Editor’s note: This article is part of a featured series that tackles the basics of reputation management. In our Reputation Management 101 series, you’ll learn about basic (but important) concepts, tasks, and tips for reputation management. Each post will include actionable advice and realistic ideas that you can use — today — to improve your online reputation. Join us as we explore reputation management resources that everyone should know!
In today’s age of endless information, there’s little you can’t find out just by looking online — and no one knows that better than employers searching for job candidates. While you might hope that in the interest of privacy, employers are keeping your online life out of consideration, let’s be real: they’re looking. More than 90% of employers use social media for recruiting, and most will admit to checking out potential candidates online before hiring them.
This information might bother you, but it gets worse: more employers are finding reasons not to hire candidates online. A recent survey shows that 43% of hiring managers who research candidates online have found information that prompted them not to hire candidates — and that number continues to grow with each year.
But the news on your job search and online reputation isn’t all bad, as research has found that candidates who have been vetted online — recruited by social media in particular — are more likely to get hired than from simple job board postings, and that those hires are more likely to stick for at least three years.
For better or for worse, the reality is that employers, hiring managers, and recruiters are almost certainly going to Google you before you get hired. And if your online reputation is in need of a clean up, you could be in trouble.
What can you do if you need to clean up your reputation for a job search? Plenty. We’ve outlined important steps every job seeker needs to take, from uncovering search results to removing negative content, developing a positive online presence — and then maintaining a great online reputation. Read on for actionable tips you can follow today to get started with a clean slate and a great reputation that can help you land your dream job.
If you’ve just found yourself in the job market, the first thing you probably want to do is rush out and find job listings that match the kind of career you’re looking for. Slow down. Consider your online reputation first.
Recruiters and hiring managers are looking at your online presence, some of them before they even schedule an interview. If your reputation isn’t up to snuff, you could be wasting your time blasting out resumes to employers who will take one look at your online reputation and run.
Before you really jump in and start pounding the pavement, take some time to work on your reputation so that you can put your best foot forward. Even if the reputation work you do doesn’t kick in right away, you’ll be laying a good foundation that could help you develop a strong online presence by the time you’re ready for interviews and final hiring decisions. Employers who do not initially screen applicants are much more likely to do online reputation research when they’ve narrowed down their choice of candidates, or they’re ready to extend a hiring offer.
The first thing employers will do when assessing your online reputation is a simple Google search. That’s why it’s so important to find out what’s waiting for them there. Take inventory of what you’ve found: is it attractive to employers, or could it cause a problem? Take note of any results that match you, both positive and negative, as you’ll need to deal with both types of results. Be sure to go at least a few pages deep, but don’t worry about results that are buried far down, as it’s not likely they’ll be checked out.
Keep an eye out not just for active profiles, but dead ones you haven’t updated in years. They can both make a difference and you may need to log in and update or delete old accounts. You’ll want to look at social media profiles to see how they can be viewed publicly. Most have the option to view a public timeline or offer a “view as” option so you can see how others view your profile.
You should also watch for other people who share your name, otherwise known as digital doppelgangers. They can seriously influence your search results and may lead employers down the wrong path if they get confused about which search results belong to who. If you share a name with a criminal, porn star, or other unsavory character, you may have trouble landing a job. Consider using a slightly modified name for your job search, or plan to out gun them by putting out lots of positive results that are relevant to you (more on that later).
Look for Red Flags
First and foremost, you’ll want to put out the fires. While it’s important to develop a positive online reputation with good content, the first thing you need to do is wipe out the bad so you can start fresh. Employers are on the hunt for reasons to dismiss your application, so don’t give them any ammo.
Red flags can include:
- Embarrassing or inappropriate photos
- Negative or inappropriate language or strong opinions
- Complaints about current or former employers
- Poor grammar or spelling
- Association with negative characters
- References to illegal activity, drinking, or drug use
- Legal challenges
- Blatant self promotion
- Inconsistencies between your resume and online presence
- Any indication that a candidate lacks maturity or good judgement
If your search results have any red flags like these, you’ll need to do some work to delete them, get them removed, or otherwise bury them.
Don’t Go Nuclear
For some job seekers, the idea of cleaning up their online presence is just too much — and they take the nuclear option, deleting their social media accounts, changing their last names, and otherwise hiding out online. And it’s a bad idea.
While it’s possible this can keep you from sharing dirty laundry with potential employers, it’s far more likely to make them suspicious. Most will wonder why you have no presence online — and they may even question if you have something to hide.
But more importantly, it leaves you with a blank slate, which might sound appealing, but is actually dangerous. It means any single negative result can be a serious hit to your reputation. It’s far better to develop a mostly positive reputation and risk a few blips on the radar than to have nothing and risk having the only search results be negative ones.
Further, an online reputation isn’t just about hiding the negative, it’s important to accentuate the positive. If you’re hiding out, you’ll miss out on the opportunity to control your online reputation and develop positive connections and reflections of your personality online. Remember that you can positively interact with recruiters, hiring managers, companies, influencers, and others in your network that might be able to connect you to a great job.
Remove Negative Results
Once you know what you’re up against, you’ll need to remove any negative results you’ve found on Google or in your social media profiles to make sure that potential employers can’t find them. This is easiest on websites, blogs, or profiles that you control, but you may need to work to get content taken off of other peoples’ profiles or websites as well, and not everyone will be friendly about it.
- Take charge of your content: If you’re dealing with comments, posts, or photos that you’ve put up yourself, just log in and delete them. It’s best to remove content entirely rather than simply hiding it because even behind privacy walls, it’s possible for photos, posts, and other embarrassing items to be shared, copied or screen shot. Play it safe and just delete. You should also clean up your friends list and review your likes and follows to make sure the people and things you associate yourself with will reflect positively on you.
- Lock down your privacy: Review your privacy settings, and make posts and photos available to friends only. You may even consider filtering your friends into different audiences for different posts. Butm remember that everything can potentially become public.
- Ask friends for help: It’s trickier, but not impossible, to remove negative results that other people have shared. If you’re dealing with friends on social media, it’s easy enough just to ask them to take it down — and be sure to mention it’s for a job search so they’ll be more likely to act quickly for you. If they can’t or won’t, you can at least remove tags, and be sure to remove the content from your wall as well.
- Politely request removal: Content on blogs or websites may rank higher on search engines and be even more damaging to your reputation. Mug shot websites, negative news stories, even bad reviews can really come back to haunt you and can have potential employers running for the hills. And to make matters worse, some website owners will not change or take down content willingly. When you’re dealing with website or blog owners, the first step is to politely ask them to take the content down. Tread lightly, be polite, and explain that you’re looking for a job, why it’s embarrassing and important to you that it is removed. Do not get caught up in demands, and definitely don’t threaten to sue. Just ask nicely — you may be positively surprised. Even some mug shot websites offer a free “courtesy removal service” if you can explain how you’ve changed and why you need the content taken down, so don’t count yourself out!
- Get legal help if necessary: If a gentle approach doesn’t work, you may need to call in some help. Some content is illegal by law. In certain states, mug shot websites are legally bound to remove your photo. Other content, like copyrighted content and sensitive personal information can be removed simply by asking Google. Slanderous information may be worth pursuing legally, but be careful of the Streisand Effect: note that by pushing too hard to get it removed, you may in fact call attention to the content.
If you can’t get embarrassing content removed completely, don’t worry. You still have options. Even if negative search results persist, it’s entirely possible to bury them with positive content — and negative search results that get pushed down to lower pages might as well be nonexistent.
Build Positive Resources
Cleaning up your profiles and getting negative content removed can only take you so far. Some negative entries just can’t be removed — and that’s OK. Far more important than removing negative results is pushing them down, and let’s face it: it’s just not always easy to get rid of negative results. Building positive results online can help push them down, and more imporantly, help you develop a great first impression online that hiring managers and recruiters will be excited to find.
- Be a real person online: It sounds silly, but the best way to establish a positive online reputation is to be active, and be yourself. By that we mean using your real name, filling out your social profiles with legitimate information, and using a professional head shot that shows your face. Employers want to learn about and see you online — so give them you.
- Get your own domain name: These days there’s just no excuse for not owning your name’s domain. It usually costs about $15 per year or less to register, and with your own domain, you can build a website, blog, and other resources to establish your reputation online.
- Link to your positive results: If you found positive results on Google that you really want to call attention to, make sure you’re linking to them. These can include your portfolio, positive news stories, employers or clients you want to spotlight, any videos you’ve made, and more. Link to them on your website, blog, LinkedIn, and anywhere else you find relevant. You’ll show employers (and Google) that they’re important and they should really pay attention to them.
- Create a well informed blog: You don’t have to write long weekly essays, but you should develop a blog that shows you’re intelligent in your area of expertise. A blog is a great platform for exploring important topics in your industry, connecting with others, and showing employers that you’re informed and that you care about what’s happening in your industry. Share your take on relevant industry news, shed light on information others might not know about, and share your expertise to really impress employers.
- Get established on social media: If you’re not already on professional and social networks online, now is the time to get there. Sign up for LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites where you can showcase your personal brand, connect with others, and share links that reflect positively on you.
- Reflect professionalism online: Show employers that you’re a mature, intelligent candidate. Use proper grammar, be respectful of others, and avoid getting into arguments online.
- Become active in your community: Volunteer and reach out in your local community, connect with industry influencers, and be publicly active online. Just be sure that your activity is positive and doesn’t throw up any red flags. Back up your activities with photos, posts about events, and other online evidence that you’ve been there and done that. Connect with influential organizations and associations as well as influencers in your community, and participate in industry conversations on social media and in active networks.
- Showcase your skills and interests: Make videos on YouTube, post photos on Flickr, link to accomplishments and interests on Pinterest. Use social accounts to point to what you do best and make sure that employers can find them.
- Use LinkedIn effectively: Don’t just sign up and connect with a few people, really use LinkedIn. Share links to your work, join communities, reach out to new contacts. Don’t forget to ask for recommendations as well: these act as virtual references that hiring managers and recruiters love to check out, and they are a great way to show that you’re reliable and respected.
- Back up what you’ve shared on your resume: Employers are often looking to make sure that what you’ve shared on your resume lines up with your online life, so it helps to leave evidence that you are really doing what you say you’re doing. Add jobs to LinkedIn and Facebook, post photos, links to events, recommendations, and any other indications that your life on your resume accurately reflects your life online.
Building a positive online presence may sound like a lot of work — it is. But it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Start small, and take one step at a time to push down negative or neutral results and replace them with positive results that will have employers excited about what you have to offer.
Maintain a Strong Online Presence
If you’ve worked to filter out negative results, promoted positive content, and you’re happy with your online reputation, great! But keep in mind that you’re still not done. Cleaning up your online reputation before a job search can feel like a quick scramble to put your best foot forward, but maintaining a positive online reputation that can serve your career and personal interests is an ongoing job. Don’t throw away your hard work by neglecting your online reputation once you feel you’ve gotten to a point your happy with. Stick with it and reap the benefits of developing and keeping a positive online reputation.
- Continue to watch what you share, say, and post on social media: Cleaning up your profiles should only need to happen once. Put a filter on your posts from now until forever. A great rule of thumb that experts often recommend is to think how your boss, grandmother, or children would feel about what you’re getting ready to share. If they wouldn’t like it, just don’t post. It’s especially important to avoid vulgar, embarrasing, or illegal information or images. Don’t air your dirty laundry or engage in fights online, and especially don’t talk negatively about your work. You may even want to consider Internet Shame Insurance.
- Remember that anything you post online can become public: Even if you’ve set up privacy controls, you have to be willing to accept that anything you put out there can be shared with anyone, anywhere, and may even last forever. Privacy settings can change, friends can copy or take screen shots, and tools like the Wayback Machine can ensure that what’s shared online stays public until the Internet shuts down.
- Think before you connect: Whether you’re on personal or professional networks, always take a pause to assess friend and connection requests. Who you connect with will reflect on you. Are you friends a negative influence? Would you recommend or be proud to introduce a new contact on LinkedIn?
- Stay active on social media: Don’t just sign up and walk away. Use social networks to stay on top of industry news, continue to be connected with organizations and leaders, share conversations with potential employers, and show your knowledge and influence with thoughtful links and conversations.
- Use alerts to stay on top of results: TweetBeep, SocialMention, and Google Alerts are great tools for finding out what’s being said about you online — and dealing with new results swiftly as they come up.
Are you concerned with cleaning up your reputation for a job search? Let us know what challenges you’ve faced and how you’re dealing with them.