What do potential employers, lenders, friends, and relationship partners see when they search for your name online? Google and other search engines are often the first stop for someone who wants to learn more about a person. One employer wrote that he had an applicant with an excellent resume, but did not hire her after finding photos of her partying and comments from her friends about the amount of alcohol she consumed.
There are companies that will help to clean up your online reputation (for a fee of course) but it is possible to do it yourself, for free. Let’s take a look at what your plan should be. Here are some tips from cnet.com.
- Search for yourself. Use Google and other search engines to see what results come up when your name is searched
Search for your name, your nicknames, your maiden name, misspellings of your name and any other variations someone might use. If you’re worried about what a specific person, such as a potential employer, might find, include other identifying information they might have access to, such as your city, your email address, a frequently used username, or a phone number.Look through your social media accounts, blogs or forums to make sure there are no damning posts or photos that you forgot about and check the Wayback Machine to see if any of your deleted accounts are still living in cached form on the internet.
- Clean up your internet presence and beef up your privacy settings
Perhaps you have found a few links/photos/high school blog posts that you’d rather your future employer or romantic partners not see. First try to get those links/photos/high school blog posts removed, or at least make them private.On Facebook, open up the Privacy menu and click “See more settings.” Next to “Limit the audience for posts you’ve shared with friends of friends or Public?”, click ” Limit Past Posts.” This will make all your past posts friends-only, so you don’t have to worry about going through them one-by-one and making them individually private. Click “Limit Old Posts” and then click Confirm (this action can’t be undone, so there are several warnings) to make your past posts private.
On Twitter, open up Settings and click “Security and privacy.” Under Privacy, there will be a “Tweet privacy option.” Check the box next to this to make your Tweets private and viewable only to your followers (people you must approve).
But just protecting your social media accounts may not be enough. For items posted by others, the best thing to do is ask the person who posted a photo or other embarrassing thing to remove it. Even then it may still live on somewhere.
- Consider changing your name
You don’t have to legally change your name but using a new version or versions of your name can be helpful if you want to keep your personal and professional identities separate or you share a name with a nefarious character.One way to do this is by using different versions of your first, middle and last names and/or initials. For example: John A. Smith, J.A. Smith, J. Adam Smith, etc. Or use a nickname, such as Buster Smith.
- Build the brand you want
This is especially important for professional accounts, but it is not a bad idea even for personal accounts. Decide on the image you want to project and create content that fits your brand. Search engines love fresh content, so these new accounts and posts are likely to quickly show up at the top of the search results.
- Monitor your online reputation
In addition to searching for yourself, you can set up a Google Alert to be notified when Google finds a mention of you online. Don’t forget to use separate email addresses for your personal and professional online identities. Even better: Also have separate phone numbers, addresses and credit cards for each identity.Always think before you post! The things you put online may be there forever, so if you post in haste, you may repent at leisure.