#ThePowerOfHashtags: How (And Why) To Control Your Online Reputation

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With over half the country being active monthly users on Facebook, social media has quickly superseded hockey as Canada’s national obsession. The tool is, like most things, a double-edged sword.

However fulfilling it is to be updated on the latest gossip and relationship statuses, social media has also taken a role as a screening tool for employers wanting background information on prospective candidates.

The Internet is the new barometer by which employers judge their workers and, if you want that awesome internship or great career, controlling your online reputation is an important first step.

In fact, according to James Alexander, CEO of Vizibility, over 85% of all employers conduct a Google search of their candidates.

Our parents say they had it tougher than us, but they didn’t have to deal with their reputations being available in a matter of seconds.

Social networking horror stories

Being in university, I know quite a few students from different backgrounds. Creeping (or, as I like to say, “browsing”) some of their Facebook pages, it is absolutely incredible just how carefree they are with their posts and what they allow the public to see.

Drunk texts, scantily clad photos and emotional declarations for romance are just some of the sights I’ve seen. These are the future educators of Canada. I’d venture a guess that, when time comes to apply for teaching jobs, there will be a thorough background check conducted – one that will include a Facebook check. Can I get clueless for $500 please, Alex?

People have told me their own personal horror stories as well. I have heard of someone’s “goofy” profile picture (meaning a picture of them in a sombrero) leading to termination, and an inappropriate hashtag on Twitter resulting in a heavy fine by a colleague of mine who works for an NHL team.

How to protect yourself online

As this world evolves and employers find more ways to search their employees and prospective employees, more and more scrutiny and emphasis will be placed on what’s online.

Is there anything that people can do to protect themselves from a negative online reputation? Absolutely. For starters, lock everything up. Make your Facebook profile the most impenetrable of fortresses, stronger than the Great Wall of China. Give yourself the final say in who sees what you post. Most people have public profiles with limited or non-existent privacy settings, meaning anyone with a profile can access their photos and posts.

There is also another technique to use. It’s called the Mother Test. It involves you, before posting or commenting on anything, thinking, “How would my mother react if she saw this?” If the answer is that it’d be awkward or embarrassing if your mother saw your post, chances are that employers will react in the same manner.

Another idea is to simply make everything on your profile G-rated. Also avoid listing political or religious affiliations. In the context of the Internet, typing your political party or religious association should seem harmless, however it is only natural for people to form biases and screen for candidates based on those biases.

With such an influence being placed on what we say or post on the Internet, its role has changed significantly. No longer can we pour our hearts out with a Facebook note, nor can we tweet after having a couple of drinks. The Internet is the new barometer by which employers judge their workers and, if you want that awesome internship or great career, controlling your online reputation is an important first step.

What steps do you take to ensure your online presence isn’t hurting your career?

Photo credit: Facebook Wants a New Face by Rishi Bandopadhay on Flickr
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About the author

Salim Valji is all about journalism, stand up comedy and living life to its fullest. Born in Edmonton to parents of Ugandan and Tanzanian descent, he has deviated from the family business of producing doctors and is pursuing a career in media. He has written for various hockey publications for the past two years, meeting hundreds of NHL prospects, head coaches and other personnel. He covered the 2012 WJC last Christmas. His favourite TV show is How I Met Your Mother and considers himself to be a cross between Ted, Barney and Robin.