Five Steps to Managing Your Online Representation

February 25th, 2014

In the digital age, background checks go far beyond calling a previous employer for a reference. These days, employers are more likely than not to google your name and snoop into whatever comes up, be it a Facebook profile or a photo posted by your angry ex.

While this is convenient for employers, it does open each and every one of us up to libel in the form of editorials, social media posts, or blog entries, and the sad fact is that online character attacks need not be true to seriously affect your chances at landing a job.

To keep track of what’s said about you online, the first thing to do is set up a Google alert for your name. It’s simple and free. Go to Google, type in your full name, and set the search to show results under “News.” This will give you a search results page with any news item containing your name. At the bottom of that page click on the link to “Create an email alert for Your Name.” You will be prompted to enter a search query, with terms separated by commas. You should list all versions of your name that are commonly used: John Doe, Johnny Doe, J-Dog, or any other nickname you frequently use.

While it is unlikely that a potential employer will search for J-Dog, they may come across a picture of J-Dog doing something unflattering and realize that person is you – the goal is to find that picture before they do. Once you’ve set the other options, click “Create Alert” and from then on Google will email you any time one of your search terms/names is picked up on the Internet.

So what to do if you find unflattering content? If it’s a photo posted by a friend, you’re in luck. Simply un-tag yourself, or ask your friend to take that photo down. However, there may come a time when you come across something you can’t have taken down.

In that case, your best defense is a good offense. Create a personal website, start a blog, offer to write an article for a news outlet or blog that you admire. Keep your content smart and professional, and always ask editors to link back to your website, blog or LinkedIn profile. Two of the factors Google uses to sort search returns are how recent an item is and how many other sites link to it. Blanket the web with examples of your best work and those less becoming items will be pushed down onto the third or fourth page of search returns where hardly anyone looks.

Another trick is to reserve your name as a url. For under $15 a year you can reserve and then direct it to land on your website, blog, or LinkedIn page. Even if you do nothing with it, that $15 a year will prevent someone else (whose business might be less than reputable) from using it and potentially tarnishing your reputation.

Of course it goes without saying that your own social media accounts should reflect your best self. Before beginning a job search, scroll through your recent history and look at it with the eye of a Human Resources professional. Delete anything that could even remotely be misconstrued. If the task is too overwhelming, consider deleting your account entirely and starting fresh avoiding nicknames, and only connecting to people you can trust to be discrete.

While there are plenty of services that offer to manage your online reputation for a fee, you are your own best ally. Make a habit of regularly reviewing what appears online about you and deal with what you find accordingly. By doing so you increase the odds that you will be judged by your qualifications, and not by what other people are saying about you online.