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Digital footprint can damage job seekers

| Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013, 7:48 p.m.

They might have mastered advanced calculus and organic chemistry or breezed through law school, but college graduates seeking jobs must guard against potentially dangerous digital baggage: long-forgotten blog entries, text messages, statements and photos posted on sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

Sonjala Williams, a career consultant and assistant director of employer relations at Carnegie Mellon University's Career & Professional Development Center, said she saw the damage a digital footprint can cause several years ago when a CMU graduate sought help with a job search.

“She had graduated with an industrial design degree a year earlier, and she was working as a barista at Starbucks. She told me she had a job offer shortly after graduation, but the employer rescinded it the next day.

“It turns out the employer Googles the company name regularly and found it linked to profanity on her blog,” Williams said.

“She had no idea her blog ranting could somehow reflect poorly to a potential employer,” Williams said.

Gina Rubel, president and CEO of Furia Rubel Communications, Inc., in Doylestown in Bucks County, said countless mine fields on the Internet can trip up job searches.

They include photos that might be shared without permission and reposted in a different context to emails, Twitter posts, gaming sites and blogs.

“It's a generational issue across the board. You have the millennial generation that has been raised on social media and hasn't been trained enough — especially the kids who are a couple of years out of college — on how they look online,” Rubel said.

She said many young adults use only their first and middle names on Facebook in an attempt to preserve some control.

“But those are still findable,” she warned, adding that a city and a Gmail address are often enough to unlock a treasure trove of information.

Rubel said she always does a Google search on job candidates.

“I once interviewed someone and Googled the person's name and found the person was on all kinds of gaming websites during the work day. And then the student was saying, ‘At least I have games. It makes my day go faster.' That's stealing from your employer.

“This is a person who was perfectly qualified for the job, but there was no way I was going to hire that person,” Rubel said.

Williams and Rubel said the simplest step to evaluate a digital footprint is to Google your name, review what you find and set up free Google Alerts to send you emails anytime your name pops up online.

William said she advises job seekers to review their Facebook settings and photos and to visit sites such as reppler.com and mycareer web.com, which provide free evaluations of digital profiles.

Trisha Hyatt, an employment development specialist at the University of Pittsburgh, said she advises job seekers to join online networking site LinkedIn to enhance their professional profiles and then to use socioclean.com to search for negative entries in their digital profiles.

“There are no laws against employers looking at social media,” she cautioned.

Greg Coyle, cofounder of mywebcareer.com, said more employers are checking digital profiles every day to vet job candidates. He added that a recent survey found 70 percent of employers surveyed said they had rejected job candidates based on data uncovered online.

Coyle's website helps job seekers uncover such issues before they become a roadblock to employment.

He said the free service uses technology to flag drug-related words or phrases that might be red flags to employers and will send subscribers monthly alerts on their digital presence.

“The idea is to take a look at your entire web portfolio and evaluate it as a potential employer might,” Coyle said, adding that the program also highlights positive features, such as references to an individual on a company website.

Rubel encourages job hunters to use the Internet to enhance their digital footprint.

“When you can get positive media stories told about you, new sites come up more frequently in search. They're considered more credible.

“YouTube videos that add value to the world, any type of content that is what I would call professional or powerful in nature and then making sure they're tagged with your name and other key terms — that would be valuable during search,” she said.

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7996 or derdley@tribweb.com.

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