Can social networking hurt your job prospects? Or help them?

Over the weekend, I saw yet another non-story on the morning talk shows about how careful you should be about what you post online because it may come back to bite you. The story was filled with warnings about how everything you put on the Internet is permanent, and all potential employers are spending their days combing Facebook searching for stupid photos of you.

These stories pop up periodically like mushrooms, but I think they are largely overblown. If you are foolish enough to post drunken, naked pictures of yourself or blog about how much you hate your boss and the company you work for, then you’re only doing potential employers a favor. They deserve to know about your lack of judgment and common sense before they hire you.

But as social networking tools become more ubiquitous — and as decision makers become more comfortable with using them — the bar for acceptable online behavior will get lower and lower. Stupid stuff you did in high school and college will be forgiven; we all did stupid stuff in high school and college. In some industries, foolish photos may not only be okay, but even expected.

What might hurt you even more when job hunting is not being online at all. The resume is a terrible way to learn about a job applicant. I hope resumes become entirely obsolete in 21st century business, replaced by the URL. As a potential employer, I can learn much more about you from reading  your blog posts or checking out your LinkedIn profile or browsing your photos on Flickr. Or all of the above.

The morning news shows shouldn’t be spending time telling us what not to post online. Instead, they should be telling us how to manage our online reputations and use our presence on the web to sell ourselves to employers. Here are a few links that can help with that:

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