“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
Blake was about to submit his resume for several open positions. As he was Googling, he came across some unsettling articles on how bosses look at candidates’ social media. Before he applied, he decided to make sure his online reputation wasn’t working against him. And he was glad he did—he found old photos from wild college parties on his Facebook account, and some ancient blog posts sharing way too much detail about his personal life.
According to a 2017 CareerBuilder survey, 70% of bosses screen job candidates’ social media profiles before hiring them. In 2016, it was 60%—that’s an increase of 10 percentage points in one year. There’s a good chance your boss, or a future one, will Google you.
Don’t let them find pictures of you drunk at a party doing something stupid. Careful online reputation management will ensure they see only your best image. Here’s how to do it.
GO ON THE DEFENSIVE:
- Google yourself. The first step in cleaning up your online image is to find out what potentially embarrassing items are out there. Google yourself and see not only what sites come up, but what photos come up as well. If the sites and photos are harmless, then you’re in the clear. If not, you have some Internet housecleaning to do. Then sign up for Google alerts so every time your name appears online in the future, you’ll see it.
- Set your online privacy. If you have some less-than-professional photos on Facebook, be sure to use the privacy filters Facebook offers. You can set your photos so only you see them, only your friends and their friends see them, or only certain people see them, instead of the general public.Your preferences on Flickr and other photo-sharing sites should always be set to private as well, unless you have a good reason for making them public. Err on the conservative side with possibly inappropriate photos and limit them to only your closest friends. Better yet, remove them completely.
- Untag yourself. Oftentimes the most embarrassing photos aren’t the ones we’ve posted of ourselves; they’re the ones we can thank our fun-loving friends for. If your friends tag you in a photo, untag yourself. This way, even though that picture of you kissing a duck on New Year’s Eve is out there, it’s not associated with you specifically. The chance of someone even coming across it then drops exponentially.
- Request to have material removed. If your compromising blog post has been cross-posted on another site, you could ask the webmaster to remove it. If the site tends to post controversial commentary and scathing critiques, however, you might want to let sleeping dogs lie. Stirring the pot could bring unwanted attention.
- Reevaluate the groups you belong to. Unless you’re willing to risk potentially losing out on an employment opportunity for your beliefs, remove yourself from any borderline extreme or offensive groups. Again, this is the first impression an employer may have about you. Don’t turn them off with intolerance or morally or legally questionable groups.
TAKE INITIATIVE TO BUILD YOUR REPUTATION:
- Only make posts that align with your personal brand. Remember, you can’t unring the Internet bell if you post an inappropriate status update, comment, or blog post. Strong management of your online reputation means choosing every piece of content wisely. Before hitting “Post,” think twice about what you’re sending. Is it something that could be taken negatively if a future employer were to see it? Or does it develop a personal brand as someone who is a pro in their field?Remember, employers may see these posts before having a chance to get to know you. This could be your only chance to make a first impression. Make it positive! Share tips based on your expertise, showing you’re not only skilled but also generous with your knowledge. Share your accomplishments, too!
- Join new social media sites. Sign up for an account with Google+, LinkedIn, and other social media sites, especially those used for professional networking. If you already have such accounts, update your profile (you should be doing this at least once a year) and link to all your contacts in your network. Using Hootsuite will let you manage up to three social media profiles in the same place, pre-scheduling posts to save time.
- Start a website. There may be things on the Internet that you simply cannot clean up. However, you can create new material that will push these older items down the search engine results. Purchase a website with your name and create a positive site with exactly the brand you want to have at work. Start a blog, using your name, and post positive content that highlights your knowledge and abilities. Use strong SEO terms to boost your site in the search results. Fill the Internet with positive, current content about you, and the negative material will be less likely to be found.
- Get on Twitter. Following organizations and individuals that are respected in your field on Twitter will also help you build a positive online presence. Share useful articles on professional development and topics related to your field.
If your online reputation is really in dire straits, hiring an online reputation management professional might be in order. For most of us, however, a little legwork will do the trick. As you continue putting positive media out there, those old photos or posts will soon become a distant memory.
Here are 8 more tips on how to change the perception others have of you. As an executive coach, Joel Garfinkle is often hired to help leaders to learn how to manage their perceptions that others have of them so they can more easily move into higher levels of management.