We’ve all seen articles about how everyone from prospective employers to hotels are looking at your presence online and judging you for it. It’s important to be aware that anything you put up online and in social media can and will be seen by others (unless you have the highest security levels on your accounts). It’s also important to know that there are measures you can take if you don’t have the world’s best internet trail, or you share a name with someone who is infamous online.
The first step is to Google your name and take note of what comes up on the first two pages (anything beyond two pages might as well not be on the internet. Only investigative reporters and your mom would search any further).
If there are results you’re not keen on, bookmark these or save them in a program like Evernote so you can make notes next to these entries. You’ll need to have the URLs of sites with objectionable results so you can change how you appear later.
Another good idea for ongoing results is to set up a Google Alert with your name to keep up to date with what’s being published about you as it happens. If you are a content creator or in media, you can sign up for an account with Newsle, a service that keeps track of your name appearing in online publications.
If you’re in a situation where you share a name with someone infamous, you should know absolutely everything about the reasons for their infamy and their location so you can proactively notify recruiters and HR reps who might be searching your name. If you’re not proactive, you might appear as though you are hiding “your” past (that actually isn’t yours to begin with).
The easiest and fastest way to change the way your results appear is to create content that Google will rank higher than general results on the web. One good way to do this is to create social media accounts in your name. Also, consider creating a personal blog on WordPress, Blogger or Typepad. These services are highly ranked by Google, and it allows you to post your own thoughts and opinions on your field of expertise. Make sure accounts you have online you’d like to be attributed to you are as well filled out as they can be, meaning including your hometown, schools you’ve attended, professional groups you’re a part of, your employer, etc. This will help your good results overshadow the bad ones.
Kill any social media accounts you once had that don’t reflect the image you’re trying to portray (if you had the most influential death metal Myspace page, and now you’re someone’s dad, it might be a good time to delete that profile). This will help make room for more favorable search results.
If you need a stronger solution, consider using a service that can help you control which results appear for your name. A new company called BrandYourself promises to help you suppress negative results for your name. This can be valuable if you share your name with someone who has naked photos online, for instance. (Which might not help you get that job at a bank.)
The one thing you shouldn’t do is go nuclear and delete yourself from online search completely. Just as having the “wrong” results for your name can be problematic, employers are leery of people who have no online presence whatsoever. Better to have a few unflattering stadium photos of yourself online than nothing at all. At least it proves you’re human.
There is a point at which you should stop worrying. You’ll never be able to control everything with military precision, and we all have those “funny” friends who tag us in dumb photos or write stupid things on our Facebook walls. These are pardonable sins. Employers aren’t looking for the best robot for the job, they’re looking for the best person.