When Paris Hilton’s down and dirty exploits hit the web her career took off, but for the rest of us, the smallest indiscretion posted on the internet can seriously jeopardise our career.
For students and graduates of the digital generation, it is almost a rite of passage to have a MySpace or blogging presence. But beware of the trail you are leaving in the public realm, your employer may be checking up on you.
Jeremy Gram* learnt the hard way. He was the first person in the UK to be fired for the contents of his blog. ‘My online identity is most definitely something I will tone down when looking for a new job, if not completely remove my name from being attached to any profiles/blogs,’ he says.
‘My last job ended when my employer discovered my blog and took a disliking to the content; he then suspended me and dismissed me for gross misconduct after an enquiry.’
Jeremy has found it has had a severe impact on his job prospects. ‘Firstly, it is always going to be tough to explain your way out of a gross misconduct dismissal, even employment agencies seemed reluctant to represent me,’ he says.
‘Secondly, explaining the circumstances was very difficult, many employers are still quite IT naive, so explaining what a blog is was a problem in itself. By the end of the explanation, I only managed to make myself sound like a true whistleblower at best and bad penny and crackpot at worst.
‘The sad truth is that while I was being honest, no company has wanted to touch me with a barge pole and to-date my current employer has no idea about my blogging activities in my previous life. To quite an extent my career has never recovered from the dismissal.’
Jeremy believes part of the problem lies in the casual way we interact on the web. ‘The web is very informal and often infantile and employers now potentially now have access to a whole wealth of information about a prospective new employee.’
» School boy/girl error
Jody Richardson of Discovery Recruitment says there are the risks of graduates presenting themselves online in a way that may be detrimental to their job hunting, and it can begin with something as basic as your email alias. ‘The most common example is their choice of email address,’ says Jody. ‘Graduates often form an email at university and rarely think of changing it for their CV when the rush for a graduate job comes along.
‘Companies do notice small details and we have had occasions where directors have noticed an email address and commented on it. This may affect preconceptions prior to an interview or distract the reader from the information the graduate wants them to read,’ says Jody.
You have to be your own public relations expert handling your image to put yourself in the best possible light. ‘Students can benefit from being able to showcase their work online but it does have to be professional and of the appropriate quality’, advises Stephanie Darking, Careers Adviser at Brunel University.
» Online applications – think before you link
Jody points out how a trail can quickly lead to more than you bargained for. ‘With the volume of applications happening online many links can be accessed quickly by the reader. It is therefore important to consider why you are including a link on your CV and what it says about you.
‘Often it is to promote an online project they may have done, however these links can then lead into the deeper and darker parts of their website or MySpace page, says Jody. ‘Before you know it a reader has gone from seeing one smiley picture of the graduate accepting an award to less professional images of them at a party.
‘There is also a possibility that companies may research a candidate prior to interview. This is highly likely due to the accessibility of the internet and abundance of information available.’
Jane Standley, Director of Careers & Student Employability at Brunel University says some employers have said they do check up on candidates. ‘Maybe it ties in with the other research on how much people routinely lie in applications - hence delving into their background this way may be employers' only chance of finding the 'real' person.’
Some employers may not be interested in what you do in your own time provided you can do the job well in your working hours, but what is acceptable for one employer may not even get you a foot in the door for another, or like Jeremy you may be given your marching orders. Make sure your online presence doesn’t let you down in the real world.
Author: Sara Newman