imageContributing blogger John Long is a professional career coach and consultant in Atlanta who founded Two Roads Resources. He blogs at Atlanta Career Coach.

Q: Like so many people, I was recently laid off from my company and thrown into the very crowded job search pool. A good friend made a comment to me the other day that stuck in my head. He said that I should clean up my Facebook profile, now that I’m looking for a job. Of course I called him a drama queen and dismissed his comment as paranoia.

But really, how concerned should I be about what people see and read about me online? Just how close is Big Brother watching?

A: Let’s start with a few basics. When you’re in job search mode, you need to be doing everything possible to make a good impression—even if you have to fake it a bit. That’s reality. I tell my clients to temporarily drop the tunes on voice mail and get a bland email address for their job search.

I can guarantee that you won’t be getting many messages from hiring managers if they encounter some bad ass rap tune or Britney’s latest on your voicemail. Not to mention the emails you will never receive if you ask HR to contact you via sa[email protected] or [email protected]

We all know that MySpace and Facebook are known as the fun, social networking sites and Linkedin is the serious, professional online networking venue. When a prospective employer is roaming the web and gathering data on a candidate, don’t they know not to take what they see and read about us on blogs and playfull networking sites too seriously? That’s just it—they’re taking it all in and they’re being serious as a heart attack.

The days of just providing References Upon Request are long gone. Companies are asking for—strike that—demanding full background checks (academic, employment, credit and criminal) on candidates. And that’s just round one. For round two, they will often jump to the web and start digging deeper.

If you’re applying for a job as a bartender then perhaps that pic of you on MySpace doing tequila shots off some cutie’s mid drift is not so shocking. But if you’re applying for a position as a business analyst, that same pic is likely to raise a few eyebrows. Iif a friend tagged you in a photo at the recent I Hate Corporate America rally, you might consider removing that tag during the job search.

But what about the issue of sexual orientation?  We all know that issue is clearly none of their damn business, right? Last time I checked the LGBT community was not enjoying too many rights in the areas of hiring and employment practices. Corporate America and hiring managers will decide for themselves what they believe is their business and what is and is not appropriate behavior.

If you’re out and proud no one is telling you to hide that fact from the web. But if your Facebook profile has photos of you in your best Tammy Wynette drag or in full leather and whip, you may want to hold off on that application for the White House fellowship program.

I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here. There are some great articles and blog posts that give you very specific information on the pros and cons of social media and your job search and career. I’ve listed a few links of interest below. Let some common sense prevail and do your best to control the wild pics, funny yet off color comments and your personal opinions on hot button issues including religion, politics and sex.

So get out the scrubbing bubbles, clean up those online profiles and blog posts, and don’t forget to activate those privacy settings. For every questionable item your remove, consider adding something about your volunteer work and fundraising for favorite charities and popular civic groups. Think I’m being an alarmist?  Ask Michael Phelps if he misses his endorsement checks from Kelloggs. He’ll probably tell you they were Grrrrrrrrrreat! Yes, Big Brother is in fact watching, closer than ever.

Resource links:
Reuters: One in Five Bosses Screen Applicant’s Web Lives
CareerBuilder & CNN: Social Networking Sites Dos and Don’ts
Reference Check: Is Your Boss Watching? (pdf)

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