By David Ryan Polgar
Getting ready for your big job interview, you pick out your nicest professional attire. You spend extra time making sure not a single hair is out of place. Your shoes are shined. You remind yourself to sit up straight. Now, you open the door to your interview.
Despite your best laid plans, here’s what the person across from you sees: you have a lot more clothes on today than featured on your Instagram account, your online rants make Ann Coulter blush, and, despite listing your major as Accounting, it seems a whole lot closer to beer pong.
Welcome to your digital footprint: the collection of pictures, status updates, tweets, and blog posts that create a major impression. It’s your online reputation, which, in a world where online and offline are increasingly becoming merged, is the same as your overall reputation. Given the common nature of Googling someone, your online reputation molds the first impression you give.
Your digital footprint is akin to you credit score: your past actions have a dramatic influence on your present and future. The mistakes you made years ago can live on to haunt you. It may not seem fair, but it just is. There are countless examples of people being fired or not hired because of their online reputation. Most common would be the Teachers Behaving Badly scenario, which, given their role, is set at a much higher standard.
There are, of course, ways that you can go about improving your chances that you have a positive digital footprint.
You can do it when no one is looking. It is essential to assessing the impression that you have online, and crucial for determining if there is any damage control you need to do. You may also find that you have a googleganger, your online doppelganger who shares your name. Let’s hope that your googleganger is an upstanding citizen that pays their taxes.
While a lot of attention is placed on what YOU post online, it is also crucial to understand how your reputation is dramatically affected by what others say and post about you. You need only scan the comment section of your local paper to realize that people spill an incredible amount of vitriol online. More commonly, however, are pictures taken of you that are posted online.
Smartphones make it incredibly easy to take and post photos, often uploaded before thinking of the potential ramifications. A recent example is the the MLB pitcher Matt Harvey, who posted a picture of himself flipping the bird on Twitter. Backlash ensued and he deleted his account. The picture, however, will live on. There are no mulligans on Twitter.
The new normal is a world where previously forgettable moments are searchable and potentially held against your character. It’s best to think of everything you post in 2014 as being public. You may gain the false sense of intimacy online because you are sharing in the context of friends or followers, but nearly every post has the potential to be shared unwittingly. The intricacies of privacy settings on social media platforms are more complicated than insurance policies.
In many ways I’m glad that pictures and words from my capricious youth were not heavily documented, one click away on a search engine. Think about yourself. What would I find out about you if your whole life had been documented?