Undoing Digital Damage

It’s no secret companies have taken to the Net when conducting due diligence on a potential new employee. From LinkedIn to Facebook to simple Google searches encompassing every single appearance on the Web, nothing is sacred. That includes every embarrassing photo, as well as every Tweet and message board comment you’ve ever posted. Some hiring managers have even been known to review candidates’ Amazon.com wish lists. If that doesn’t concern you, either you’ve lived the life of Mother Teresa or you are completely oblivious to the potential damage you’ve done to your career.

If you’re getting a little hot around the collar, relax. I’m not trying to pass judgment on your Internet activities. The goal here is to help you overcome any online transgressions or ill-advised postings so that potential employers won’t get a negative impression of you based on what they find on the Web. The goal is to craft an online identity that reflects positively upon you as a professional.

A good starting point is to ask yourself what a potential employer would find if they were to Google your name. If you have a common name, this question may be complicated by the fact that they are likely to uncover the digital trail of many individuals in addition to you. However, they can narrow their search by filtering by location, previous jobs, etc. If you honestly don’t know how you come across on the Web, try Googling yourself. Chances are you’ve done it already, but it’s always a good idea to keep close tabs on your online presence.

If you find “digital dirt” – that is, information, comments, or images you would rather a potential employee not see – there is often nothing you can do to scrub your online reputation. In some instances, you can delete content, but for the most part, the best approach to seek to smother the dirt with positive, professional content. You should immediately start creating new and content presenting yourself as a capable professional. If you have published journal articles, add links to those sites to your LinkedIn and Facebook pages. Tweet your insights into trends and news stories that are relevant to your industry. You must be patient, however, because it can take time to achieve the desired balance.

You can further enhance your online reputation by posting a professional photo of yourself on every one of your profiles. That means a headshot taken by an actual professional photographer, not a snapshot taken by your cousin during that wild weekend in Miami. Seek to feature anything that points to involvement in community activities or that demonstrates stellar communication skills. By all means, seek to delete any previous comments that could be interpreted as critical of a former employer. Nothing turns off a potential employer faster than the possibility of hiring someone who is likely to damage their reputation.

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