Job seeker's guide to online reputation management

Online reputation management experts share their best practices for cleaning up — and beefing up — your online presence.

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With 66 percent of employers performing a Google search on candidates and 70 percent checking out their social media posts, your online presence can make or break your chances of landing that juicy new job.

“One of the biggest mistakes job candidates can make is not cleaning up their online presence before applying for a position, because by then it’s too late,” says Aaron Young, director of DigitalOx Limited, which provides online reputation management.

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If you’ve publicly shared political rants, multiple photos of yourself drinking alcohol or smoking weed, sexist jokes, or even posts full of misspelling and grammatical errors, you could be damaging your reputation.

In short: As a job candidate, you’ve probably got some online housekeeping to do. The good news: You can take meaningful steps to clean up your online presence and make it shine — provided you have a strategy and are willing to devote time to the project.

Start by Googling yourself — and doing it correctly

Most of us have Googled ourselves at some point. And most of us haven’t done it correctly.

When you’re logged into your Google account, the search engine serves you

With 66 percent of employers performing a Google search on candidates and 70 percent checking out their social media posts, your online presence can make or break your chances of landing that juicy new job.

“One of the biggest mistakes job candidates can make is not cleaning up their online presence before applying for a position, because by then it’s too late,” says Aaron Young, director of DigitalOx Limited, which provides online reputation management.

If you’ve publicly shared political rants, multiple photos of yourself drinking alcohol or smoking weed, sexist jokes, or even posts full of misspelling and grammatical errors, you could be damaging your reputation.

In short: As a job candidate, you’ve probably got some online housekeeping to do. The good news: You can take meaningful steps to clean up your online presence and make it shine — provided you have a strategy and are willing to devote time to the project.

Start by Googling yourself — and doing it correctly

Most of us have Googled ourselves at some point. And most of us haven’t done it correctly.

When you’re logged into your Google account, the search engine serves you personalized search results based on your search history, location, and other information it knows about you. As a result, your search results aren’t the same as those received by someone considering you for a job.

To approximate what the hiring professional might see when Googling you, log out of your Google account and use your browser’s private browsing feature, such as Chrome’s Incognito mode, to perform a Google search on your name.

“Ideally, Google yourself using a browser that you don’t use for anything else,” says Rich Matta, CEO of online reputation management firm ReputationDefender. “For example, if you usually use Chrome, try using Firefox in private mode. That way, you’ll see results that are more like what someone else sees.”

Don’t stop after the first page of Google results, however. Look closely at the first three pages, at a minimum, because that’s what hiring professionals will likely do.

Use variations of your name, too, in Google searches. If your legal first name is Joseph and you go by Joe, do searches on both versions of your name, advises Young. He suggests also doing searches of your name plus your previous or current employer’s name as well as your name plus your job title. So, if your name is Joseph Smith, you go by Joe, and you’re the CIO at XYZ Corporation, search the keyword phrases Joe Smith CIO, Joseph Smith CIO, Joe Smith XYZ, Joseph Smith XYZ, and so on.

Lastly, do a Google image search on yourself and review the results. “If casual pictures of party scenes and beach vacation shots dominate more than pictures of you in attire that’s appropriate for the position you seek, have some professional photos taken and publish a different one on each of your online profiles,” says Shannon Wilkinson, CEO of online reputation management firm Reputation Communications.

Don’t like your search results? Here’s what to do

If there’s something seriously damaging about you that shows up in your first three or four pages of search results, you’ve got work to do. And the sooner you start, the better.

First, review the results to determine which content you can directly control; the content you can influence; and the content that’s beyond your control or influence. News articles are a good example of the latter. 

News articles tend to rank well in Google’s search engine for relevant keywords, particularly if they’re recent. Consequently, a news article in which you’re cited as doing something illegal, unethical, unprofessional or embarrassing can be difficult — but not impossible — to “push down” in your search results.

In a case like this, you’ll need to spend time generating new content on high-ranking websites to try and move the news article down in Google’s ranking. “In many cases it‘s possible to push that article off page one of your results in a few months,” says Todd William, founder and CEO of Reputation Rhino LLC, an online reputation management company. “In more complicated situations, mitigating the damage by providing some balance to your page one results with positive content is the best possible outcome.”

If you lack the time or search-engine optimization (SEO) skills, consider engaging an online reputation management company. Otherwise, there are steps you can take to balance negative content about you and/or simply upgrade the content about you that ranks in Google search results.

Get a branded domain and set up a professional website

Get a URL that contains your name (if available), such as Joesmith.com, and use that URL for a professional-looking website that highlights your business achievements and is optimized for your name, William advises. Your website has a good chance of ranking for your name over time, as Google’s search engine algorithms will regard your site as highly relevant to you.

Focus your website on your career and education, provide links to your social media accounts, and if time and interest permit, add a blog to your site, to which you post timely, relevant, optimized content that shows your thought leadership, Young suggests. Search-optimized blog posts can rank well in Google search results, especially if they’re at least 800 words, as Google currently ranks longer content more highly in search results.

Create or polish online profiles

Profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest all tend to rank highly in search results, so be sure to create accounts on these sites if you haven’t and optimize them for your name. With LinkedIn, for instance, you can get a custom URL for your profile that includes your name.

Ensure the content you’ve posted on these sites is professional, William advises. If necessary, for example, review all your publicly accessible Facebook photos and updates — going back to the very beginning — and delete or hide anything that could shine a negative light on you. (On Facebook’s desktop site, click on your profile and in the ‘Activity Log’ drop-down menu and choose ‘View As’ to see what you’ve made public.)

Also consider creating a profile on sites like About.me and Angel.co, which can rank highly in Google results, says Igor Kholkin, founder and CEO of digital marketing agency Avidon Marketing Group.

Quora is also considered a strong reputation-building tool. “Not only do Quora questions and answers rank well in Google, it gives you another powerful profile to display,” says Jonas Sickler, marketing director at ReputationManagement.com, an online reputation management company. “You'll also be able to show off your expertise within your industry and promote your articles.”

Blog on Medium

The blogging site Medium “is a great tool that has high visibility on Google and can help you establish a presence online without the effort of managing a website or updating a blog several times weekly,” William says. 

Prioritize and focus on quality, not quantity

Ultimately, be clear about the image you want to project online — it’s your "brand," as a marketer would say. Then prioritize the tools, platforms and steps you need to project that image in a positive, consistent fashion.

Above all, focus on quality, not quantity. For example, many job candidates believe that an active social media presence is the goal. “In fact, it’s more important to have a positive social media presence, no matter the scale,” says Dean Gualco, faculty member for Walden University’s M.S. in Human Resource Management department. “Having a professional, positive, and targeted social media presence, one with a definitive message and agenda, is far more important than just having a social media presence or the number of followers you have.”