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Can your online past come back to haunt you?

Not everyone agrees that those binge-drinking photos on Facebook really matter

By David Ramel
May 7, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - When it comes to some aspects of finding a job by social networking, such as online reputation management, Sean Ryan, senior vice president of engineering and a hiring manager at online measurement tools vendor Lyris, Inc., has a completely opposite view than most. The vast majority of recruiting professionals say it's important to make sure there's nothing online that could be too personal or embarrassing or that might turn off potential employers doing a background check.

"I think that's just popular nonsense," he said. "If you're a good engineer ... and you've got a good resume and we check out your profile on LinkedIn and your last employer said good things about you, I don't care if you binge drink on weekends. I really don't. What I need to know is whether you're capable of doing the job.

"I've forgotten 80% of what I did in college and the 20% I remember was probably completely inappropriate," Ryan continued. "People made a big deal about Clinton admitting he smoked pot in college. Well, for goodness sakes, lots of people did and it didn't make them less capable of doing their jobs."

Sean Ryan
Sean Ryan, a hiring manager at Lyris, "doesn't care" if applicants "binge drink on weekends" as long as they can do the job.

Ryan said he does not recommend hiring managers or HR professionals go to "what was intended by the candidate to be a social site for friends to determine if they're good candidate." So skip Facebook and instead check out Plaxo, for instance, a professional social networking site used by the younger crowd along the lines of LinkedIn.

But Chandlee Bryan, a career coach in New York, takes the more conventional approach -- meaning she does check all sites -- a position that's backed up by recent research she has conducted on job seekers using LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

Bryan said, "My first finding is that the baseline of any successful job search now is online reputation management: i.e., knowing what information is floating in the cybersphere attached to your name."

Specific to Facebook, which is the subject of most of the discussion about online embarrassments, Bryan had this to say: "Recruiters generally don't search Facebook for candidates, but may review your profile to screen you out" -- for example, scout for signs of excess drinking, drugs and other potential problems.

Harry Urschel, owner of the staffing/recruiting company e-Executives, definitely checks out prospective clients for character flaws or bad judgment.

An applicant sent recruiter Harry Urschel a link to his Web resume -- complete with the job seeker's favorite porn sites at the end.

"Unfortunately, I think a lot of people have hurt themselves online because of inappropriate things they put out there. There are a lot of things you don't necessarily want an employer to come across," Urschel said.

"If I'm working with a candidate I'll Google them and see what I can find so I'm not embarrassed later," he continued. "I know a lot of recruiters and hiring managers at companies are certainly doing the same thing. There are a lot of people I know that have definitely stopped working with people because of things they found."

For example, about a year ago somebody sent Urschel a resume with a link to his personal Web page. "And usually I don't bother clicking through, but this time I did. And his Web page had some family information and had his resume and was fine. But it kept scrolling down and he had a section at the bottom of his Web site of links to his favorite porn sites. It's probably not the best impression he wants to put out there."

On Twitter especially, Urschel said, it's easy to get into other conversations "that will get you in trouble," so you need to stay focused on the original topic.

He said these days there is a lot of conversation about "personal branding," which to him "is in many ways a fad concept." But "it is true that you have to be careful of the image you're portraying and what's online."

Main story: Job hunting? Use social networks to make crucial connections

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