocheting all over the Internet being picked up by numerous websites, reblogged, and even possibly in results for a Google search under your name or the name of your social network friend. Your thoughts expressed in tweets, email, texts, social and professional networking site posts and comments go from you to a designated service provider’s server to the intended recipient(s). The recipients may save them and your service provider’s servers store them for up to six months. As Tiger Woods is finding out – nothing you send privately is really sacred, and loyalty can be fleeting in the Generation Me age.

One of the phenomena of Generation Me is so many want to be famous having grown up in the culture of Paris, Britney & Lindsay, American Idol, A-Rod, and YouTube. The celebrity culture has permeated our high schools and colleges – and even our politics – in the United States with technology that allows everyone to easily seek their 15 minutes of fame. And often, famous and infamous are interchangeable as bad attention is better than no attention. Anyone has the potential to become an overnight sensation by posting a video to YouTube doing something really great or doing something really stupid. Anyone can detail their minute-by-minute thoughts and actions with a simple tweet on Twitter or a post on Facebook instantaneously via their cell phone or computer. Many collect friends on Facebook or MySpace they have never actually met or even talked to in reality. Many seek Twitter followers to the intimate details of their daily lives.

Many get caught up in the numbers game with friends and followers without much thought to it. Some, especially those not yet in the job hunting mode, are setting up a permanent record of “Well, I was young." mistakes, which just like the Lady GaGa tattoo they inked on their shoulder last week, they may look back on with regret 2, 5, even 10 years from now as they go from Generation Me to Generation I Need a Job. In addition, those job hunting of any generation may be wondering why HR Managers are not calling them to set-up an interview.

Many people see Linkedin and similar all professional sites as the place to be conscious of potential employers and their professional image. In fact, it would make no sense to set privacy settings to “network only” if your goal is to have a strong professional online presence. People expect what they set up as their profile on Linkedin to be their professional public profile open to everyone searching their name. It’s expected to have an Internet professional presence today to promote your standing in the competitive business world. Those who join professional sites want a public profile for the purpose of networking in the professional world. They want professional notice by anyone and everyone especially if they are job hunting.

People are careful about what is posted and seen as reputation and work related. Yet even for professional social media networking privacy settings, group settings, network updates, comments on group discussions, connection settings should be reviewed. I raise my eyebrows when I think of Tripit announcing travel plans from a safety perspective. Both professional and personal social media network sites are now offering tying Twitter tweets to your updates on your profiles. This could be great for company or group profiles, but deeper thought and consideration should go into the pros and cons of this personally perhaps.

With much effort being put into a stellar professional public image on Linkedin, why do some then disregard proper social judgment on FB and Twitter? In just my own FB experience, I have seen some of my old-enough-to-know-better friends post comments with drug references; how much they hate their jobs; how they are playing sick to get out of work today; and funny but not so flattering photos. To meet these people in person, and to know them, you would like them. You would find them to be intelligent, funny, and lovely people. Most of them are professionals and responsible. They are great friends and have nice families.

Joining the “I Hate My Job” fan page when your boss is your FB friend might not be too smart – I’m just saying. How many of us realize if you do not set the privacy settings on a fan page application (separate from your wall personal privacy settings) that your fan status is viewable by the public at large? Without the application privacy settings set to a non-public status, a simple Google or Bing search on your name may bring the “I Hate My Job” fan page up for them to consider about you in your public FB profile even if your FB wall settings are set to friends only. (Don’t believe me – check it out.) I’m sure a job interview is being set up for you right now with any HR Manager that saw that fan page associated with your name search – or maybe not.

And even with online reputation warnings not being new anymore, I still see some of my 20 something friends post the F-word as their favorite adjective in comments; pictures with the middle finger proudly displayed; and posts admiring porn stars or photos acting like them. Perhaps someone in college studying to be a teacher or who will be trying to get into law school next year might think again about posting drunken photos with friends – funny then, but not so much now. I’ve seen friends post their take home pay online and that they were being sued for past due medical bills. I’m sure a lender looking at them for a loan would have a favorable financial impression of them if they saw those posts – how would an HR Manager view that? Perhaps posting to Twitter what an *** your ex-boyfriend is or that you don’t like something about the conference you just attended for work might be better thought out as clever as it may have seemed at the time. Did you know Twitter posts can up in a name search? We put out information about ourselves every day into the “forever ether” of the Internet many times without much thought.

In addition, data is being collected about us every day online by the business community. Government sanctioned “public record” data is often available instantly online. As simple examples we may not think that much about, our unlisted phone numbers and our home addresses are no longer hard to find even though we gave no one permission to make them available or are unaware that they are available online. Everything from our email address to our shopping habits are tracked and sold to companies for marketing lists and trend reporting. What is deemed public information via public records kept by federal, state, and local government once required a trip to the agency to request a single copy of the record for an individual to read it. Now, businesses request the complete digitized files from the agency under FOIA laws. Depending on the availability of digitized files or old technology tapes, and the reproduction laws and restrictions of the agency, many businesses use this public information to produce B2B or B2C products. B2C products are also being produced for open viewing by all on the Internet for a fee or not. Most of my executive career has been spent in the information industry, so I am not anti-information products by any means. I know the benefits that information collection and products can bring to the economy and to target marketing. I also know individual privacy protection is something that must be considered and maintained by the individual if it is important to them.

And, in many ways, we are our own worst enemy in preserving our own privacy and reputation. Have you defined what your private information is for yourself? In the Internet and social media era, do you think about preserving your privacy and reputation, and the possible impact on job hunting, before you post, tweet, or connect with a “friend”? Do you think about privacy when storing financial information on a shopping website, opting in or out of receiving additional marketing from company partners, or clicking the box that you have read a company’s privacy policy to continue to use their site without reading it? Do you think through what you are sharing about yourself and with whom? Do you think about the possible consequences of not thinking about it before you post? Do you have a privacy policy and setting plan you thoughtfully execute for your employment potential and life in general?

Practical Privacy & Reputation Guidelines:

1. Define what you consider your private information taking into account the possibility for identity theft, home burglary, child safety, job hunting, and reputation in general.
2. Google & Bing search yourself – set up a monitoring service or reputation repair service if needed
3. Google & Bing yourself at least once a week or month.
4. Look at your public profile for each social media network site.
5. For personal social networking only confirm friends you really know.
6. For personal social networking only have twitter followers you really know.
7. Set privacy settings for your social network page to friends only.
8. Set privacy settings for your applications individually to friends only.
9. Be aware the groups you join will be open to the public on your public profile.
10. Set privacy settings for photos to be viewed by friends only.
11. Set privacy setting to not allow others to tag you in photos or videos.
12. Set up lists for friends only, family only, and professional only.
13. Block those you don’t want to see you on your social network.
14. Monitor comments of others and immediately delete offensive ones.
15. Hide those that post offensive language or pictures to your wall – the first time.
16. Be aware of what this post “says about me” to others before you post it.
17. Would you want your mother to see it – would you want an HR manager to see it – would you want it on the front page of a news outlet? – No, don’t post it.
18. Don’t post after a few drinks – things aren’t always as funny when you are sober.
19. Don’t post when you are mad at someone or something. Would you still say it a day from now? Should you be saying it at all “publicly”?
20. Post your vacation comments after you return home – don’t post when you are leaving or that you are gone.
21. Over 40 and looking for a job... don’t post birth year or graduation years.
22. Don’t post full birth dates, birth place or give out your mother’s maiden name.
23. Don’t post your children’s full names and birthdays – children are a growing target for identity and credit theft.
24. Don’t store credit cards with online shopping sites – would you store a credit card number physically with a bricks & mortar store?
25. Don’t post negative comments about your boss, employees, or employer.
26. Don’t post information about your company that is internal and confidential.
27. Don’t agree to have companies share your information with their affiliates, associates, partners, etc.
28. Remember at all times what you post has the potential to be public.
29. Remember that at some point in your life you will be job hunting.
30. Know it is easier to prevent a privacy and reputation problem than to clean up one.

Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc are meant to be fun and a way to express yourself and stay connected. We all get that. It’s sad that our religious views, political views, sexual preferences, age, and whatever may be considered in a job search or any other kind of context by what you post or freely give out on the Internet to the general public. These types of considerations for employment are unlawful, right? Yes, they are, but once seen in a candidate’s Internet search, can the bell ever be unrung for the interviewer that may even subconsciously be considering it? Can it ever really be proven that consideration of this type of personal information is the sole reason why you did not get a job? The reality is everyone uses the Internet to search out information personally and professionally. Prosecutors now regularly use social media networks and Twitter postings as evidence in court cases; police use them in investigations; financial institutions use them in applicant approval due diligence; HR Managers use them as a part of the hiring due diligence; and criminals use them in choosing victims. Lawsuits have been filed for defamation and invasion of privacy over posts and tweets.

What practical planning are you willing to do to ensure your privacy in a social media context? What thought are you giving to personal privacy impact tomorrow, next year, or 5 years from now in your social media habits today? It’s never too early or too late to start. It may not be cool in college to care, but it really will not be cool to have a hard time finding a job once out of college. The first step to taking control of your privacy and reputation preservation is to define your personal private information. Then execute your practical plan to ensure your personal social media habits support what is defined as private - every day, every time. The new reality is it’s all good and just having fun – until it isn’t. And, it’s really no big deal – until it is. Then “I was just having fun.” or “I just didn’t put much thought into it.” are not winning excuses or a defense in the real world. Is it right - is it fair? No, but it is reality.

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