By Andrew Sims - E-mail
(RNN) - It can make or break your chances of landing that dream job. It can sink your performance evaluations and turn co-workers against you.
It's your online reputation, and in this competitive job market, one quick Google search can toss your name from job consideration before you've even had the chance to interview.
According to a 2010 study by Microsoft and Cross-Tab Market Research, 79 percent of hiring managers check their candidates' activity online. And we're not just talking about Twitter and Facebook. Employers are also looking at "virtual" worlds and game rooms.
"There is no longer a difference between your online image and your offline image," said Michael Fertik, the CEO and founder of Reputation.com. "Like it or not, you have a personal brand, and in the job-seeking process you should use your brand online to your advantage."
Fertik's business is one of the top online services that can help you gain control of your online image and reputation. Businesses like his are growing in popularity and should be viewed as an investment in your future, he says.
"You spend money and time on getting the right suit, perfecting your resume and practicing interview responses, so why not your online resume?" Fertik said. "This is more than just an uploaded CV or a LinkedIn profile, it's the sum of your entire online presence."
Starting at just $10.95 per month, Reputation.com can monitor your online footprint, and who you take those steps with.
Be careful who your "friends" are. Recruiters aren't just monitoring you. They're looking at who your closest contacts are.
"It's not just the photo that you published of yourself with a beer or a bong," Fertik said. "It's also content like, who your friends are and what they post on your page, and what kinds of groups that you link to."
Although a growing number of companies use these digital background checks, some still rely on traditional methods, but that may soon change.
Christina Mathis, a human resources specialist at Qualis Corporation in Huntsville, AL, said that while they do not inspect social media during their hiring process, they do during the recruiting phase.
She advises people to be very careful about what they say about their current employer while online. She mentioned a recent case where a woman was fired from her job for posting derogatory comments about her employer.
The woman sued her employer for wrongful termination because the comments were not made while she was at work, and she felt her company's censoring them was a violation of her First Amendment rights.
But by law, there is no clear protection of First Amendment rights in every situation, including at work.
Her best advice: Don't say anything online you wouldn't say in open conversation.
So whether you sign up for a service like Reputation.com, or you try to clean up your digital reputation yourself, Fertik advises that you start now.
He offers people tips to getting started. He says it starts with claiming your "Google real estate."
"The first step is to know everything that exists about you online," Fertik said. "ReputationAlerts, one of the services by Reputation.com, is a free tool that informs people of where they're appearing online and in what context. Think of it as Google alerts on steroids; it's all about you."
With social networking sites, keep it simple. Use Twitter to market yourself and connect with industry professionals, and keep your Linkedin short, sweet and to the point. Keep questionable photos off Facebook.
"People should be very cautious about the information they reveal through sites like Facebook and Twitter, especially with the pictures they post," Mathis said. "You never know if your future, or even current employer, is watching."