When you’re gearing up for job hunting there are several things you check off a standard to-do list:  brush up that resume, lay out a snazzy outfit, do a little potential employer research.  Is checking your digital reputation part of that list?

Have you considered what your Facebook or other social media profiles say about you?

A study done for Careerbuilder.com back in 2009 showed that up to 45% of employers were already checking social networks to screen job candidates!  Those platforms have only grown in the years since, so that percentage is bound to be higher today.

It has become unspoken knowledge that everyone from college admissions, company recruiters, and human resource departments make it a habit to check up on applicants and current employees via social media.  It’s not just career geared sites like LinkedIn they are looking at.  They will follow you on Twitter, troll your Facebook page, and Google your personal blog.

In fact that same Careerbuilder.com survey mentioned above found that of those businesses that conduct online background checks, Facebook was a more popular place to start snooping around than LinkedIn.  Why?  Because they know that Facebook has cultivated a culture that encourages sharing everything from opinions on the day to those risque photos from last weekend’s party.  Your resume and LinkedIn profile is more likely to the polished image you wanted to portray.  Plus Facebook has more users, so they are more likely to find information about you there.

Why is this so important?  It’s just who you are, right?  As many as 57% of those businesses that checked social media said it directly impacted their hiring decisions.  Do you really want them basing your career and financial future on those negative posts you made when you fought with your boyfriend, the anti-government posts you reshared a billion times because you feel fed up with the economy, those music videos by scantily clad or foul-language using artists, or the photos a friend tagged you in from that wild Halloween party?

Your online reputation has become so important there are entire companies dedicated to cleaning it up for you!  Since you know there are people out there looking at it, make your social media presence work for you as a marketing tool.  Be sure to go through your posts and clean up anything that might raise an eyebrow.  Some people have gotten really creative, using the new format with photos across the top to display their volunteer work or products they’ve sold.  The top entry in this article on oddee.com is a great example of what you can do with a little imagination.  There are also Facebook applications like BeKnown that can help you separate your professional from personal life.

If you’d rather keep your Facebook profile personal, I recommend taking steps to keep it private.  First, check your privacy settings and make sure it’s set so that just your friends can see anything.  You can get to those setting by clicking on the drop down menu in the top right corner as pictured below:

Another precaution you can take is only friend people you know and exclude anyone from your current job.  Many employers now have very strict social media policies in place that apply to more than what you do during the work day.  Getting familiar with whatever their requirements or restrictions are is always a good idea, but by not having those people in your friends list you avoid potential backlashes from what you thought was a perfectly normal post.

Limiting your accepted Facebook friends coupled with staying on top of those privacy settings will mean that potential employers will be more likely to view the online content you actually want them to see.  With the power of social engineering growing globally and an ever growing number of people regularly using social media, this trend in online research may eventually replace that initial interview so many of us prepare ourselves for.  Make sure that you look as good on the Internet as you would from across that H.R. desk.

PC Co-Pilots is a comprehensive computer and web services company located in Jasper, Georgia founded in April 2008 by Justin Bowers.  If you have any questions, comments or need any assistance with your computers or web presence, call (706) 253-6362 or email info@pccopilots.com.  Ongoing tech tips and tidbits can be found on our Facebook page.

Jessica Bowers runs PC Co-Pilots with her husband, Justin, as an Office Manager and head of Marketing.  She graduated in 2009 with a Bachelor’s in Sociology from Kennesaw State University and regularly participates in local business and non-profit events.  To contact her directly, email Jessica@pccopilots.com.