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What a tangled Web we weave

Being Googled can jeopardize your job search

Yikes! Colleen Kluttz eyes the results of a Google search of her name.
Click here: Be good for Google

Using Google, the wildly popular Internet search engine, as an action verb has been a part of our cultural fabric for years now. Daily, millions use it to "Google" old flames, long-lost friends and even ourselves in hopes of digging up dirt. But who would have thought this addictive habit could stand in the way of landing your next job?

But it's not your Googling another person that starts the trouble: the danger occurs when a potential boss Googles you.

An increasing number of employers are investigating potential hires online to find out more about an applicant than what's on their résumé.

You may be the perfect candidate for the job, but if your name pulls up something incriminating in a Google search, you could lose your shot. "People do need to keep in mind that the information they post online - whether in a résumé, profile or otherwise - should be considered public information," warns Danielle C. Perry, director of public relations at Monster.com. Sure, you may not have intentionally posted something controversial about yourself online, but from blogs to dating profiles, the Web has become a place where people air dirty laundry without a thought, making it a dangerous place to mix business with pleasure.

Just ask 27-year-old Colleen Kluttz. Type the freelance television producer's name into Google and the second item that comes up is her popular My Space profile. This online social network has become an outpost for photographic and written self-expression, but it's not always an asset in landing a job. "A friend of mine posted a picture of me on My Space with my eyes half closed and a caption that suggests I've smoked something illegal," says Kluttz.

While the caption was a joke, Kluttz now wonders whether the past two employers she interviewed with thought it was so funny. Both expressed interest in hiring Kluttz, but at the 11th hour went with someone else. "As a freelancer, I'm constantly on the lookout for the next best opportunity, but I haven't been having much luck recently," Kluttz explains. "I really haven't been concerned that people are Googling me, but now that I'm doing the math, it seems like this is definitely going to be a constant concern from this day forward."

In addition to all the other stresses of a job search, do you really have to assume you'll get Googled any time you apply for a job? Employment experts say yes. "More and more companies are doing background checks," says Michael Erwin, senior career adviser at Career Builder.com. "If you have something on Google, it's better to let them know in advance." He also warns, "Make sure what you put on your résumé is truthful."

FOIBLES AND RANTS EXPOSED

Bloggers may also have reason for concern. When Ciara Healy applied for a job at a university, she had no idea her personal blog could get her into trouble. But when a member of the search committee Googled her, he found she had called him a "belligerent jerk," though not by name, and canceled the interview. "I almost immediately deleted the blog," wrote Healy via E-mail. For obvious reasons, Healy doesn't think employers should Google candidates, but also because she doesn't believe that one's entire life should be up for review. "What is on the table at an interview should be skills, detectible levels of craziness, overall impression and a good fit in the workplace," she writes, "not your foibles, rants, petty opinions or brilliant insights."

While Kluttz can change her My Space profile and Healy has axed her blog, other Google-addled job seekers, like Jason Hartley, find themselves stuck. Hartley, 34, a full-time blogger and writer, has always been careful about what he posts on his personal music blog, Advanced Theory. But there's nothing he can do about the two other Jason Hartleys that appear when you type his name into Google.

"There's a guy who's a dancer," says Hartley. "We're the same age and I used to be a dancer, so people assume it's me." If that weren't enough, there's a third Jason Hartley and he's a well-known blogger. "He's a soldier who's gotten a lot of recognition for writing about the Iraq war. He's a real standup guy and again people think he's me." Needless to say, whenever Hartley goes on an interview he has to be upfront. "If I were going on a job interview, I would have to say I'm not that guy."

Be good for Google

Worried about what'll pop up if a potential boss looks you up? On Google, you can't afford to fudge a date or a job title, so be sure your résumé information matches your Web presence. If you keep a blog, be careful how much you reveal about your personal life. Even if it doesn't affect your getting hired, it may expose aspects of your life you'd rather keep out of the office.

Of course Google can work to your advantage, too. If you're looking to seal the deal on a job, it can't hurt to search for your employer's interests and job history to see what you have in common. Hint at a shared interest and he or she might just overlook that compromising My Space picture after all.

Originally published on March 19, 2006

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