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These days, your online reputation is all of you have. You can post your life activities in 30 different online locations; show everyone what you are eating at any given moment; instantly tell people who you are dating (or whose heart you just broke). You can share everything about yourself online. Sure there are different applicable outlets do share specific items – Facebook for general status’, Twitter for passing thought, Pinterest for pictures, and LinkedIn for work-related stuff.

But once it’s online, it’s there. In 10 or 20 years (heck, maybe even five years), oversharing will become the norm and there will be a new medium for us to “manage” to ensure potential employers can find the best possible representation of us. I am scared for those currently in college – they overshared too soon.

When Your Reputation is Under Attack

A few months back a blog/cartoon that I follow, The Oatmeal, posted a lengthy cartoon in response to an online reputation attack. Now this is an extreme example (follow the link for the gory details – it’s worth the read), but the premise is the same.

Most of us do not have an online forum of captivated readers in the millions to help us defend an attack – whether it’s true or false. What is one to do when your reputation is attacked or questioned? Trust me, your future employer will find out.

What’s considered an attack? Anything that could jeopardize your ability to be hired. Some examples include discussing poor performance, false employment information/details, questionable practices, reasons not to hire you, and so on.

There is a difference if the attack contains true or “real” information… versus if it’s libelous. (Not a lawyer, just saying that there is probably a huge difference here in presentation and how to “combat” it). Regardless, you need to minimize the impact as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Combat Begins Now

Reach out to the person who has attacked you. This may not be the easiest thing you have ever done, but sometimes you just ticked a person off and they want to vent about it. Yes, you will need to take several deep breaths and be sure to remain calm at all times during the conversation (or email), but start by asking them what the deal is and if there is a way to solve it. It may not be feasible or ideal for many situations, but people tend to feel guilty when they are held responsible for their actions.

Google yourself. Early and often – rinse and repeat. Monitor the results that pop-up and report anything that is untrue. If it’s really bad, hire an online reputation company to help you clean up your online results.

You need to address it. I hate that I’m recommending spending time and energy on this, but you have to respond to it in a calm and professional manner. Even if you simply post on your FB wall a sentence or two, it’s better than staying silent. Your silence will not stop the speculation. Well, not much will stop the speculation, but addressing the issue will at least provide people with a counterpoint with your perspective.

Get your story together. Your future employers are going to find the dirt, so prepare now for the question and how you will address it. Most likely it will not come up until you have passed through the initial phone screen, but be prepared regardless. While honesty is usually the best policy, make sure you practice your response so it doesn’t sound like “spin” and so you get your point across without stumbling.

Build up your expertise again. The upside to the online world is that you have various ways to build your expertise status again. Start rebuilding and inserting your expertise everywhere possible. Comment on blogs, participate in LinkedIn groups, start engaging in conversations with experts on Twitter, and so on.

You are a small fish in a big pond. You are. I promise, otherwise you would be able to combat the negativity with an online blog posting that is read by millions of people. See? Your issues are really insignificant to most of the world. Don’t forget that – the world won’t end. Start combatting it, but don’t lose perspective about its significance.

Keep plugging forward. Nuff said.