The truth is out there, but so is loads of other stuff

by Mark Freebairn

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07 Apr 2011

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I WOULD SAY I Google myself about once a month. Now, I’m sure many people who know me would say that’s, er, less than they expected.

But I’m not doing it for ego reasons. A lot of people Google my name before they visit me, and it’s worth knowing what they are going to read before they do – because sometimes, some of the stuff might not be what you want to be seen.

The problem with the internet is that there is so much of it, and it collates information about you. It’s there for everyone to see, and read, and make decisions about. And, while social networking is a brilliant thing, it isn’t just used for social reasons now. Even business networking tools come with risks.

I’m frequently asked to recommend people on LinkedIn, as I’m sure many of you are. Those recommendations are highly visible. Interestingly, it turns out that people can make recommendations without you even asking them. This may not be news to the more technologically advanced of you, but it seems I am turning into my father, and am therefore quite a long way behind on these matters.

A colleague of mine was amazed to discover that someone he had worked with a while ago had done exactly that and, what’s more, had done it without it being requested and without the recommendation being checked before publication.

What it said was hugely positive – so it turned out to be a lovely surprise. But it did beg the question what if it hadn’t been? What if my colleague hadn’t seen it? And what if prospective employers had done?

You can find all kinds of things about yourself on the internet. As an example, I wrote an article once defending the reputation of accountants, in the course of which I quoted Geri Halliwell – the way you do. A month later I was being written about on a Geri Halliwell fan site. And not flatteringly. I resisted the temptation to respond, but it was very good to have seen it.

But, more seriously for finance leaders, if the business which you work with is associated with a problem and your name is linked to it, then it will be found. As headhunters, we have the Google test. We type in someone’s name, and see what comes up. If there are skeletons, they tend to come out. And I guarantee that we are not the only people doing this.

Of course, sometimes you make your own problems. As in the case of the recent graduate who wrote in his status on Facebook that he was taking a sicky because he hated his job and his boss. Which would have been fine, except he had asked his boss to be friends with him on Facebook. He was soon looking for a new role.
Control what you can control. Be aware of what you can’t.

Mark Freebairn is a partner at Odgers Berndtson

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