Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Online Brand: Own Your Experiences

There are quite a few articles and posts out there about protecting your online brand. Between social networking sites, blogs, and personal websites potential employers have more power than ever to investigate your personal life & habits. There's also a lot of fear surrounding this fact. People have become hyper paranoid about being tagged with an inappropriate photo or viewed enjoying an esoteric hobby. Well, I have some atypical advice: accept it, own it, move on. How did I come to this realization?

About five minutes into a second interview at a PR firm, I was introduced to the CEO as Katie the "bellydancer." This was not information I had shared, nor would I have cared to share it. I had actually Googled my name before the interview. What I didn't realize is that, because I was logged into Gmail, Google showed me different results than my interviewer. Logged out of Gmail, the first result of the search was my former bellydancing website cached, with photos. (At the time of the interview I hadn't danced in a year, and had no plans of returning to it).

What to do when your alter ego shows up at an interview? Invite her in from the cold. Once the cat's out of the bag, there's no denying the fact: you are a human being with a life outside of work. Is that such a bad thing? While it may depend on the job...and the alter ego...I tend to think these instances can make you more memorable as a candidate.

That said, don't let an alter ego catch you off guard. Blushing, nervousness, or any behavior that hints at embarrassment will make you look bad. One thing I had in my pocket? I'd written a business school application essay on lessons learned as a dancer. So, when it's come up (and yes, it has reared its head several times) I can speak with confidence about how bellydancing made me a stronger negotiator, public speaker and manager.

There's always the chance that your alter ego will prevent you from getting the job. But, you might ask yourself in that case, was the job really "you"? If you can't be your most genuine self at a company, it probably isn't worth working there. As a side, note, I did get offered the job at the PR agency, but I didn't take it. It just didn't seem like a place where I would feel comfortable being myself.

Okay. Homework. If you have a hobby, alter ego, or any other potentially embarrassing information about yourself online -- brainstorm possible questions from an employer. Then write a list of how your online persona has helped you develop as a professional. What about that experience will make you a stronger candidate for a position? Next, practice saying it out loud (I *love* the car for these conversations). Get to the point where you can speak with confidence and ease.

And if you're still paranoid? Read Network World's "13 Ways to Boost Your Online Reputation" . Actually, this is a great article to read, even if you're not paranoid!

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