Once you’ve applied for a job, the first step in landing an interview is to make it past the screeners. Screeners are the humans who examine prospective job applicants after their résumés have made it through the company’s automated filtering system. Their task is to trim the applicant pool to manageable levels. They comb through the remaining résumés, looking for anomalies and discrepancies in each job application, or any indication that the prospective employee would be a poor fit for the company. Even if your résumé is perfectly tailored to make it past the filtering system, the screeners can stop your application dead in its tracks based on what they find out about you, which is why your online profile is so important.
Many screeners now look online to learn more about prospective employees. The impression they get from your online profile can affect your chances of being hired. If your résumé lists extensive experience with C# but they find a forum posting you made only six months ago asking how to open a file in C#, they’ll probably conclude that you’re exaggerating your experience level, putting your whole résumé into doubt. Or if they see disturbing and/or inflammatory material that they think you’ve authored, they may decide to pass you over for an interview, no matter how well your résumé reads or how long ago you wrote those things. No one’s proud of everything they ever did in high school or college, but those who have grown up in the post-Internet era will see things follow them that they’d rather forget about, something the older generations rarely had to contend with.
At some point before you apply for a job, take a good look at your online profile. Put yourself in a company’s shoes and see how much information - good or bad - they can find about you, or link to you. If your online profile is possibly going to prevent you from being hired, take some steps to sanitize your profile. Remove questionable material from the Web and from the search engines. Abandon old e-mail addresses and online identities.
Develop a newer, better online profile for yourself that doesn’t throw any red flags in front of the screeners. Finding a good job is hard enough as it is - why make it harder?