I was recently quoted in the New York Times Gadget Blog around protecting your reputation online. Specifically, the question was if individuals with unsavory content online should delete it in an effort to hide it from potential employers. Before I give my answer I'll give you the employer's perspective on the question:
The Employer's Perspective
As an employer and marketer/advertiser, I can tell you that it's not that simple to just delete content and hope it goes away. I've seen companies and even individuals that go to great lengths to create additional content and spin incidents in an effort to bury bad news. The good news is that it typically takes more than one post, photo, Tweet or incident to make an employer pass judgment on you. Those college road trip photos you took as a senior four years ago? No big deal. A tweet that some may not agree with? Not a big deal either.
Momentary Lapses in Judgment
If you are concerned about isolated incidents appearing online, you can always untag photos of yourself on Facebook, delete a tweet or change the privacy settings on a social network or blog to remove it. This doesn't mean it's gone forever, as people may screen shot pages or it may be stored in Google's cache forever, but it would help in the short term. Again, as someone who may want to do hire you, I may not think twice about it or, as a worst case scenario, would ask that you refrain from posting such unsavory content online publicly.
Reputations Aren't Built Over Night
What's more troubling to an employer is when said behavior occurs repeatedly over time. See, as an employer and marketer I can see patterns in behavior and assume that you will continue to do the same thing -- thereby making me permanently pass you over in favor of those who are just as qualified. We all make mistakes and say things we might regret, and it's difficult to judge what people may or may not find offensive, however reputations aren't built in a day, a photo or a tweet. It's a cumulative effect that, over time, will have employers looking the other way and in some instances flat out blacklisting you from being hired.
So what advice did I specifically give? "A better idea is to think twice before posting any public content you wouldn’t want found by potential employers."
What advice do you give your employees? Have you ever had an employer pass you over because of something they found online?