When you Google yourself, what do you find? If the information that pops up isn’t so flattering, it might be time to clean up your online reputation. All those drunk selfies and immature tweets could be be standing in the way of your next job offer. Half of employers surveyed by CareerBuilder earlier in 2015 report going online to check up on candidates and 48% say they’ve found information that’s caused them to not to hire a person.
Despite the obvious importance of having only good things pop up when a recruiter types your name into that search box, most people aren’t paying much attention to how their online activity might affect their career prospects. Only 40% of job seekers are actively using social media for personal branding, a 2014 global survey by staffing agency Adecco found. Just 37% said that they worked hard at presenting a professional image of themselves online.
In this day and age, when maintaining a spotless online presence is as important to your career success as having a strong resume, that’s a problem. Fortunately, if a Google search turns up details that could raise red flags with an employer, you can take steps to resolve the issue. Here are five steps you can take to clean up your online reputation.
1. Google yourself
“The first step is to Google yourself just to see what is out there,” Bill Fish, the president of ReputationManagement.com, told The Cheat Sheet. “There could be photos from 10 years ago that you completely forgot about, or there could be something out there that someone else posted about you that you had no idea of.”
Be thorough when searching for yourself online. The world’s most popular search engine is the obvious place to start, but you should also check sites like Yahoo!, Bing, and Facebook for good measure. CNET also recommends searching for both your full name as well as your nickname, common misspellings of your name, and your name plus common keywords, like the city where you live.
2. Delete embarrassing material
Once something is posted online it can be hard to make it disappear completely. Still, if you have some embarrassing posts or unfortunate photos, you can remove those from your profiles or ask your friends to delete the offending images. If you comment on websites or participate in online communities, look through those archives as well. It’s all too easy to forget about stupid things you wrote years ago but which can still be uncovered by a diligent online sleuth.
“[G]o through all of your social media accounts and delete anything that you wouldn’t be comfortable with your grandmother seeing,” Fish advised.
This is also a good time to check your privacy settings. While locking down your profiles won’t always guarantee that your information stays private, it can make it difficult for potential employers to discover.
3. Build your personal brand
Scrubbing your online profiles can help improve your online reputation, but if you haven’t put your best face forward in the past, the most effective solution is to try to bury those old results with new content. Fish suggests creating a blog or website that will serve as the hub for your new personal brand. In addition to adding your resume to the site, start posting content and sharing it on your social media accounts.
“If you create fresh content to that site, it will gradually begin to rank on page one when someone searches your name, and the social media account will begin to follow,” Fish explained.
At the same time, make sure that your professional profiles are easily findable. Claiming a unique LinkedIn URL and setting your profile to public can make it more likely that potential employers will see a list of your professional accomplishments when they search for you, not some cringe-worthy photos.
4. Think before you post
Your own careless online behavior may well be the source of your less-than-stellar online reputation. If that’s the case, you need to make an effort to rein in your thoughtless posting, since most employers will not be impressed by your controversial and inflammatory comments. (They could even get you fired from your current job.)
“I also think people underestimate what their strong opinions do to their job search,” said Fish. “We live in a free country and our various opinions and beliefs are what sets us apart. That said, showing your overwhelming support for the Confederate flag on Facebook and Twitter is not going to look good to a potential employer. It’s never a great idea to air those opinions in a public forum.”
5. Practice constant vigilance
“Unfortunately, cleaning up your online reputation is not a one time event, as new items can appear at any time,” Fish said. In addition to posting flattering content and keeping those embarrassing photos private, do regular checks to make sure that any potentially damaging information hasn’t surfaced.
Set up a Google Alert on your name and you’ll be notified when new information about you shows up online. If it’s bad, you can take immediate steps to address the problem. That might include asking a website owner to remove information that’s false or defamatory or requesting that Google remove links that contain sensitive personal information, like nude photos that were posted without your permission.
When your digital persona is really a mess, it might help to call in the experts. If you happen to share a name with an unsavory character or if have become the victim of an online smear campaign, a professional reputation management company can take on the heavy lifting of scrubbing your search results and creating a more flattering online picture of you. They won’t necessarily be able to do anything you can’t do yourself, but if you simply don’t have the time to take on all the work, outsourcing the job could make sense. For the average person, a DIY approach should suffice.
“An individual should be able to manage their reputation on their own,” Fish said. “While it may be time consuming, it isn’t all that difficult.”