Mom Was Right. If You Can't Say Something Nice...

Posted by Charley Hughes on Mar 23, 2011 5:35 AM

Just last month Natalie Munroe, a Pennsylvania high school English teacher, was suspended for posting less than flattering online comments about her students. She didn't identify pupils specifically, but it didn't take long for her students, whom she described as “whiny”, “belligerent”, and “jerks”, (and those are the nicer comments) to find her not-so-well hidden blog online. Then, faster than a flaming URL, her career and paycheck soon ground to a halt.

This story reminds us of the importance of personal online branding. In the age of social media it is remarkably easy to post and share our latest happenings and accomplishments for others to enjoy as well as our opinions about the hot topics of the day, or even the mundane details of daily life. But this convenience comes at the price of caution.

Many employers now perform a cursory search of candidate names online. Because of instant access to information, a few keystrokes can make quick work of filtering out those who through unwise online commentary have exposed themselves to closer scrutiny, or many times outright elimination for further consideration. All by simply putting less than their best foot forward online.

Avoiding the obvious faux pas such as complaining about a current or recent employer, venting about coworkers, or posting pictures that your wouldn't want your mom to see are good starting places. However, for the best online image consider not only avoiding mistakes that close doors of opportunity, but also ways in which you can leverage a positive online presence to increase the influence of your personal brand. After all, if there are those who are going to be looking, why not give them something of value to find that also speaks well of you.

So here are a few quick online tips you might find helpful.

DO:
  • Check grammar
  • Be helpful and accurate in technical forums
  • Consider partnering with a reputable online presence and submit meaningful tech articles that benefit your industry
  • Speak well of others or resist the urge to speak at all
  • Cite your sources
DON'T:
  • Use profanity of any kind. It's out of place in any professional setting.
  • Don't post as a means to vent. If you must post an opinion about something you find upsetting, at least try to make it a teachable moment for those who will read your thoughts. Be solution oriented.
  • Resist the urge to list the names of others, whether companies or individuals, especially when doing so paints them in an unflattering light.
  • Avoid slang. Appearing professional, or at least mature, is the quickest path to being taken seriously by others.

Want to see what your online brand looks like? Google variations of your full name and email address along with your state of residence to get an idea of what impression you are leaving on the worldwide web. View the search results from the perspective of a hiring manager and ask yourself if you see anything that would cause you to move on to another candidate.

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