“The End of Forgetting” is a perfect way to signify today’s new reality of how difficult it is to retract information about and photos of yourself from the web. Many articles have discussed in-depth the issues of reputation and privacy. For job seekers, this topic is extremely relevant as the vast majority of recruiters are now using online tools to research applicants and many report turning down applicants after the discovery of controversial information.
How can you as a job seeker manage increasing online scrutiny and even make it an asset in your search? Four steps: Prevent, Repair, Monitor and Build.
The best way to keep a pristine online image is to prevent anything untoward from ever going up on the internet. This means monitoring your own behavior both online and off, and having a level of trust and agreement with those around you about what goes on the internet. Even if you are careful, it may be difficult to prevent a childhood friend from posting a wacky youthful photo of you. What she thinks is funny, you may think is problematic for your job search. Likewise a negative comment about an employer on a message board or via social media could come back to haunt you. Consider every comment you make online may be read by a potential employer. It’s far easier to keep stuff off the internet than it is to get it removed once it is up. And even once it’s removed, it may be cached, saved in a screenshot, or otherwise persevered forever. So prevention is the best course.
Step two is to try to cleanse your online image. In the case of youthful photos, you can and should untag yourself on many sites.. On other sites, you may have to ask friends to remove them. Unfortunate comments in chat rooms or on forums may be harder if not impossible to erase. Do not count on privacy settings to prevent potential employers from accessing personal information. To repair, you must painstakingly review everything associated with you on the web and attempt to remove or put behind a privacy setting anything you feel could be a negative in your job search. A drastic last step is to disassociate yourself with a screen name. If you were vocal using a certain screen name, perhaps you can just disown the screen name, severing your tie with it, and let the content remain. Repair is not easy.
Know what the internet is saying about you. Search your own name and dig around regularly. As you make discoveries, circle back to the repair phase and get things removed if you can. The New York Magazine article notes a number of new services that offer up a lot of personal information about people including political affiliation. Many of these services have “opt out” options to get yourself pulled.
Most important, proactively build your own online reputation. With the right kind of online activity you can push positive things about yourself to the top of the search results.
- Have a complete profile on LinkedIn including the URL with your name. Use this URL in all job seeking communications, making it easy for recruiters to find the best side of you quickly and easily.
- Participate regularly in several online professional groups so your name surfaces there regularly. Be sure to use your own full name, not a screen name so your wise and intelligent comments are associated with you.
- Get published in a professional or trade journal that is online. As author, your name will surface, associated with this article.
- Purchase the domain for your name and put your resume and professional achievements at that URL.
- Start a professional blog. Make it key word heavy with your own name. Link to others and get others to link to you so that your blog rises in relevancy on a search for your name.
Job seekers can’t afford to ignore online reputation. Manage what is out there and be proactive about building a positive online presence. Lastly, if you know there is something on the internet that may reflect negatively on you, and you can’t find a way to remove it, be prepared to address it with a hiring manager. Reflecting that you’ve changed your point of view or regret earlier actions may be your best course at some point.