Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Every time you post a comment on the Internet, create an online profile or upload of photo of yourself, you may be sending a time capsule to a future employer.
In today’s digital world, false or unflattering information attached to your name could haunt you for years. For jobseekers competing in a tough economy, an unprofessional online presence could be a hindrance to landing a good job. More employers are using the Internet to learn about job candidates, with a recent Microsoft survey  showing that 70% of hiring managers have rejected a job applicant because of information posted online.
Some jobseekers are turning to Online Reputation Management (ORM) firms to help them improve their digital personas. Before you pay for an ORM service, be aware that ORM firms do not have the ability to remove unflattering information from the Internet any more than you do. If you are willing to invest the time, you can manage your own online reputation at little or no cost.
ORM firms use four main basic techniques to help improve your online reputation. For the most part, these are techniques you can do yourself.
- Monitor your online persona. Enter your name into major search engines such as Bing, Yahoo! and Google. Search for your name exactly as it appears on your resume in quotation marks. Also try searching for your email address. You can set up an alert to receive an email notification when new information involving your name is posted online.
- Restrict access to your personal information. If you use social networks, get started by tightening up privacy settings on your profiles. Review each profile carefully to see what might be visible to a potential employer. Remove or restrict access to any information that might be deemed unprofessional. Remember that privacy settings on Facebook changed in late 2009. See ArsTechnica’s Guide to Setting Up Your Facebook Privacy Settings  as well as the December 2009 Update  . Also read EFF’s Facebook’s New Privacy Improvements Are a Positive Step, But There’s Still More Work to Be Done .
Be sure to separate your professional and personal email addresses. Never communicate with a potential employer using the email address associated with your social networking accounts. You should also consider not using your full legal name on social networks, though you should first review the terms of service of the network to see if there are prohibitions against providing false or incomplete information.
Use particular caution when participating in ‘fan’ pages and discussion boards. Online groups, such as discussion forums and Facebook fan pages, may indicate your hobbies, political affiliations, personal beliefs and sexual identity. Before joining, check to see if membership lists are viewable by nonmembers. Furthermore, online acquaintances (such as publicly visible friends on Facebook and Myspace) may send an unintended message to a potential employer. Be sure to check what information friends’ profiles contain and whether they are set to private.
Remember, the best way to prevent a potential employer from seeing a controversial posting or compromising photograph is to not post it on the Internet at all.
- If incorrect or unflattering information about you is posted online, ask to have it removed. Depending on the source and intent, a webmaster may be willing to remove information if you send them a polite but firm letter. If you do not have contact information for the owner of the website, you can find it through www.domainwhitepages.com . A lawyer can advise on whether a false and defamatory posting might be considered libel. Keep in mind that some types of records, such as court records or published news articles, may be difficult if not impossible to remove.
- If you can’t remove unflattering search results, try competing against them. Career coaches recommend you consider starting a blog, website and/or social media profiles that are flattering and professional. Use this as a forum to showcase your professional aspirations, achievements and qualifications. You’ll want this positive content to appear above uncomplimentary material in search results, so be sure to use your name and post new content frequently.
An ORM company uses these same techniques to improve the online reputations of clients. If you are considering contracting with an ORM company, take the time to review the services, fees and any guarantees carefully. Find out whether the company will assist you in requesting websites remove false information about you, or if they focus exclusively on generating new content. Be sure to review all fees and memberships terms carefully.
Read more about maintaining your professional reputation online at ExecuNet’s Dealing with Your Digital Dirt  and Microsoft Online Safety’s Take Charge of Your Online Reputation .