Making good cyberdecisions.

Hello again fellow chemists!

Picture the following scenario: you apply to work in a laboratory doing really fun sciency things and you come in for an interview. You talk with the manager about the research you did in college and what you are looking for in your career. Right in the middle of the interview the manager asks for your Facebook login information in order to see what kind of person you are. What do you do?

Your first reaction may be that such a request is illegal. Surely your Facebook account is private and thus protected, right?  But that may not be the case. In 49 states and the District of Columbia asking for Facebook login information is completely legal.

Now, if the thought of an employer discovering everything you have on you Facebook page gives you the chills, stop for a second.  Most of that information is already public.  Moreover, companies nowadays want to know as much about potential employees as possible and will go to great lengths to learn more. And the first step is an internet search.

For example, take a look at this story about a psychiatrist with a public stripping problem.  Essentially, a company found pictures on an interviewee’s Facebook page…of the applicant removing her shirt at parties. Internet searches for job applicants are growing more common, and a full one third of these searches reveal information that results in the applicant not receiving the position.

While today’s technology enriches our internet life, it also leaves us at risk of projecting an unprofessional image of ourselves online. In our normal lives its easier to separate our personal and professional lives. For example, no one dresses in sweatpants or jeans for an interview or presentation. But you may relax at home in whatever clothing you like.

But the internet is ever present. You have pictures available on the internet ranging from cute family Christmas shots to that night you had a little too much to drink. Or from when you took part in that cross dressing contest. Or…well, I won’t elaborate. And if you haven’t figured out by now, there are plenty of ways pictures can end up related to your profile even if you didn’t take them or post them. But just because there are pictures out there of you looking…less than professional doesn’t mean you’ll never be hired. Here are a few simple steps you can take to improve your internet image.

1. Everything you do on the internet can be seen by everyone else. Try typing your name into Google and see what comes up, because chances are an employer will do that exact same thing when they are looking at your application. As already established, more and more employers are checking out the internet lives of their future employees. So you should be proactive and see what kind of life you already have and then make changes so the important stuff comes up and the private stuff stays . . .private. Which leads me to my second point.

2. Privacy Settings. Use them. Often. You have the power in your hands to control who sees what in your internet life and there is no reason not to take advantage of that. I realize that using these settings can be complicated, but when Facebook itself explains how to use them, you should pay attention and take the time to understand them. Using privacy settings is more than a way to protect yourself from employers snooping around. Privacy settings can also protect information that may subject you to dangerous people or put you at risk for identity theft.

3. Facebook, minus Drama, plus Jobs = LinkedIn. Its a fact: scientists like equations. So to explain how useful LinkedIn can be I derived a simple equation: LinkedIn is equal to Facebook minus all the drama and add in excellent networking plus job prospects. Even if you are in school or do not need a job, it’s still beneficial to present yourself in a profile that will pop up when someone does a Google search for your name. Employers are constantly perusing LinkedIn and even recruit through the website. Have you ever been recruited for a job? With a LinkedIn profile, you could be.

Oh, and if you were curious, there is an ACS LinkedIn group.  And there are jobs posted in that group.  See you there!

4. Network with Other Chemists. As every gen chem student knows, like attracts like. The American Chemical Society has over 60 thousand active members, and, as a chemist, you fit right in! In addition to networking in physical spaces like National, Regional, and local Meetings, the ACS has built a space for its members to network online.  About a year ago the ACS launched the ACS network which can be accessed using your normal ACS login information. Here you can create a profile, connect with other ACS members, create a blog, and ask questions. Because this is a network for scientists  just like you, there should be no “solubility” issues. There are also places to host discussions for your student chapter, advertise events, develop your career resources, and post pictures!  Moreover, this allows something positive to pop up when someone “Googles” you, hopefully over that crazy karaoke contest you participated in Cancun (why did you loan your friend that camera?).

5. Blog it Up! If you need something else beside LinkedIn and an ACS network profile to enhance your internet image, consider writing your own blog. As undergraduate chemists you always have the opportunity to write for the ACS (on this blog- the one you’re at!).  We are always looking for new participants to write thoughtful, engaging articles that you believe would appeal to your fellow undergraduates. I would encourage all of you to jump on that.

You can also start your own blog at a site such as WordPress or Blogger.  As an undergraduate, you can comment on scientific papers, life as an undergraduate, lab safety, funny things you’ve heard around the department, your chapter’s outreach, and how to make periodic table cupcakes. Try to avoid controversial topics such as politics or religion; remember your goal is to look good to other chemists, not to offend half of them.  In addition, keep a cool head when it comes to commenters. Delete those obviously trying to provoke you, and answer the rest politely.

Long story short, always be conscious of what you are putting online. Perform searches on major search engines to learn how a potential employer or colleague may find you. Use websites like LinkedIn and the ACS network to develop a strong professional image. I wish you all the best of luck and, while you’re at it, look me up on LinkedIn!

Kortney Rupp is a senior at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois. She enjoys analytical chemistry and wants to be a chemistry instructor.

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