Whether we’re sharing our thoughts on Facebook or Twitter, posting the location of our latest meal to Foursquare, uploading crazy cat videos to YouTube, sharing photos via Instagram, creating pin boards devoted to our hobbies (and obsessions) on Pinterest, or experimenting with the latest and greatest app, it’s clear that many of us enjoy making use of the many social media tools available to us. We can connect with each other, have a laugh, and exchange information that ranges from deeply personal to outright silly.

Though our original intent may be lighthearted, we do need to be aware that some (if not much) of what share on the Internet can be accessed and retrieved by others… even others we don’t know, and whose first impressions can be shaped by that slice of data they find on the Web. This is especially important to keep in mind when you consider that, come time for your next job hunt, a hiring manager may conduct an Internet search for your name. Certainly, you don’t want that person to discover any less-than-flattering photos and videos, or blog posts in which you’ve said harsh and embarrassing things about your friends, exes, or former employers.

If you want to ensure that your online presence is as clear as possible, follow the recommendations outlined by Beverly Amer in her book New Perspectives: Portfolio Projects for Soft SkillsBy taking the steps she describes in her “Online Brand Protection Checklist,” you will become more aware of the information that’s available about you on the Internet:

  • Take some time to visit all the social network sites where you have posted content. Go through each one carefully and remove any content that would give your potential employer the wrong picture of who you are. If nothing else, make your pages private.
  • Change any screen names or e-mail addresses that don’t portray you in a professional way.
  • Sign up for a new, free e-mail account for your personal correspondence.
  • Google yourself. Don’t stop with just your name—enter your phone numbers, addresses, and any other keywords that might be used to find you. Try other search engines as well, such as Bing, Ask.com, and Yahoo!. Now do the same thing at WebMii. If anything pops up that you don’t want others to find, take steps to have the content removed, if possible.
  • Try to get cached content removed from Google or other sites. Cached content is old information that doesn’t immediately appear when Google returns a hit, but can be accessed 
  • by clicking on the link to cached content. Check back every few months because Google often restores archived content from backups—which means that your “removed” cached content will re-appear without your knowledge. Google posts information about how to do this under Help on its Web site.
  • Sign up for a Google Alert if you think your name might end up in the news.
  • Get a free copy of your credit report at annualcreditreport.com and check it for accuracy. (Note: This is not the same site as the fee-based freecreditreport.com.)
  • Check your browser’s security settings to make sure they are set at the level you are most comfortable with.
  • Investigate your current or potential employer’s privacy policies with regard to employee monitoring through a Web search, company human resources policies, or the company’s intranet resources. (Amer, p. 44)

For additional recommendations, read our previous posts, “Being Mindful of Your Social Media History” and “Social Networking: Think Before Posting—or Deleting.”

Reference: Amer, Beverly. 2012. New Perspectives: Portfolio Projects for Soft Skills. Boston, MA. Cengage Learning.

How do you ensure that your online presence accurately represents the personal and professional image you wish to project to others? Share your ideas below.