When was the last time you Googled yourself? If it has been a while, no one would blame you. Grappling with the sheer breadth of your personal information that may be available to the public online can be a dizzying exercise. But if you're in the market for a new gig, it is an absolutely necessary one, says Julia Pollak, a labor economist at job search site ZipRecruiter.
"Everyone has an online brand composed of all this information that's available online," Pollak says. "The first thing we tell people applying for jobs is to Google their own name."
A search will likely bring up much of the information that you've intentionally put out into the world, such as your profiles on social media sites. (For results that aren't impacted by your location or search history, search using a private browsing window or "incognito" mode in Google Chrome.) It may also reveal photos, social media posts, online stories, or other results that are unflattering to you and potentially damaging to your reputation in the eyes of a potential employer.
Before you send out any more resumes, consider giving yourself an online makeover. Follow these steps to make sure you're showing the best version of yourself online to the people with the power to hire you.
If you use social media, make sure you're not oversharing, Pollak suggests. "If an employer searches you, they're likely to come across your profiles on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok," she says. "Many of these social sites default your information to be publicly viewable."
Go through your profiles and tighten up your privacy settings. Keep in mind that you and a potential employer may share online friends, says Pollak: "What you think is private may actually be viewable to that person."
Pollak recommends deleting posts or photos that may contain potential red flags for employers, including heavy profanity use, hyperpartisan or conspiracy-laden political views, vitriolic arguments, or negative comments about a past employer. The last point is particularly important, Pollak says: "You need to view your past jobs as your biggest asset. That's really something that can help you get a new job."
Even if you find you have your own house in order, you may come across content posted online by others that you'd rather a potential employer didn't see. In some cases, you may be able to get unflattering content removed by asking.
Under Google's policies, you can request removal of any nonconsensual explicit images of yourself as well as select financial and medical information and any "doxxing" content meant to expose your contact information with an intent to harm you.
Video by Mariam Abdallah
For unflattering content that doesn't fall into one of those buckets, Google recommends contacting the owner of the offending website and asking for the content's removal. Depending on the nature of the content and who is posting it, that can be easier said than done, says Rich Matta, CEO of ReputationDefender, an online reputation management service. You may be able to successfully ask for a removal of a mugshot if you present the website proof that your conviction was expunged, for instance. But you'll likely have less luck with a negative news story.
"In general, publications do not like to take anything down," Matta says. "It's a tacit admission that the article that they published was inaccurate or unfair."
If you don't have success getting negative search results removed, your goal should be to bury them deeper into the listings, says Matta. "Nine out of 10 people don't go past page 1 of results and 99% don't go past page 2," he says. "People are searching your name, location, and profession. If you can control those first two pages, you're in control."
Seize the search results by publishing a wave of positive, objective, factual information about yourself, Matta says. "By creating a network of social media, personal, and professional websites, you can eventually flood out all the negative stuff."
Sites such as ReputationDefender and Reputation X will do this for you, often charging sums in the 4- to 5-figure range for clients in need of a more heavy-duty digital cleanup. But for most people who don't have extensive negative content online, a do-it-yourself approach should work just fine, Matta says.
Start by creating a personal website using an inexpensive site-building tool such as Squarespace or Wix. "Register a domain name that matches your name as closely as possible, and use the site to highlight your personal and professional interests and accomplishments," Matta says.
You can also use blogging sites such as WordPress or Medium to share your thoughts on an area of focus, be it the area of study you majored in, a professional interest, or current events in your field, he says.
Video by Courtney Stith
Even if the results of your self-Googling come back relatively clean, consider that your behavior offline can affect your reputation online. "The average person is caught on camera 238 times a week," says Pollak. "Everyone is carrying a camera in their pocket. You can never be certain what other people are going to put about you online."
Setting up Google Alerts to get notifications when your name appears online can help you stay on top of things, but ultimately, nothing beats being proactive, says Matta. "If you're young and just entering the job market, you have an opportunity to have a clean slate professionally," he says. "Be thoughtful and deliberate about how you appear online, and don't let the rest of the internet define you."
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