Managing Your Digital Imprint

When it comes to job hunting, people have no shortage of concerns: preparing a clean resume, providing polished answers to interview questions and having excellent references, just to name a few. But since the word "Google" became a verb, job seekers have one more thing to worry about: ensuring their online records are clean and make a positive impression on hiring managers, who may search the Internet to find out more about candidates.

While you can’t control all the information pertaining to you on the Internet, there are some steps you can take to boost the likelihood a potential employer won’t see aspects of you that you’d rather keep private—like pictures of you participating in a pie-eating contest or the 300 posts you made about a band you were temporarily infatuated with.

Your first step should be to conduct a search with your name in quotes using the major Internet engines. If you have a common name, you can narrow the search by including the name of the city in which you live or a previous employer. You may find very little is linked to your name, or you may find that there is much more information about you than you anticipated. Indeed, people are often surprised by what turns up about them in an online search. Perhaps you led a campaign to save a local school 10 years ago, and, when the facility was closed despite your efforts, your criticism of the school board members was quoted in the local paper. Although you were proud of your involvement in trying to save the school, you don’t want prospective employers reading the inflammatory remarks. The only way to try to have this online reference removed is to contact the site’s owner. If the owner says no or the information is a matter of public record, you may have to live with it, but you should at least be prepared to explain the situation during an employment interview.

Whether or not negative information about you exists on the web, it’s a good idea to ensure there are plenty of positive associations. Your first step is to establish a professional webpage. It should contain your contact information, your specialty, some samples of your work and your resume. It should not include pictures from Spring Break in Cancun or political rants. Create a page on the site that links to some of your favorite websites; just make sure you wouldn’t be embarrassed to have a potential employer see any of them. Consider also linking to your professional colleagues’ websites. Don’t forget to ask them to return the favor. This may affect your site’s search-engine ranking and increase the likelihood of a hiring manager finds your page.

Another good idea is to join a professional association. Some, such as the American Marketing Association, allow you to post your professional contact information. Becoming a member of a board, presenting at association gatherings and maintaining an active presence in the organization are other ways to ensure your name is referenced in a favorable light on the Internet.

If you regularly contribute to blogs, be aware that what you say can reach a variety of audiences. If you wouldn’t want a potential employer to see your posts, consider using a pseudonym. You can use blogpulse.com or technorati.com to track blog postings. On the positive side, participating in blogs can boost your online presence. For example, contributing guidance in a design forum could distinguish you as an industry expert. If you often speak at symposiums or have taught at a local college, there may be a lot of information about you on the Web, both positive and negative. Teachers can find out what students think of them at ratemyprofessor.com. You can monitor your own web presence on a daily basis at sites such as pubsub.com, which can tell you when you are mentioned in blogs, security filings or newsgroups. If you maintain a high profile in your community, a service such as this may be especially important. Websites like ziggs.com and zoominfo.com allow you to create your own professional profile and are popular destinations for hiring managers.

Managing your digital footprint is an essential step for all professionals today. Even if you aren’t currently seeking employment, you may enter the job market in the near future. By conducting searches of your name every six months or so, you’ll always know what information is being attributed to you—and have the opportunity to make corrections or adjustments as needed. Happy searching!

The Creative Group is a specialized staffing service placing creative, advertising, marketing and Web professionals on a project basis with a variety of firms. 

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