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Your history on social media can hurt your job prospects, but you should rely on your personal contacts to help you in your job search, writes Nick Corcodilos. Photo by Flickr user Highways Agency

Column: Can a job candidate overcome a nasty social media past?

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

Question: “Be careful what you post on social media! It will follow you around when you try to get a job!”

I heard this warning many times when I was younger, but I ignored it. Now I sense that I’m being rejected for jobs because HR managers are looking up my old Facebook, Twitter and other social media accounts. I left some nasty tracks out there. It’s my own problem. But what can I do about it now?

Nick Corcodilos: There are services that you can pay to clean up those ugly tracks. But, best case, all that will do is eliminate one problem. It will not improve your ability to impress an employer positively. It will not help you get hired.

The problem with digital reputations

Deep in some HR database, your glowing digital resume or job application dukes it out with your dark digital identity. The problem with a digital history is that, if an employer rejects you over what it finds on your Twitter or Facebook accounts, you’ll never know if you would have been a strong contender for the position otherwise. You can get rejected without having a chance to first impress the employer one-on-one (in a real conversation).

Still, your digital footprint is just one component of your overall reputation. Your reputation is dependent on what people think of you in the real world, too. So be careful what you leave online but pay more attention to what impressions you leave with people you deal with face to face. It’s your personal and professional relationships that can make the most difference when you’re looking for a job.

The power of personal contacts

The real lesson here is this: Don’t apply for jobs using impersonal, automated means (online applications, LinkedIn requests, etc.) because you can’t defend yourself via purely digital tools. You have far more control and better chances of making a good impression if every job you pursue is through personal contacts and introductions. Something questionable that you posted on Facebook may not matter so much if someone the hiring manager trusts recommends you personally and strongly.

Here’s an excerpt from my PDF book, “Fearless Job Hunting, Book 3, Get in The Door (way ahead of your competition):”

“The best way to pursue a new job is not to apply for it. It’s to talk about the work you want to do with other people who do it. That leads to the fundamentally healthy, mutually beneficial relationships that drive your industry. Not coincidentally, that’s also where jobs come from… Managers hire people who are referred by other people they trust. This is what makes business go ‘round—and it’s how to start a job search. Go find the people an employer trusts, and help them introduce you. It’s a lot more fun than peeling off resumes!”

Employers hire through trusted recommendations

Get the idea? Even in today’s digital age, trusted personal referrals and recommendations carry the most weight. Your resume, your online job application, your LinkedIn profile and, yes, your problematic social media history are all dumb digital files. They cannot speak for you, defend you, or explain your value (or your regrettable tracks).

READ MORE: How to ask for feedback in job interviews

What gives you an edge when pursuing a job is personal contacts. Real, live shared experiences enable others to judge and recommend you. The best way to impress an employer is through someone the employer knows and trusts. That’s how employers hire. That’s your best chance for countering the problematic social reputation you’ve left all over the Internet.

This article may help you apply to all your jobs using personal contacts and referrals: “How to engineer your personal network.”

Your digital footprints can hurt your job prospects. It may be too late to fix your online reputation, but it’s never too late to cultivate and use real-world, personal contacts to impress an employer.

Dear Readers: Have your digital footprints ever cost you a job? How did you deal with it?

Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2018 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

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