Watch your reputation

By Surranna Sandy Students 2012

Scrub your online presence until it shines in the eyes of potential employers.

Watch your reputation Illustration by Thomas Dannenberg

With the explosive growth of social networking sites, more and more employers are researching potential job candidates through the reams of personal and ancillary data gathered by the likes of Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Myspace and Facebook. What they find could potentially torpedo an otherwise firm job offer.

A survey by shows that “One in five employers use social networks in the hiring process… one third of hiring managers rejected candidates based on what they found.” With those statistics, vigilance in building and sustaining positive online reputations is clearly essential in order to be considered a credible candidate for potential employers. 

But many of today’s job seekers are still surprised to learn that their candid (and sometimes sexually explicit) photos and details of their personal lives in their profiles can negatively affect their job search. Those disparaging comments, risqué photos, inappropriate language and lewd jokes posted on their profiles could be viewed as a reflection of their character and turn off potential employers. 

Unfortunately, there is no rewind button on the internet, and thanks to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine — a tool that archives all websites — no content is ever fully deleted. So remember: If you put it out there, and it is not password protected, it will be found! 

Not to mention that many social network sites, such as Facebook, fully own your content. When you sign up for a Facebook account you are giving them an “irrevocable, perpetual, non-exclusive, transferable, fully paid, worldwide licence…” (per Facebook’s privacy statement), and they can do whatever they want with it. So unless you posted the content to your own personal website or blog, it may be virtually impossible to get it removed from another site.

Why clean up and build your online brand? 
Potential employers and contacts need a positive impression of you as a high-calibre individual who would be an asset to their organization. Establishing a positive online reputation helps you to differentiate and position yourself apart from the competition. To ensure that your online presence aligns with the image you project in a professional setting, you need to verify two things: 

First, that your online presence has zero negative or inappropriate information or photos, and second, that it can easily be found by hiring managers, recruiters, and career contacts. 

Cleaning your digital footprint 
Evaluate your online footprint by performing a Google search on your name to find out what a potential employer may read or see about you online. If any questionable content is discovered — content you would not feel comfortable having an employer (or your parents!) view — request that the site’s webmaster remove it immediately. For sites you have control over, delete all negative posts, pictures or comments immediately. 

No online presence? If you are web savvy, build a personal webpage. If not, create profiles on social networking sites (Linkedin, Google+, Blogger, etc) that include your resume, leadership activities or academic successes. Feel free to include photos of yourself but ensure they do not include explicit materials. Take time to establish an online profile that showcases your strengths and diverse interests — things that can set you apart from other job seekers. 

Remember that many employers who conduct online searches are looking for reasons not to hire you so keep it clean.

5 Tips to get started

1. Check your brand 
Google your name and see what shows up. Does this reflect how you want the world to see you? Do you even show up?

2. Keep your personal life private 
Make sure that it's only available to the people you want to see it. Be careful what you write on your blog, or other people's blogs or social networking pages.

3. Build your brand 
Proactively put together your online presence by signing up for diverse social and professional networking sites. This will also bump the not-so-good stuff down the list in Google.

4. Keep active & consistent 
Make sure all your profiles and sites send the same message. Make a habit of regularly updating, posting and submitting new content to keep your brand fresh!

5. Expand your online footprint 
Combine social sites with a traditional website or blog, so that you have more to present to employers, in addition to your profile.

Take advantage of the cleaning pros.

If you don’t have the time or the know-how to spring clean your online reputation, these online reputation management firms might just be the thing for you. They can help you control your privacy, clean­up your reputation or perform a complete online image overhaul. So if you’ve got some cash to spare and some questionable online content to scrub, look to these companies for help:
Helps people control their online reputation. It finds and removes negative data from sites and they can also work with you to push down the negative content that gets high search results.
Helps you remove harmful information that shows up in first few pages of search results.
Offers three tiers of personal packages for removing negative content from the first page, first two pages or first three pages of search engine results.

Surranna Sandy is a career management expert and the president of Surcorp Group. Reach her at
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