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Online Rants, Raves, and Resumes: The Digital Dirt Law Students Leave Behind

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<<I tell them that if they, like many of today's well-educated Gen Y'ers, have online social profiles, personal digital pages, or blogs, they need to start analyzing the digital dirt they're leaving behind.

Digital dirt is the information about you that is available on the Internet. Digital dirt can be postings to others' websites, information about your likes, dislikes, and hobbies, photos, profiles, rants, raves, resumes...and the list goes on. Furthermore, the trail of information that you leave behind is usually in plain view for others, including prospective employers and future clients, to see. When was the last time you ran a search for your own name using Google?


Dishing Dirt Can Create a Dilemma.

It is becoming more and more common for legal employers and recruiters to look at social-networking sites in order to qualify job prospects before calling them in to interview.

I served on a panel recently that met with more than 50 graduating seniors from a Philadelphia-area university. When I brought this very subject up, one of my male colleagues said that he researched a prospective employee before conducting an interview and found some indecent spring-break photos of her posted on an online profile. As the interview was already scheduled, he asked a different colleague to conduct the interview because he felt uncomfortable addressing the young lady after seeing her undressed online. Needless to say, she didn't get the job.

In fact, a higher education institution that I know of dedicates a portion of its assistant director of marketing and communications' time to surfing enrolled students' online profiles on sites like MySpace and Facebook. The assistant director has found disturbing photos, blogs, and other information that has led to the expulsion of several students.

Another human-resource employer told me that she compares resumes submitted to her company with those posted in online forums such as Monster.com, Jobs.com, and CareerBuilder.com. She looks for inconsistencies so she can be sure each interviewee is on the up and up.

A 2006 Wall Street Journal article by Jared Flesher states, "According to a 2005 survey of 102 executive recruiters by ExecuNet, an executive job-search and networking organization, 75% of recruiters use search engines to uncover information about candidates, and 26% of recruiters have eliminated candidates because of information found online." Just think—these numbers have likely increased since the survey was conducted.

But I'm Already Employed...

The problem with digital dirt doesn't only affect those seeking employment. Many law students already know where they will be employed once they graduate or pass the bar. Digital dirt also affects those who are already employed. Human-resource directors and supervisors are watching what you're doing online as a way of monitoring business productivity. According to a recent Gallup poll, the average employee spends more than 75 minutes per day using office computers for non-business-related activities.

According to Neen James, an international productivity expert, "Employees waste valuable company time with inappropriate web behavior, including social networking, sending and receiving personal email, instant messaging, and personal blogs." These activities cost American companies billions of dollars per year. "But those who embrace business productivity are really cracking down."

And those who embrace productivity are watching their employees' moves. Some employers simply block access to certain social and consumer sites. Others monitor usage and reprimand employees when their behavior is inappropriate. Still others will shadow employee computer usage and watch everything they type, email, access, and instant message.

A relative of mine manages more than 50 people in an international firm. He told me that one of his employees had been cautioned several times for inappropriate online activities—including the use of MySpace. He then proceeded to do some digging and found rants and raves about the company and its management using the "f" word and other foul language, all of which were posted during normal business hours. As I write this article, the employee's employment future looks grim.

In addition, many attorneys enter the judicial and political fray at some point in their careers. Those politicking in the past typically had much less digital dirt considering the fact that social sites and blogs are quite new to those of us in Generation X. However, how about those of you in Generation Y who aspire to become appointed or elected officials? Do you really want your digital dirt to be shown in a political ad 10 or 20 years from now?

Five Steps to Cleaning Up Digital Dirt

I've always been intrigued when passing work sites with signs that say "Wanted: Clean Dirt." What an oxymoron. Right? Well, think about it. How do you get clean digital dirt? It's not as easy as one might think!

Step One: Narcisurf. Search for your name on the Internet to find your "digital dirt." Search for information about yourself in every way possible. Go to Google, Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, Dogpile, and every other search engine imaginable. Type your name in quotes and see what comes up. Then, type in your phone number, your online aliases, your first initial and last name, your full name with your middle initial, etc.

Step Two: Clean your profiles. Go to every site on which you have a profile that you can control and clean it up. Make sure everything on that profile is 100% accurate. Then, make sure that if you have posted something, you would forward it to your grandmother or future employer to read or see.

Step Three: Ask to be removed. If you have a posting on a site that you cannot control, contact that site's webmaster and ask that your post be removed. If you can't get through or if the answer is "no," make sure you are able to address any question that may arise in an interview or from your employer regarding the matter.

Step Four: Fill in the spaces with clean dirt. Sometimes irremovable dirt can be covered up a bit with clean dirt. Crowd your Internet-profile search with positive information about you or your studies. For example, create a blog based on an academic subject, business area of expertise, or inoffensive hobby in which you have an interest. Keep it neutral.

Step Five: Monitor yourself. Set up a Google alert with your name included. Make sure you always know what's being said by and about you.

It's important to remember that every nugget of information that you post or that someone posts about you on the Internet can last for many years to come. I recently searched Archive.org for my company and found archived postings from 2002. The information is there for any current or future client to see. The good thing is that I have nothing to hide. Do you?

See 6 Things Attorneys and Law Students Need to Remove from Their Resumes ASAP If They Want to Get Jobs with the Most Prestigious Law Firms for more information.

About the Author:

Owner of Furia Rubel Communications, Inc. (www.furiarubel.com), a public relations agency in Doylestown, PA, Gina Rubel is a strategic public relations expert, attorney publicist, and client advocate with more than 15 years' experience. Her legal, nonprofit, healthcare, and education clients have received everything from national prime-time television placements to cover stories and features in consumer and trade magazines. Gina teaches public relations programs to corporations and universities throughout the U.S. and is regularly published. For more information, send an email to gina@furiarubel.com or call 215-340-0480.


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