Career Management: Creating a Personal and Professional Balance Through Your Online Identity

In the last five years, the Internet has given all of us the opportunity to develop strong online presence -- all the while opening up a can of worms with regards to our career management and professional lives. With tools such as social-network-mapFacebook and Twitter, we have an increased level of power when it comes to maintaining relationships with friends and expressing ourselves in our social circles. At the same time, this exposure can easily backfire as soon as your friends post photos of you partying or as soon as you share a controversial perspective. Regardless of your intentions, you may end up rubbing someone the wrong way -- in 160 characters or less.

To avoid potential conflicts, some people suggest that you should never add your coworkers as friends on Facebook -- LinkedIn should be your professional network. So what do you do when your office lunch buddy adds you as a Facebook friend or starts to follow you on Twitter? After all, we're only human, and a rejection -- online or real-- can create an awkward situation. No matter what you decide -- to accept or reject-- an uncomfortable situation is inevitable.

As online social networks evolve, the lines between our personal and professional lives continue to blur. With a simple Google search, employers and coworkers can study our behavior. Even if we maximize our privacy settings, information is still accessible. Rumor has it that a private Facebook profile is still accessible by some employers. And what about friends of friends?

In a 2009 Harris Interactive study, a survey of 2,667 hiring managers revealed that 45 percent of companies use social networks to conduct background checks. Employers cited a list of potential red flags including drinking photos, bad mouthing of former employers and coworkers, and poor communication skills. These statistics should caution us to maintain an appropriate standard of online behavior, regardless of whether we are interacting with coworkers or good friends. For any interaction that takes place online, there will always be a written record.

Is the solution to this privacy beach to run away and hide? To delete your Facebook profile? To establish every privacy guard possible? To completely hide who you are?

Instead of feeling a sense of threat, one approach is to embrace the Internet's power of self-expression and to strike a balance between our professional and private lives. If you have a Facebook profile, put equal effort into your LinkedIn network to showcase your professional character. Find a way to maintain consistency throughout your many profiles, and create a brand for yourself.

Embrace what the Internet has to offer, and use social networks as a powerful personal branding tool.

Don't rely on the Internet to create a privacy screen. As we have seen with Facebook's fickle privacy settings, our privacy isn't always in a company's best interest. Screen your behavior offline before it goes online -- that includes taking down photos (or asking your friends to delete photos from online albums) and thinking before you post.

Photo Credit: ButchLebo

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