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Your Life Online: How Much Is Too Much?

Recently, I've been feeling very conflicted about what the dividing line is between a personal life and a public life. With the internet, most people have some kind of public life. Even those who don't particularly want to use social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn have the risk that someone else has taken a photo of them and posted it online, or that someone has written about them in their blog. It is almost impossible to live today without some kind of online "reputation". That's why this study by Microsoft interested me so much. What does it say? Well, one of the biggest thing it says is that your online reputation REALLY matters to job recruiters and HR professionals:
Of U.S. recruiters and HR professionals surveyed, 70% say they have rejected candidates based on information they found online.
Also:
Positive online reputations matter. Among U.S. recruiters and HR professionals surveyed, 85% say that positive online reputation influences their hiring decisions at least to some extent. Nearly half say that a strong online reputation influences their decisions to a great extent.
Interestingly, in the same study, many people (especially younger generations) feel as though some of this probing is not appropriate:
U.S. survey results highlight the tension between consumers’ sense of privacy and online searches by recruiters and HR professionals. Only 15% of U.S. consumers surveyed think it is very appropriate that employers review candidates’ photo and video sharing sites, while 25% think it is somewhat appropriate, and 44% think it is somewhat or very inappropriate. (And 16% did not know.) Yet, 59% percent of recruiters and HR professionals surveyed check these sites. ...Among those surveyed who are 18 to 24 years of age, the percentage of those who think it is inappropriate for recruiters and HR professionals to check [social networking sites] jumps to 56% of those surveyed. Yet 63% of recruiters and HR professionals surveyed review these sites.
What do we do to deal with this? Some of us lock everything that we consider to be "personal" down to only people we trust. Some others of us only share things online that we are comfortable with the world knowing. Others of us choose not to have an online presence at all. But what are the consequences of these choices? As time goes on in a tough job market, not having some kind of online reputation may start to hurt you, especially if you are up against a candidate with a strongly positive online reputation. Locking down or censoring yourself can have other consequences as well. This is an issue that Gen Y has begun to experience a great deal. XKCD, an online web comic, seems to have pinned down this issue pretty well. To summarize the link: when one character mentions to another:
You should be more careful what you write. You never know when a future employer might read it.
...the other goes on a long rant about dreams, which includes this snippet:
The solution doesn't involve watering down my every little idea and creative impulse for the sake of some day easing my fit into a mold. It doesn't involve tempering my life to better fit someone's expectations. It doesn't involve constantly holding back for fear of shaking things up.
The answers aren't easy. In a world where so much information is available online, it only makes sense for recruiters and HR reps to use that information to weed out candidates who seem irresponsible or lie on their resumes. But in a world where so many different opinions exist and so many opportunities to share them exist, there is no way to go through life on the internet without expressing something that may offend someone. We are still, as a society, discovering what the internet has to offer us. I think this is one of those areas where the lines and boundaries are still being defined. As individuals, we have to decide where those lines exist for each us, and in doing so we need to understand what the consequences of those lines may be... both to our professional lives, and our own consciences.

Posted by on Tue, 13 Apr 2010
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