Protect Your Online Rep.

Beyond deleting your Facebook account: How to clean up your online persona during a job search

By now you probably already know that your Facebook profile is fair game to HR people doing their due diligence. This is especially true for recent college grads who don’t have a long track record or many references. But there’s more to the internet than Facebook, and the most surprising things can leave an electronic trail.

So start with your Facebook and MySpace accounts. Take a hard look at your cyberself. You don’t have to delete your existence entirely, but you could do a little housecleaning. And just in case you’re wavering – yes, you should get rid of the photo album dedicated to the beer pong championship. It does not communicate to hiring managers that you’re a “popular guy.”

Beyond that?

Google yourself.

Go at least five pages deep. Don’t forget to check the images section. If you’re lucky, you’re going to find a few items that look good to an employer: Hometown hero wins the basketball championship; or YourNameHere leads Christmas Food Drive. National scholarship awards and team sports tend to make the local news.

But what you also might find is that People Search sites, such as the strange, dreaded Spokeo, have published your age and your marital status and have even take a stab your personal interests: “owns pets, is interested in political causes” – not to mention the estimated price and a photo of your house. It can be unnerving to discover what’s out there. If you can see it, they can too.

Bad Scenario: You hadn’t planned to ever mention your horrible experience at XYZ Company. Three pages into Google, there’s an ancient PDF of the company newsletter welcoming you to the Maintenance Department.

Worst Case Scenario: A viral video of you at age fourteen doing, well, anything. (Shudder).

Consider your Twitter.

Depending on how vocal you are and how often you text under the influence, this might be a something you’d want to think about deleting. If you tend to always be tweeting things like, “ Just got back from giving the Valedictorian Commencement Speech. What a rush!” Then it can probably stay. But if you’ve ever typed something like: “ Bored. Wish I could set the lunchroom on fire, ” then maybe you should think about wiping your account. You can always create a new one.

Review Your Comments

Most major online news and information sites have comments that are tied to your Facebook account. If you’ve been signing in and banging on under your real name, now might be the time to scan for profanity or the number of times you have typed the word, “woot.”

Don’t Forget Public Records.

These days anyone can run a background and criminal check without your permission for a small fee. Once you sign a release to the HR department allowing them to investigate you, they can also pull your credit report.
But one thing you may not realize is that due to the miraculous advances of electronic communication, almost every major municipality can serve up court records on request; and often for free. That means that a hiring manager can pop over to the electronic docket in your county and discover whether you are in the middle of a divorce, have ever filed a sexual harassment suit, have ever been sued or are in foreclosure proceedings.

Remember these are Public records: By law they must be made available. Retrieving them is not considered an invasion of your privacy. They were just harder to request before.


Be Your Own Spin Doctor

Once you’ve found all your skeletons, see if you can remove some items yourself. Most of your Facebook and MySpace information can be deleted by you. Your Twitter account can be erased and recreated.

Contact sites that are hosting unsavory media bites you can’t erase on your own. Most people – especially people in business – really don’t want to make you look bad and they might not even realize they’re doing it. It doesn’t hurt to ask, and it usually works.
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If not, it pays to be prepared. You may have to put XYZ Company back on your resume, for example, and in the long run that’s better than being caught in a lie.

Rebrand Yourself

Wiping hurtful information is a good place to start, but even days before a big interview you can start creating a more positive electronic You. Join charitable organizations, sign up to run a marathon, or tweet your friends about your run time. If you haven’t put your awards and achievements at the top of your profile, why not do it right now? You don’t have to go overboard, and you don’t have to lie. Just a few details about more positive interests and a cheerier attitude can make all the difference.

Hire An Expert

If you are really worried about your electronic identity, and you’re not sure where to start, there are experts who can help. Reputation.com is in the business of managing and repairing reputations online. They’ll go out and track down all negative references to you and do the work of getting it erased or balanced with more attractive information. The service runs several hundred to several thousand dollars, so be positive it’s something you can’t handle yourself.

Usually though, that’s not really necessary. One or two less stellar moments do not define who you are. If you take a few extra steps to manage your online persona, your potential employers will know that’s true about you.