Life After College: Managing Your Reputation Online

So you think everythings all fun and games, huh? Sure, it's harmless, right? You're young, and having a good time, and you can worry about your future at a later date.

Keep thinking this way and you won't have a future to think about. You see, with all the wonderful technologies available today, it's more important than ever to be a little careful about what it is your doing, and who knows about it. With the advent of search engine technologies and social networking and media, it's really easy for unwanted information about you to wind up on the Internet. Managing your reputation online has turned into big business, with large corporations spending lots of money to monitor and track what's being said and what information exists about them. The same should be no different for yourself, and instead of shelling out big bucks down the road to spruce your image up you can be preventive and aware now and help mold your online persona. Here are ten future scenarios:

1. Parents

So the day finally comes when mommy fires up that computer you bought her a few years ago. You've been trying to get them to communicate with you a little more online so they'll stop calling your cell phone so much. The whole time you never think they'll find something about you online that you didn't want them to see.

One day, Mom happens to come across an article about how much partying goes on in college campuses, and how kids are sharing these experiences with each other using social networks like MySpace and Facebook. She learns a little about what these sites do, and decides she'll take a visit. Once there, she decides to search for your name. After some pages, she finds your wonderful MySpace page, complete with plenty of evidence of this past semester's antics. Some are your fault, and the rest are your friends who constantly add pictures of you doing keg stands in your comments area. Whoever's fault this is, it's probably going to upset your parents, and nobody wants to do that.

Prevention Tip: Keep your social media profiles private. That way, only those who you allow get to see your pages' content.

2. Current & Future Employers

You're all excited about graduating, getting your diploma, and landing that new job (after taking one more summer off, or course!) Fall comes along and you've got your resume polished up, a new suit and tie, and are ready to get moving with the rest of your life. The job search begins.

After a few months, you find yourself waiting tables at the local pizza joint. After many attempts to land that dream job, it seems no one's interested, and you can't quite put your finger on why. What could they possibly not want with you? You're smart, got good grades in school, and even have that internship under your belt with great referrals. There's just one thing you're forgetting about, and that's your name. It turns out those in charge of hiring these days are using the very simple task of Googling potential hires' names. Turns out that when you Google your name, the first thing that appears is a newspaper article from way back in the day where your name appears with several of your friends for that carjacking you were involved with. Yeah, you were a young punk and you've changed since then, but the employer doesn't know that. They're gonna look elsewhere.

Prevention Tip: The fact of the matter is, that article exists and there's nothing you can do about it. However, you can start a web page or blog, that talks about your life, hobbies, interests, and so on. If you keep it updated and current, chances are that your blog will show up before the article. Plus, the employer will see that you've taken an active interest in managing your reputation.

3. Significant Others

We've all been in a situation with a significant other where we wonder about what they do when were not around. It's human nature to second guess our loved ones from time to time, and some of us do it more than others. Some of us rummage through our drawers and our purses looking for evidence that will prove we've been cheating on them. And some of us will also jump on our computers and try to find some pictures or letters involving a torrid love affair that we just happen to keep sitting on our desktop. The fun doesn't stop there as they move next to the Internet, using their cunning detective skills to visit sites and forums that you frequent. By using the history bar in your web browser, it's not too hard to locate any websites you've happened to visit recently. Discussing issues with a spouse is one thing; having them find out on their own (it could even happen by accident if you share the same computer) is completely different.

Prevention Tip: Clear your Internet browser's temporary Internet files and history after viewing content. This will also help your computer run better and faster.

4. Rents-In Law

So who out in the world wants to find dirt on you more than anybody else? Well, in some cases, it could be your current or future in-laws! This may sound crazy, but it won't matter to her when daddy finds out that his daughter's beau has been in more than one bar fight, or has an affinity for keg stands, and she's bound to break off the marriage.

Prevention Tip: See the above tip about keeping your social media profiles private.

5. The Law

Now, some of these scenarios have been situations that we all could easily get ourselves into. The ramifications might be bad, but we'd probably move on with our lives. Perhaps one of the more scary ones would have to be if you got in trouble with the law. Simple curious Google inquiries (murder, poisin, etc) can get you in serious trouble. Now, maybe you didn't actually commit the crime, but sometimes it doesn't matter.

Prevention Tip: Be careful what you search for. It sounds crazy, and it may not be possible yet, but someday this kind of stuff could come back to bite your behind. Just be aware that you're moves are being tracked.

6. Graduate School

After four years of college you've decided that maybe you're not quite ready to be done. Graduate school plans are in the works and you have an idea of a few schools that you may want to attend. Letters and applications are taking up much of your time as you try to impress and persuade these institutions into accepting you as a Grad student. Just like possible employers, admissions boards may be Googling your name to see what kind of trouble you may have gotten into or to see if you've done anything notable online.

Spruce it up: In addition to blogging about your topic, search online for clubs, organizations, chat rooms, and other places on the web that are closely tied to your major. Many times these destinations let you set-up profiles that are searchable. Your grad school then will find these pages and see that you've taken an active interest in relevant communities.

7. Lending Institutions

At some point in the future you're gonna go into a bank and ask for a loan. It could be for a car, house, boat, or to start a small business. When it comes to most of these things, there's really not much you can do because of your credit score, That's an entirely different article in itself when it comes to things you can do to keep that reputation clean. But when it comes to getting a loan for that small business, having a good reputation online could definitely come in handy. You're going to need a business plan anyway, so why not polish your reputation on the web? Changing the format and turning it into a resource for others to use could show the bank that you mean business. It also could be a revenue stream in itself in addition to proving your expertise in a the business your getting into.

Spruce it up: Use a blog or website to show a business plan in a more dynamic way. It could mean the difference between being broke or having the loot to open doors to new opportunities. In addition, use the web to find other kinds of investors that may take an interest in your ideas.

8. Clients & Customers

At some point in your career, whether you've finally landed that cool job or have gone into business for yourself, the need to attract clients, customers, or associates to work with is going to arise. And when that need arises, impressing them is going to go a very long way - why not use the web to do the work for you. They say first impressions are everything, so why not use what you've built online by pointing them all in the right direction. Don't even give them a chance to Google your name - make sure they find your blog or website by putting it right in front of their noses at all time. A little shameless self-promotion never hurt anyone.

Spruce it up: Make sure you use a personal blog or web address on not only your business cards but also your email signatures. If you work for a company, it's no different than having a work and cell number. One's for the company's image, the other is for yours. A great way for people to instantly get to know who you are and what you're all about.

9. The Press

Back in the day, you had to be big time to get mentioned in the press. You had to be a rocket scientist in your field, a celebrity, or know powerful people for anyone to notice you enough to get mentioned in a local paper, let alone a national publication. Times have changed. Socially driven media has give us the ability to share and organize news and data, which in turn has given everyone a better shot and being recognized for their talents and interests. Get out there and get noticed, and use that press to your advantage (i.e. mention it on your site and to your peers, who will see you in a different light when they see your name on a major news site!)

Spruce it up: Become a part of the social media scene, read and comment on blogs, join social networks, and contribute to different online communities.

10. Your Kids

Perhaps the sum of everything you do online can be added up to what your kids may find out about you someday. Think about how old they'll be when they first type a word into a search bar - it will be a lot younger than you were. Your children will grow up with these technologies and will learn how to use them at a very young age. Your children will see traces of their parents as they navigate the Internet, and they'll have many questions along the way. Hopefully by using preventive measures, and sprucing your image up along the way, the answers to those questions will be good ones. And the experience you have gained from managing your reputation online can be passed down and used for your own children so that they may reap the same benefits and carry on your online legacy.

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