You'd Better Scrub Your Online Image Before Applying for a Job

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- With the U.S. unemployment rate down to 7.5% and the civilian workforce participation rate down to 63.3%, (down about 9.5 million since 2008, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), U.S. job-seekers have less competition than they have faced at any time in the past four years.

In fact, some job-seekers may find themselves in demand for the first time almost a half-decade. According to Robert Half International, some slivers of sunlight are indeed starting to shine on the U.S. job market:

  • There's a "global war" for quality employees. Half says there will be "a shortfall of up to 18 million highly skilled workers in advanced economies, including the U.S., by 2020.
  • It's tough finding good professional help. About 66% of global firms say they face recruiting challenges for specific job openings, up 14% two years ago.
  • More staffers are cutting ties with corporations. Approximately 2.2 million career professionals voluntarily left their jobs in February, an 18% upward spike from 2011, Half reports.
  • Companies are recruiting talent. Almost 20% of U.S. workers say they have been approached by a company or recruiter for posts they didn't apply for or seek.

To take full advantage, career professionals seeking a job upgrade may want to pause, take a breath, and set the stage for a winning job search.

Item No. 1 in that strategy should be cleaning up your online persona before embarking on a job hunt.

According to Monster Worldwide, the Maynard, Mass., online job search behemoth, 73% of U.S. workers say it's a great idea to "scrub" one's online image before a job search. (The firm conducted a survey of 1,275 U.S. adults to find that number.)

"Hiring has always been done, at least in part, on the basis of reputation," says Mary Ellen Slayter, a career advice expert for "These days, reputation is even more important because we all have the power to create our own public persona using the tools provided by the Internet and social platforms."

Slayter advises being diligent in covering your tracks. "Be prepared and do some spring cleaning," she says. "Use search engines to find out what comes up when you type in your name, and then actively work to build a strong professional image online. An important aspect to help you 'find better' is to keep your online resume up to date and freshen it up as you develop your skills."

Also, eliminate embarrassing "party pictures" and delete controversial tweets or Facebook ( FB) posts that could raise red flags with potential employers. Then cut obscenities, potentially offensive posts or political rants that could ruin your chances for a good job.

The rule of thumb is this: If a post or photo could offend someone, delete it. It's just not worth the risk on your job hunt.

A successful career search is all about raising the odds, not reducing them. Scrub your online image and make sure you're working on the former, and not the latter.

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