Since the mid-1990s, the Internet has significantly impacted culture and business. Having been involved in legal hiring since 1982, I have witnessed first-hand the countless ways the Internet has influenced legal hiring. More recently, I have seen how discoverable information on social media plays an ever-increasing role in hiring decisions.
While working on a complicated search for a niche lawyer, this lesson was learned the hard way. An out-of-state candidate with the perfect legal background had completed a successful telephone interview and the firm had scheduled him for a full interview. However, before he could make the trip, a lawyer in the firm ”Googled” him and found some disturbing information. The interview was canceled. The firm’s position was that, regardless of the veracity of the information, they could not risk hiring this candidate since the information was easily discoverable by the firm’s clients and would call this lawyer’s judgment in to question.
Judgment, the combination of intelligence, wisdom and discernment, is a highly desirable trait in lawyers. For this reason, developing and protecting your professional online image is vital not only when you are seeking employment, but also to your practice development efforts. The bottom line is that any information discoverable online may influence prospective employers’ and clients’ perception of you.
So, where do you begin? Start by conducting due diligence on your online presence. Recognize that any information you retrieve is discoverable by others. In today’s world, what you post online may be just as important as what you have printed on a formal résumé. And remember, a picture paints a thousand words. Examine what you have posted on social networking sites, including tweets, status updates, photographs, and even responses to friends’ comments on Facebook. Consider the following comments from an employer’s perspective:
LAWYER: “stuck on a conference call with a bunch of idiots. Calgon, take me away.”
JOB CANDIDATE: “just got a job offer! Selling my soul to the devil for financial stability.”
The next step is to determine what you want your online image to be, and to implement a strategy to achieve your goals. Always err on the side of professionalism, because it can be difficult to clean up “digital dirt.” Manage the content you post online in order to establish a professional online reputation. While you may not be able to erase negative online personal information, you can take steps to minimize negative content. In other words, you can create positive content through strategic use of social networking. One way to get started is to observe and emulate the behavior of those who are where you aspire to be. Identify mentors and follow their lead when it comes social networking.
Finally, if a prospective employer identifies and inquires about something they found online, be accountable, but do take the opportunity to clarify or provide context. Respond professionally and demonstrate that you have the maturity and judgment required for the position.
By Ann Skalaski, Partner, MillerBlowers, Inc.