Call them The Transparent Generation.
They're the first true children of the hyperconnected information age, and they were using the Internet before they could write cursive. Now they're starting to graduate college, ready to launch their careers as responsible, tax-paying young adults.
And many of them are waking up to a nagging concern about their online trail of screw-the-establishment web sites, embarrassing party photos, gushy poetry blogs and message board diatribes - all created way before they ever thought they might be Googled by a potential boss.
"For nearly the last decade my personal thoughts and feelings have been registered on the internet," an intern candidate wrote to me recently. "I have to wonder, do I need to start avoiding message boards I've posted on for years for the sake of an organization I'll belong to?"
It depends on the content and context, of course. But what he and his generation are coming to realize is that their use of the Internet to socialize and explore their innermost selves has created a transparent, permanent record by which complete strangers are making decisions about their future.
An article last March in the Wall Street Journal's CareerJournal.com recalled a recruiter who posted a sales opening on Tribe.net, one of the Internet's many social networking sites that also includes Friendster, MySpace, Ryze, LinkedIn and Google's own Orkut, among others.
One resume looked great, but was tossed when the recruiter visited the guy's personal profile page - which included bare-chested photos and celebrations of various body art.
Is it legal? Is it fair? It is what it is. A recent Harris Interactive Poll found that already one of every four business people automically search the web for the name for an associate or colleague before meeting them. Obviously this trend will continue as employers institutionalize the practice and search engines become even more efficient at finding information among personal home pages, blogs and social networking sites.
For the Transparent Generation, it's a trend that will cause many to wonder how much information to put online - and what self-portraits to leave in the box under the bed. It's also a reminder to mid-level and senior professionals that there is still no big Internet eraser to eliminate stuff you now wish you hadn't put out there.
For now, you are what you post. And who finds it.