I wrote this column for the Fall 2012 issue of Trends, the Indiana Tech magazine.
Who’s Shopping You?
How to manage your online reputation and make a better impression on
Ever since the advent of e-commerce, people have engaged in a phenomenon called “stealth shopping.” Stealth shopping occurs when someone is intent on buying a product, but they want to stay under the radar. They know they can shop anonymously without being hassled into making a decision, and often the seller doesn’t even know they exist until they appear in the showroom, for example, ready to buy a red Camaro with heated seats, leather interior, and Bluetooth capability.
Stealth shopping doesn’t just affect businesses like car dealers, however. Increasingly,
people are using stealth shopping to make decisions about other people. One of the
areas where this has become most common is job recruiting. When employers want to
learn about you, they often go to Google and social networks first—and what they find
isn’t always pretty. In fact, a recent study by CareerBuilder indicates that 34 percent of
hiring managers who research candidates through social media discovered information
that caused a prospective employee to be eliminated from consideration.
This can prove especially challenging for college students transitioning into the
workforce. After four years of sharing everything with your friends from descriptions of
last night’s date to photos from last weekend’s party, you can end up painting a clear
picture of your college years—one that may not reflect very well upon you.
So, what can you do if you want to improve the impression you make online? Here are a
- Clean it up. The problem isn’t always what we share—it’s what we keep out there that hurts us. Graduation presents a great opportunity to reboot your personal brand by removing anything you wouldn’t want a prospective employer to find. Not sure what should stay and what should go? When it doubt, delete.
- Be more judicious. While it’s never too late to improve your online appearance, it’s important to remember that once it’s out there, it’s potentially out there forever. You can’t change the past, but you can be more careful about what you share in the future.
- Ask your friends for their help. It happens: someone takes a photo of you and posts it when you wish they hadn’t. There’s no shame in asking them to delete it. A true friend will honor your request—just be willing to do the same for them.
- Consider a different network. Facebook is a great tool for connecting with friends, but it presents a lot of pitfalls from a professional networking standpoint. Sites like LinkedIn are a much safer choice because they’re focused on professional networking. You can’t regret posting a video on your wall when there is no wall and no videos to post.
So, does the transition from college into the workforce mean you have to stop being
yourself? Not at all—but being yourself doesn’t require that you share absolutely
everything. It’s critical that you carefully consider how you can position yourself
consistent with how you want to be seen. After all, at a time when more employers
are using the web to shop for job candidates, you ultimately control your message—
and that will ultimately determine whether or not you make the sale.