Thursday, May 6, 2010

Managing your Online Identity

361px-BigRedSmile_A_new_Computer.svgWe've posted frequently about employer use of online information to make employment decisions (here most recently), and apropos of that, I recently ran across this primer on how to Establish and Maintain Your Online Identity on Lifehacker, another of those geeky tech-ish blogs I like to read instead of doing real work. Essentially, it's a guide on how to make yourself known, primarily. This may seem to be the opposite advice that our posts usually send, but bear with me a minute. People have to exercise good judgment about the content they post, most importantly and that is consistent with what we often caution, but the answer may not necessarily be to have no online presence at all. Having an online presence that a person can control may enhance that person's ability to exercise that good judgment, and also may enhance that person's ability to keep information they do not want to be easily found private.

Here's the logic. By going through the work to set up the steps that are recommended, one of which is for people to use their own names and link between various sites they control, people may get more in the habit of thinking about what they post as essentially public, not private. Additionally, the more established an online identity is with your real name, and the more links to a central site, the more likely that those controllable sites will be what predominates the results of an online search of your name given the way that search engines work.

And although this isn't covered, maybe a person who wants to stay more anonymous can be careful not to use a real name on anything, but instead a psuedonymous username (probably safest to use something that is clearly not a real person's name), that is not linked easily to their real name for things they want to be sure an employer could not find.

So why not simply avoid the whole thing and not ever sign up for any social media or other internet-type thing? I think there are a couple of problems with that, at least for some contexts. First, for at least some jobs, employers may expect people applying to have some kind of online presence, and not having one may be seen as unusual. Second, not signing up for anything doesn't necessarily mean that information about you, true or false, actually about you or not, cannot be discovered online. For example, I recently did a search of my name at one site that purports to aggregate information about people from public sources. It said that I lived with my parents, who were incorrectly identified as my actual father and my brother with the wrong age. That same source also listed my name in connection with my current address, but incorrectly identified my homeowner and familial status as well as the value of the home I live in. That doesn't even consider the people I share a name with that I might be confused with by someone searching for information about me.

Lots to keep in mind when you think about what employers are searching when they make employment decisions.


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