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Don't Let Digital Dirt Dash Your Dreams: What Your Online Identity Says About You

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More and more employers are using online social networking sites, such as Facebook, as a part of the pre-interview screening process to conduct background checks on job candidates. So, what most students perceive as a students-only sharing of information, often very personal information, is open to more than just students and can easily harm job prospects.

How many employers actually look at a candidate's profile? Estimates vary, but it is clear that it is becoming more the norm for those employers who heavily recruit Generation Y. According to CollegeRecuriter.com, 77% of employers use a search engine to uncover information on job candidates. Anywhere from 10 to 55% will view online profiles on sites such as Facebook. And of those who view online profiles on a social networking site, 35% report having dismissed a candidate due to what they found - what is commonly referred to as "digital dirt".

The top reasons for dismissing a candidate included evidence of excessive drinking or illegal drug use, inappropriate or provocative pictures, poor communication skills, or bad-mouthing a previous employer or fellow employee. The National Association of Colleges and Employers reported that more than 78% of employers who review social networking sites said the information they find there has some influence on their hiring decisions - positive or negative.

The topic of use of social networking sites by teachers and prospective teachers has become somewhat of a hot button, so it is safe to say that as a job candidate it is highly likely that a potential employer will be searching to see what your online identity says about you. At the least, you don't want your online identity to be negative (no digital dirt), but it is also an opportunity to effectively convey your positive attributes and personal brand in a way that can help to support you as a candidate for the job.

Take the time to evaluate your online identity. For each of your social networking sites ask yourself the following:

Is there information that supports my positive brand attributes (what you want to be known for in the workplace)?
Is there evidence of strong communication skills?
Does it convey a professional image?
Does it convey a strong work ethic?
Are there any negative comments about employers or others?
Are there any postings about drinking or drug use?
Are there any provocative or inappropriate photographs?
Would I be comfortable showing my profile to a prospective employer or my mother?

If you answered no to any of these questions you should re-evaluate your online identity and make the necessary changes if you are serious about a job in education. And don't think it stops after you get a job - as a teacher you may be under even more pressure to keep your online identity professional. Your students and possibly their parents may be checking to see what they can find out about you online, and your employer may be keeping tabs as well....digital dirt can spell disaster for your career!

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