I started high school in 1972, a guidance counselor told the class that, from now on, everything we did and said would become part of our “permanent record.” This mysterious “permanent record” would follow us to college, and beyond.
We do not know what the “permanent record” was back in 1972, but today we do. It’s the World Wide Web and the content of our devices—computers, smartphones, and tablets—we connect to it. Colleges, professional schools, prospective employers, potential clients, and others will search our content before they accept us, hire us, or do business with us.
So, whether we are in school, starting a job search, or even employed, it’s a good idea to protect our online reputation. Here are a few steps experts suggest to avoid the disasters that can result from negative internet content about you.
- Google yourself,
- Set up Google Alerts,
- Clean up your “digital dirt,”
- Create positive content, and
- Review your Facebook privacy settings.
None of these approaches are foolproof. Following them may reduce the chances that you will be denied an opportunity because there is negative information about you on the Internet.
Googling yourself is one way to monitor your reputation. If you have a common name, you will want to see what information is broadly available through a simple name search, but then also narrow it by your profession or geographic location. (For example: “Jane Jobseeker Public Relations” or “Jane Jobseeker Omaha.”)
Be sure you are logged out of your Google account before searching. Review the results on pages 1-3. Are there any links of concern to address? (Negative information about you, incorrect information, etc.).
Set up Google Alerts.
Create Google Alerts for your name, so that you can be alerted when new information is posted online about you. The result I got when I put my own name in the Google Alerts search box was “no recent results.” This is, of course, the feedback we wanted to receive…
You can create multiple alerts with variations of your name — but also your location and industry as well — i.e., “Jane Jobseeker Public Relations” (like when you Googled yourself).
Clean up any digital dirt.
If you identified any negative, false, or inaccurate information in your Google searches, take steps to try to have it removed.
Figure out who controls the content. For example, if the photo you want to hide is on another person’s Facebook page, you can ask them to remove it. Of course, if the photo is on your own page, or a page you administer, you can either remove it or change its visibility settings.
If the content is on a website or page you don’t control, see if there is a way to request that it be removed. If the information isn’t removed from the original source, people will still be able to see it, even if it doesn’t appear in Google’s search results. (If the content is not removed from the source, it will reappear in Google’s search results when the site is indexed again.)
Check on the content again later. After the webmaster has made the change to the website, the information will still show up in Google for some time until Google updates its index.
The bottom line is that it can be challenging to vacuum up digital dirt. Think ahead. Try to avoid creating potentially controversial content in the first place.
Create Positive Content.
One way to have better content show up in the first couple of pages on Google when your name is searched is to create new content.
Here are some ways to do that:
- Post on blogs and news sites that appear in search results. Write constructive comments that Google can associate with your name.
- A personal or business blog — if you are committed to it — can provide a solid online presence. If you don’t like to write, you can shoot videos and publish them on your blog.
- Posting content on YouTube and LinkedIn will also show up prominently in search results.
- Reviews you post on Amazon.com will also show up in your Google search results.
It is a fair amount of work to consistently produce quality Web content. You can use the content to demonstrate expertise in your field, or even to fill an employment gap, though.
Review your Facebook privacy settings.
Facebook and similar social media platforms can be fun to use, great ways to share photos and videos with friends and family, and even benefit a job search. Occasionally, I have acquired new business opportunities through chats with former co-workers on Facebook. But Facebook can be hazardous to your job search because anyone can see your personal stuff if you don’t take steps to limit access.
Lock down your social media settings during your job search. (This will not prevent your friends from sharing a screenshot of your posts/profile, but will limit who can see your posts.)
- Set your default sharing option to Friends,
- Change the privacy settings for your previous posts,
- Make your Facebook Friends list private,”
- Customize who can see your “Intro” details,
- Block your profile from appearing in search engines, and
- Change your privacy settings on photo albums.
Click here for specific instructions on how to do each of these tasks.
Locking down your social media privacy settings is not a perfect solution. Friends can still share a photo or post that you restricted. So, consider whether you should avoid certain social media sites entirely when you work in a sensitive job or industry, or when you work for an employer with strict social media policies.
While the “permanent record” our teachers and parents warned us about may not have existed when we were in school, it certainly does exist now. It’s on the Internet, and anyone can find it, especially if you do not take proactive steps to limit its visibility.
My goal, as a resume writer and career management coach is to help blog readers and clients get found by employers. We want your accomplishments, skills, experience, and education to be found—not your personal life. You can make this happen by scrubbing your online presence prior to a job search. Remember that everything you post can become part of your “permanent record!”