Your “digital dirt” could be haunting you.

If you haven’t “Googled” yourself lately, it’s probably a good idea to type your name into the search engine to see what results you get.

A wealth of information about most of us is at any prospective employer’s fingertips and can help or hurt your chances of getting the job you want.

“Your Google results are your new resume.” — Richard Bolles, late author of best-selling career book What Color is Your Parachute?

I won’t get into whether it’s right or wrong for employers to research candidates online. I can see both sides of the issue. Whether it’s right or not, if you want to land a great opportunity quickly, you can’t afford to overlook your online presence.

Who gets searched

In general, you’re probably more likely to be looked up online if you’re an executive or senior-level candidate, versus a blue collar or entry-level candidate. Executives are sometimes mentioned in the media and on websites and blogs, so employers and recruiters might be interested in any mentions of you online.

The likelihood of being searched could also vary by industry and job type. For example, I would expect employers to look up a marketing professional to find out if the candidate is social media-savvy, whereas employers might be less interested in an HVAC specialist’s online presence.

So, what information can help or hurt you?

Potentially helpful information

  • A strong LinkedIn profile with recommendations
  • Other social media profiles that are focused on your chosen profession
  • A blog in which you write about topics relevant to your profession
  • Posts you’ve made on social media websites that present you in a positive light
  • A personal website (eg., an “electronic portfolio,” or “e-folio” for short) showcasing your qualifications; this can include a blog
  • Positive news articles and press releases about you

Potentially harmful information

  • Social media profiles that might contain information about you that could be a turnoff
  • Posts you’ve made on social media sites that someone might perceive negatively
  • Embarrassing photos of you
  • Political donations you’ve made
  • Lawsuits or criminal records
  • Negative media or blog coverage of you

Confusing information

Another problem is that a search for your name might pull up references to others who share your name. This can be problematic. The employer might think that some of those other references are about you, and you might suffer because of mistaken identity. One way you might avoid this confusion is by using Vizibility, which helps you organize and share your online identity.

Action steps for taking control of your online presence

Research & evaluate: First, research yourself thoroughly to uncover everything that an employer might be able to find and evaluate whether any of the information about you might turn off a prospective employer.

Fix what you control: Address any negative information that is under your control, like removing all the comments you posted on Facebook complaining about your job, or setting your Facebook profile to private.

Try to fix what others control: If there is unwanted information about you on a blog or website, evaluate carefully whether it might be appropriate to politely approach the webmaster about having the material removed.

Create positive content: Set up a great LinkedIn profile, find a reason to send out a press release about something you’ve done, and consider creating a personal website/e-folio to promote yourself. (All services I offer, by the way!) A positive, professional presence on other social media services can also be helpful, depending on your industry, goals, and interest level.

If the situation is out of control

In some cases, if your online reputation is severely tarnished, drastic measures might be necessary. (This might be the case if there are a bunch of negative news articles about you online.)

There are consultants and companies who specialize in search engine optimization and online reputation management who can help you with improving your search engine results. I would be happy to refer you to a reputable provider if you are interested.


How common is online research of candidates?

Statistics vary regarding the percentage of employers who look up candidates using search engines and social media.

The Society of Human Resource Management released some findings on this in August 2011 (see slide show below for details). SHRM’s findings are more conservative than other figures that have been reported, but are still substantial enough that candidates need to consider their online presence.

(Also, it’s worth noting that SHRM surveyed HR professionals, not hiring managers. Some HR people are avoiding online searches due to legal concerns — considerations that hiring managers might not think about.)

Slide show of SHRM’s survey results

View more presentations from shrm

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Take control of your online presence! Contact me today to get started on a powerful LinkedIn profile, personal website/e-folio, or personal press release.