Google may play a more important role in your pre-employment screening than you realize. Your background check might come back clean, but that’s not the only kind of “background check” employers are doing these days. It’s increasingly common for hiring managers to Google prospective hires. It’s important for job seekers to not only be aware of what employers will find, but to make sure the results of a Google search will positively represent you.
Step One: GOOGLE YOURSELF
When I Googled myself, I wasn’t surprised to see that Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn were at the top of the results. But I also found articles in which I was quoted, sites for organizations I used to work for, and blogs I’ve written. Then, of course, there are all the random Wynkoop results that have nothing to do with me.
When you Google yourself, you may see similar results. Social media profiles tend to be at the top, but any time your name has been published on the Internet has the potential to show up in your results. If you have a common name, like John Smith, you might not see anything that’s actually about you.
Step Two: Cleaning Up
Don’t be surprised to have results you don’t necessarily want hiring managers to see. Even if there are no scandalous photos or pending lawsuits, there are little things you might overlook that potential employers are sure to notice. For example, if you have an Amazon wish list, it could show up in the first page of results. If you have the “Strip Your Way to Fitness” DVD collection on your wish list, think about what kind of impression your potential employer might get. Be sure to take a critical look at all of these profiles and, if necessary, make them private.
If you do find unsavory photos or unwanted information on websites you don’t control, you can potentially ask for the removal of said content. But since you have no legal grounds, chances are you won’t always get a positive result. Your best bet is to be proactive and create new, positive web content associated with your name to push back the not-so-good content farther in the search results.
Step Three: Standing Out
Knowing that hiring managers are likely to Google you can be an advantage in your job search. Even though you can’t control all of the results, having an active online presence gives you a chance to shine for potential employers.
Since social media sites are often at the top, let’s start there. My Facebook was my first result, so I made sure to privatize all of my information except for my work history. That way, anyone who isn’t my friend – such as a potential employer – will see basically a resume. Your profile picture will also be visible, so pick a photo that you’re comfortable representing you. You may want to consider using a professional headshot. For more tips on how to maximize your social media profiles, read the following blogs: Cleaning Up Facebook For Your Job Search, Why Your Twitter Profile Matters, and Optimizing LinkedIn.
Beyond social media, you can build positive results by purchasing a domain name with your name and having an active website, such as a professional blog or portfolio. Participate in professional groups using your full name, so that the positive content you’re creating can be found in a search. Get published in a professional or trade journal. Any time you use your full name online is an opportunity to create positive online content that can enhance your search results.
(Tip: If you have a more generic name that generates search results unrelated to you, consider using your middle initial as a differentiator.)
Taking control of your own Google results can not only help you avoid negative content that could cost you a job opportunity – it can also help you strengthen your brand by re-iterating positive messages about yourself to potential employers.