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Could Your Online Social Life Hurt Your Career? You Bet!

Inappropriate postings on social networking sites could cost you your job, so think twice before uploading pictures from that crazy party last night or writing something negative about your boss. Instead, enlist these tips for keeping a clean profile online.

Getting a new job or having a baby? Update your Facebook status. Hosting a wild party? Post the invite on Facebook. Meet a great girl at a bar and want to show off your "catch"? Before you post that crazy picture, think about who might see it and what impact that photo could have.

In theory, electronic applications like Facebook are a great way to share life's adventures. Grandma can see pictures of your son's soccer game, you can follow Uncle Terrell's vacation to New York City through his captions and photos, or you can read about how your college roommates, Susan and Jennifer, spent their weekends. However, there could be some job-related repercussions that are a result of an inappropriate posting or unsuitable photo upload.

Case in point: the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper recently reported the firing of a young man following a disparaging comment he posted on his Facebook page. The man was employed by Major League Baseball's Pittsburgh Pirates to entertain spectators as a dressed-up pierogi who ran in silly races between innings. But the man lost his job within hours after ranting online that contract extensions offered by the team's president to the manager and general manager through 2011 "means a 19-straight losing streak. Way to go Pirates."

Following public outcry, the "pierogi" was rehired, but the lesson learned is a good one. Don't post personal thoughts about the boss or whomever you work for.

Indeed, people are amazingly unencumbered to share their latest complaints, news or bar-hopping adventures, they have the photos to prove it, and they will update their Facebook, Twitter or MySpace statuses accordingly without batting an eye. But know this: when employers perform background checks on potential employees, they'll often search the Internet to see how people are represented online. Anything incriminating or distasteful could cost you a job. In fact, 45% of employers in a 2009 CareerBuilder survey use social networking sites to research job candidates, a big jump up from 22% in 2008.

Your current employer may perform similar online hunts and if they find something they don't like, it could impact your ability to earn a promotion or a positive performance review, or even impact the status of your employment all together. While it's certainly OK to participate in social networking sites, you must do so smartly. Here are some dos and don'ts for managing your online presence and make sure that your desire for social networking doesn't hurt your career:

  • DON'T post inappropriate content. You never know who is going to read something you post. Keep your posts and pictures tasteful and free from derogatory comments, vulgar language or images you wouldn't want a church minister or preschool-aged child to see.
  • DON'T criticize or complain about your employer, boss, or co-workers. You don't want your postings or photos to paint your employer in a negative way, or it may cost you your job. Also, don't explode online about how much you despise your boss or other employees, or how much you hate your job. Companies monitor their online reputations and your words or images could be more damaging than you think.
  • DON'T think the past is just the past. Your postings have an online life of their own. Just because you posted something in your past that you think you erased, it doesn't mean others won't be able to access it through various search engines, mobile devices, or other ways.
  • DON'T say one thing, yet post something contradictory. If you call in sick or say you can't go to work because of a family emergency, and yet you post pictures or comments about how you spent the day romping at the beach or doing some other fun activity, you're risking a lot. The concept here is simple: be ethical and honest.
  • DO monitor your online presence. Applications like Facebook allow other users to "tag" your image when you appear in photos they post on their page, which then appear on your page. That said, monitor your online image so there aren't any disparaging pictures of you that could change an employer's perception of your character. Another tip: Google yourself to see what pops up. If there's anything negative, start working to correct it.
  • DO boost your online reputation. If you're looking for a job, try to include things on your page that reflect your character and strengths-specifically those things that may not find a way onto your resume. For example, if you volunteered to serve the hungry at your church, post some pictures of your participation. Another tip is to create a professional networking page. Applications like LinkedIn are a great way to create a positive, professional online image, and may even help you network your way into a better job. But just like anything else, do a little research of your own on those attempting to establish networking links with you. You don't want to associate yourself with anyone unsavory.
  • DO know your employer's policy about surfing the Web (including updating your Facebook status!) while on company time. Your employer may have a policy that prohibits you from going online for personal business while you're at work. Make sure you know what you can and cannot do while on the clock.

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