Now What? How to Clean Up Your Internet Presence

Now What? is a series dedicated to providing strategies for a successful post graduate experience. Have a suggestion for a topic you’d like to see featured here? Let us know in the comments.

Growing up is a process. As we evolve in maturity, we refine our opinions, our tastes, and our image. At some point, most of us have said or done something we wish we could take back; things that seemed irrelevant just a few years ago might make you shudder with embarrassment now. Part of undertaking a professional journey is making sure you’re putting your best self out there, something that can be tricky in the digital age. As graduation approaches, you may want to consider the content you’ve put out into the world—and how potential employers might interpret it.

“You’re putting digital information out there. As an employer, I need to know whether or not you’re going to be a good fit. I may not be able to get that just from just your resume or even an interview, but if I see the things you put online, it gives me a better idea,” says Internet Marketing Program Director Rob Croll.

Start by doing a vanity search for your name in order to see what comes up. If your name is common, you might not feature in the top results at all. Don’t assume this will deter someone who is seeking information. Most employers will deepen the search by typing in your name plus your city, or your name plus your school. Playing around with combinations of keywords will give you a thorough overview of your online presence.

Because most content is generated incrementally, it’s easy to for that controversial tweet you posted six months ago to slip your mind. As soon as you put something out there, its digital trajectory is beyond your control, and if a post does well then it’ll rank higher in search results. If something you don’t want an employer to see does come up, you can try deleting it. However, if the content has been shared, you won’t be able to erase it completely.

In this case, says Rob, your best bet is to try to bury anything undesirable in the search results. By posting a steady stream of positive, professionally oriented content, you may be able to save face.

“The one good thing about the internet is that it’s made us all super impatient,” laughs Rob. “No one ever goes to the second page of the search results. So if you can get something pushed off the first page, it’s less likely that someone will find it.”

To do this, make sure that any professional dossiers, such as LinkedIn, contain the most up-to-date relevant information. The more complete a profile is, the better it will rank. Sometimes it’s helpful to create new accounts that focus on a particular aspect of your professional life, such as a Tumblr or Pinterest account devoted solely to industry trends. This shows potential employers that you take your industry seriously, and demonstrates a knowledge base. Bear in mind things like usernames and custom URLs also contribute to your image. For the sake of simplicity, use some form of your real name when creating professional accounts.

It’s also a good idea to consider the company you keep. “I heard someone say this the other day, and found it really striking. ‘When you’re friends with someone online, you’re essentially co-branding with them.’ You can argue whether or not that’s true, but it’s interesting. Even if you don’t agree with something your friend says, to outsiders who don’t know you, your connections mean something. They tell us something about you,” says Rob.

Finally, don’t think that erasing any and all traces of yourself from the Internet will help you land a job. Employers are expecting you to have some form of online social presence. Ultimately, says Rob, the trick is to present your most authentic self in as neutral a way as possible. “Having some things out there is important. Be careful about what you’re sharing and what you say, make sure it’s factual and accurate,” he advises. “Whatever you post, be aware of the impact on your reputation.”

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