Careers advice: do you have a skeleton in your closet?

Whichever side of the civil liberties debate you sit on, it is an unavoidable
fact that we are conducting our lives in a world of data, a world in which our
every move, comment, opinion and desire is being increasingly captured in data.

Without thinking about it, even a simple journey from home to work will now
create a data ‘footprint’, embedding where you were and when onto a computer
system somewhere. You would think that this data-driven society would engender
heightened suspicion of computer systems generally and would encourage
behaviours that reflect anonymity. But quite the opposite is happening.

With the advent of the many social networking sites that are now at our
disposal, from MySpace to Facebook people are falling over themselves to capture
their very existence in data. With very little effort, it is now possible to
pro-actively say where you were, when, who with, what you drank and even put
pictures online to prove it.

A thin veil of perceived security employed by these sites provides people
with the confidence they require to open their very souls to the world. And it
doesn’t stop there. The blogging phenomenon continues to explode its way around
the world, providing a platform for increasingly creative spleen-venting.

Now this new world of citizen journalism is beginning to stretch into
territories that are less obvious and far more commercial in nature, with
portentous overtones. One such area is in the world of executive search and
select, that nebulous world which operates to find the next leaders of business.
Many roles managed by these firms never even find their way onto the front page
of the Sunday Times Appointments, let alone onto the internet.

Clear conscience

But the stakes are becoming higher and higher in ensuring the right
candidates are put forward for these senior roles, especially considering the
large fees involved. And for those engaging a search firm, ensuring that your
new board member has no skeletons in the closet is just as important.

It is to the new world of social media that these traditional search firms
are now turning. High-profile executives conduct their business with specific
reputations in mind: business leader, White Knight or IPO guru; all senior
executives wish to be known for, or stand for, something.

In most cases, executives will write articles themselves or will have
articles written about them. But what about more informal data sources? How well
received was the last conference keynote that they delivered? Or what do their
current workforce think of them? And in terms of the business impact they’ve
had, has this come at a sacrifice?

With the increasing propensity for people to capture their commentary online,
what was once a frustrated rant around the water cooler is now there for the
world to see, dutifully indexed by Google and Technorati for everyone to find.
No longer can the executive hide behind their corporate façade when everyman is
so willing to put the record straight in such an unedited and honest way.

Our own company has launched a new service to make this whole process easier
to manage, from the perspective of both candidates and search firms.

For little more than 2% of the average search fee for a senior executive,
Reputica will provide a detailed report of the information that is out in the
public domain, summarised and categorised to include ‘official’ news, blogs,
chatrooms, Podcasts, trade journals and all other digital content that may
contain something of relevance.

It also provides summary analysis of the information to include when
information was created, who by, their perceived sphere of influence and their
likely readership. The reports are available to both search firms and
prospective candidates. Clearly, for search firms, this provides more in-depth
information about the candidate that could be useful at interview.

Little indiscretions

All of which begs the quite serious question: what can you do about it? The
rather ominous answer is: actually, very little. While the internet remains the
free media channel that it has become, the possibility of data breaking out into
the public domain becomes even more likely. Blogs are growing at a rate of 17
new postings per second.

Even sites like Facebook, once the preserve of 20-something students, are now
increasingly been used by serious businessmen.

This isn’t limited to text data either. Photographs and video are just as
much a part of this new world as blog commentary.

Now that the world has decided to engage in this online data proliferation,
we just need to be mindful of the data that we create without knowing it, the
data we create that we can do nothing about and, most importantly, the data we
create intentionally. It is our social responsibility to react sensibly.

Just remember this, your last conference speech had an audience of 1,000;
each member of the audience can reach more than one billion if they choose to
write about you.

Caught in the web

When you apply for a job, do you consider what you have done outside of work?
Or indeed what you did at university? Many graduates today enter the world of
work, happy in the oblivious naivety that their past foibles, captured by the
nearest camera phone, were left behind in student digs.

Unfortunately, there is a high likelihood that they now reside on a server
somewhere, owned by someone they’ve never met and they have no ability to
recover them.

Should they even care? Well, today’s graduates are tomorrow’s leaders of
industry and it is also likely that such data may still exist when they go for
their first board position. So yes, they should care. But this shouldn’t scare
us all back into our pre-internet worlds.

Simply put, job candidates need to acknowledge their social responsibility to
themselves and to each other, being mindful that misplaced postings could affect
either their, or someone else’s career prospects. And also remembering that
there is a community of professional bloggers out there that is very powerful.

Achieve recognition or commentary with them ­ in a good way, of course ­ and
you will have more coverage for all the good things you’ve done quicker than it
takes you to upload a photo to Facebook.

Social pressure

Almost half of Brits would feel outraged if an employer used a social
networking site such as Facebook, Bebo and Friends Reunited to look for
information about them and 56% consider such actions unethical, according to
research commissioned by recruiter Manpower Professional. But individuals are
more than happy to use social networking for their own career advantage. The
research, conducted by GfK NOP, found that 17% of staff use the sites to
research potential employers, 10% for networking and generating new business,
and 17% for other work reasons.

Andrew Jordan is chief executive of reputation
management specialist Reputica

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