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Take Control of Your Online Image: How to Wipe it Clean

You can determine your online image. Find out how.

Lauren Bayne Anderson

July 29, 2011

Take Control of Your Online Image: How to Wipe it Clean
The Internet is a dangerous place for employees and potential employees. That’s because employers are using information they find about you online to make hiring and firing decisions. A recent article in the New York Times said 75 percent of recruiters are required to do online research of candidates and 70 percent have rejected candidates because of what they found. And ironically, the same article noted that less than a third of the information one company finds that gets job candidates in trouble comes from Facebook, Twitter and MySpace. The rest comes from pictures, videos, listserve emails, and other things that can easily be found by a search engine.

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So how do you go about cleaning up your online image? There are several ways, and several different courses of action depending on what’s out there on you. We detail it all, including how to make sure your Google search comes up clean. Do Your Own Google Search: Start by Googling your name. You may be shocked to see what comes up. Make a list of questionable photos, comments, emails and personal information that comes up, along with where you found it for future reference. And then once you’ve surveyed it all, take action on each one. Do you "Like" Facebook? Make it official on Facebook.
Clean Up Your Social Media Pages: This is a great place to start because you control so much of what’s here for people to see. Here’s how to clean things up:
  • Change Your Privacy Settings: Change your privacy settings so that only close friends and family can view your personal information.
  • Create a “limited access” list : This is for people you may not know very well (or at all), and for coworkers, or potential employers who’ve sent you a friend request and put you in that awkward position of having to either decline (and offend them) or accept (and have your whole private life on display).
  • Reevaluate Your “Friends”: Go through your friends list and see who a.) Shouldn’t be there at all (promptly remove), and b.) Needs to be moved to the “limited access” list you’ve just created. A good rule of thumb is if you don’t know them in real life, you don’t need to friend them on facebook – there is too much personal information that could be used against you for a stranger to have access to. Coworkers should go into the limited access list, with exceptions only for VERY good friends.
  • “Edit” Your Photos: Go through your photos—not just on Facebook, but even online photo sharing albums that you don’t THINK anyone else can see—and remove anything that’s questionable. According to a New York Times article, it’s photos and videos that seem to get people in the most trouble. Questionable material can include nude photos and any photos where you’re dressed just a little too skimpy, as well as anything that makes reference to drugs, firearms (even if you own them legally), underage drinking and even smoking. Also remove any photos where you’re portrayed as immature—such as photos of you giving the middle finger or wearing t-shirts with inappropriate language. Remove these photos immediately. If you don’t own the photos, untag yourself and ask the person who posted them to take them down.
  • Self Censor: Don’t make any comments or status posts that use inappropriate language, or language can be construed as racist, sexist, offensive, or even culturally incensitive. If you’re looking for work, also steer clear of posts that are overly religious or political. Remove these posts immediately and don’t make anymore. In fact, some potential employers will view status posts simply to see the types of things you talk about on your Facebook page, and even if they don’t find anything inappropriate per se, they may be turned off if you seem immature.
  • Reevaluate Your “Groups”: Steer clear of any groups that could be construed as offensive. A recent New York Times article gave a poignant example. A job seeker turned off potential employees by belonging to a group called “This Is America. I Shouldn’t Have to Press 1 for English.”

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