Anyone who's typed their name into a search engine knows that personal information can pretty much pop up anywhere, in more than a dozen search categories. But did you know that if this info is inaccurate, or simply unflattering, it could compromise your ability to land a job? That's right. According to a survey by human resources firm Manpower, approximately 70% of hiring managers use social networking sites in the job-hunting process - a fact that is not lost on recent college grad Victoria Cotter.
"I'm very conscious of my social media presence because it's like your first impression," says Cotter. "People can 'meet' you prior to meeting you via social media. I've had a coworker actually get reprimanded because of his Facebook profile picture. "
Even if you don't have embarrassing photos or juvenile jokes on Facebook, your online presence can still set off alarm bells for recruiters. So here's how to scrub your online footprint and enhance your chances for job search success.
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First, realize the value in creating and managing public profiles that do make a desirable impression.
"If you haven't done so already, you can start a free profile on a site like Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter and you can put in a profile that you control," says Sarah Downey of Abine.com, an online privacy company. " We recommend getting your own personal website, getting a domain name so you can showcase all of those personal profile pages and use that as a central hub for all of that data."
However, this doesn't mean you're in the clear. Pretend you're a hiring manager and search for your name in all its variations combined with previous and current addresses, then consider how these results might appear to a person who doesn't quite know you yet.
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Downey says, "If you've searched for yourself publicly online, you've probably seen that your info is coming up on these "people search" websites and this data can be notoriously inaccurate - sometimes saying you have a criminal record when you don't."
Remove or fix your personal information on these background check websites by 'opting out' or correcting inaccuracies.
"Background check websites really make you jump through a lot of hoops because there are hundreds of websites; some you have to fax, some you have to call, some you have to send mailings to," says Downey.
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If this sounds daunting, just check out services that will do it for you. For example, Reputation.com or Abine's DeleteMe service, where they'll scrub your people search profiles for a paid subscription. From now through Sunday, September 16, get 50% off a DeleteMe subscription.
Additionally, you'll want to lock down your privacy settings on all the major social networks. For example: did you know that just by allowing "friends of friends" to view your page on Facebook, you're essentially exposing your profile to an additional 150,000 people? As an experiment, take advantage of the "view as public" option to see how your current page might appear to a potential employer.
"The first step to gaining control over your Facebook privacy is to go through and clean up your friends list," says Downey. "A good way to do that is to set a rule, for example, 'I'm only going to friend people I know in real life' or 'I'll de-friend if I haven't talked to this person in the past two years.' It's possible that you're going to get requests from people who are involved in the hiring process to connect with you on Facebook so stick to your rule and don't friend just anybody."
"I'm also very conscious about who I friend on Facebook and what they might be trying to post on my page," says Cotter. "So the pictures of nights out I automatically 'untag' myself."
Either delete or "untag" anything that's potentially objectionable. You'll also want to review all photo services that you might use. On Twitter, opt to "protect" your tweets, meaning they stay private to you and your followers. Otherwise, a good rule of thumb is to only tweet what you want your boss to read. The bottom line is you want to establish an online presence that works in your favor and start curbing the content that doesn't.
As always, we want to hear from you. What are some smart ways to protect your online footprint? Connect with me on Twitter @Farnoosh, and use the hashtag #FinFit.