Your online image is just as important as your physical one

* Professional conduct online

If there's one stereotype that has been broken since I began editing Cisco Subnet, Network World's community for Cisco users and partners, it's that tech geeks can't communicate. Judging by the working network execs we have blogging for us, today's eloquent network professionals are giving us professional wordsmiths a run for our money. I believe that maintaining such a professional image online speaks more about an IT pro's character than a one-paged resume. But, unfortunately, there are other 'IT pros' who don't have a clue how to conduct themselves online, showing not only poor judgment when it comes to posting unflattering pictures on Web sites - even ones intended just between friends - but also making insulting comments and remarks online. It's no wonder that these people choose to hide behind the mask of anonymity when posting up such remarks. For some IT pros, it's time to rethink their image online because future employers/clients may be reading.

According to this article on CareerBuilder.com, a survey by the job site found 26% of hiring managers said they have used search engines to research candidates, and more than one in 10 admit to using social networking sites in their candidate screening processes. Of the managers who browsed social networking sites, 63% found dirt that caused them to dismiss a candidate.

Chief among those was the discovery that the candidate has lied about his/her resume (cited by 31% of hiring managers), followed by poor communication skills (25%) and criminal behavior (24%). Even something that some would think is as benign as choosing an unprofessional screen name was cited as a turn-off by 8% of hiring managers.

On the flip side, there are online activities that can help candidates in the eyes of hiring managers. Some 64% of the respondents to the CareerBuilder survey said finding background information that supported the candidate's professional qualifications was cited as something that helped to confirm the decision to hire a candidate. Also a wide range of interests that made the candidate appear well rounded was cited by 40% of hiring managers, while great communication skills was noted by 34% of employers.

CareerBuilder has three nuggets of advice for professional conduct online:

1. Don't post anything on your site or elsewhere (even on friends' sites) that you wouldn't want a prospective employer/client to see.

2. Set your profile to private, or employ a 'block comments' feature.

3. Just as you'd check your credit rating, check your online profile regularly to see what comments have been posted, and run your name through a search engine to see what's out there.

I would add a fourth nugget of advice - don't hide behind anonymity when leaving comments to postings online because it's cowardly. If you have something valid to say post it under your own name. The point of forums and blog posts is to encourage discussion between professionals. Even if you strongly disagree with the original or previous poster formulate your response so that it presents your view as a strong and valid one. Comments such as "You suck," don't cut it and helps no one.

For examples of networking professionals who have Web sites that illustrate their strong communication skills check out our 20 useful sites for Cisco networking professionals, and 20 useful Microsoft sites for IT professionals. Also check out our 20 most useful social networking sites for work and pleasure.

I'm signing off for now as I'm off on maternity leave. During my absence this newsletter will be written by Network World Senior Writer Jon Brodkin. Drop him a line with your career news and/or questions and I'll see you back here in a few months.

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