Be wary of your online footprint

Post it online, and it could come back to haunt you later in your career, YouGov survey shows.

Drunken party photos posted on Flickr and angsty teenage-blogs and expletive-filled MySpace pages may come back to haunt you and your career, a YouGov survey has found.

A fifth of employers have looked up prospective recruits online, with over half saying it affected their decision to hire the person, said respondents to the survey of 2,447 internet users and 600 companies, commissioned by business networking firm Viadeo.

"People need to understand that putting a profile in the public domain may have repercussions for their career later on in life," said Peter Cunningham, Viadeo's UK country manager.

He warned people to control their online behaviour, as bad language, racist remarks are statements in bad taste could come back to haunt you.

While only 15 per cent of firms rejected employees strictly because of their online footprint, human resources managers were less forgiving. A quarter said they declined candidates because of what they found out online about the person.

In the report, the surveyed companies said they found that some candidates had lied or embellished their CVs by comparing them to earlier versions on job search sites.

But future employers are not just looking at your work activities. They're trawling through Flickr, Facebook and MySpace accounts, too. Some said they decided against job applicants based on personal information showing what they saw as alcohol abuse or unethical activities. One firm said such online habits "showed potential for indiscretion, boasting about activities online."

"Whether or not it's fair, people do it," said Cunningham, of companies looking up potential employees online. "If you're employing someone, you'll look at sources that are easily accessible. Because it's online, it's only a few clicks away."

And with increasing numbers of people using social networking sites - which encourage members to post personal photos and messages - more and more intimate details are showing up online. The study showed that 31 per cent of people across all age groups have posted information online, with MySpace the favourite web outlet at 15 per cent. But change the age group to the 18 to 24 set, and some 45 per cent of respondents had accounts on MySpace, with nearly as many on Facebook.

A fifth of all people surveyed had posted holiday pictures or used a social networking site, but another 13 per cent has uploaded photos from parties. Over half of younger people had information posted about them without their consent.

Cunningham said people can improve their online footprint by carefully controlling the information available about them in the online public domain. Aside from putting privacy controls on social networking profiles and being careful about what material is posted, that it's a good idea to have a "professional" profile as well. That way, if potential employers come across your Ibifa photos on one site, they'll also be able to see your work-focused side on another.

Having a strong online presence has its benefits. The study found that firms thought web sites, blogs and social networking profiles showed internet skills. Some firms said online information helped them get a clearer picture of the person and let them see more of their skills.

As all jobs have different requirements, applicants' online lives will be held to different standards. Teachers and doctors, for example, should be careful not to be seen as irresponsible, Cunningham said.

"For us, as a social networking company, it's important to have outgoing people - whether that means someone lying passed out on the pavement is outgoing or not, I'll leave up to you," he said. "But it's good to see people having friends."

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