The Internet knows a lot about you, maybe too much. So how do you clean up your online reputation and get control of your image to reflect who you are now — or how you want a prospective employer to perceive you?
A study from Microsoft Research indicates that 70% of online recruiters have nixed candidates because of search results that come up around their names. So your identity online is vital. We'll start with the tried and true ways to clean your rep and then move on to my sneakier methods.
Hide and Delete
First the basics: Delete questionable posts on all social networks — Twitter, old-school Myspace entries, and of course Facebook. And about Facebook — get your privacy settings locked down. To access the settings, click the drop down arrow in the top-right corner of your main Facebook page, then click Privacy Settings. At minimum, make sure your posts are only shared with friends. Then scroll down through all the settings and make sure what you watch, read, and listen to aren't publically searchable. If you've been tagged in anyone else's dicey pictures — untag, untag, untag. Click the picture, choose options and click "I want to untag myself."
Bury the Bad Stuff
That's all the stuff you can control, but what if there's info sprayed across the Internet that you can't remove, maybe you were busted for graffiti back in high school and it made the town paper? Or worse, what if someone went on a rant about you and it shows up when your name is entered into a search? There are certainly advocates who say you should write letters asking individuals or organizations to remove those postings, but in real life it's pretty useless. Instead, take solace from the fact that 97% of searchers never look beyond the first 3 pages of search results. If you can push the negative results down by posting positive or neutral information that's more current or has more appeal to search engines, you'll win the battle 97% of the time.
[Related: How (and Why) to Turn Off Socialcam]
Claim your Name
To create material that search engines will find, the first step is putting your name out there on high-traffic sites:
Google: Google ranks its own sites higher than others, so create a Google Plus account, use the Google Dashboard to manage your profile, and create a Youtube channel all using your real name.
LinkedIn: Create a LinkedIn profile, this is one of the most powerful tools you have in establishing your work reputation. LinkedIn is the de facto resume and job networking site for professionals these days.
Yourrealname.com: This is the big one: buy the domain name for your real name. Then start a blog using one of the simple blog tools like WordPress or Blogger. You can either host your blog at that URL or build an independent site. I own beckyworley.com, and I have a site that reflects my current work, links to my social media pages, and houses my resume. I used Squarespace to build the site and it took me about a day to get it looking the way I wanted it to.
The Sneaky Stuff
Tweak your name. Any chance you can apply for a job using a slightly different form of your name? If you are Bob Smith with a slightly murky online reputation, applying for jobs as Robert Smith and representing yourself online as Robert going forward could help you distance yourself from that rascal "Bob."
Flood social sites. Go over to namechk.com, type in your real name (or your new professional name) and sign up for every social site you can, all those sites will boost the appearance of your name in search sites.
Use images to your advantage. Start a Flickr photo sharing site and write your name on all the (appropriate) pictures you post. Do the same with Instagram, Tumblr and photobucket.
Don't forget about the real world. Everything you do these days is archived online — volunteering for charities, PTA boards, 5K runs, seminars you attend. If your college or high school has class notes, submit info. Write a well thought out letter to the editor, do an online genealogy for your family, attend county meetings where the names of attendants are published online. All these well-established sites get lots of search engine love.
Link Link Link. Once any of the above listings of your name appear online, link to them from your blog or website. It's the interlinking that gives you real search engine power.
You can of course hire a reputation service to do all of this for you, but if you have the time and want to save a few thousand dollars, these techniques can really help.
If you have successful tips about how you've sculpted your online reputation, head over to our Facebook page and share your ideas.
[Related: Are You Being Monitored at Work?