Clean up your act before you start job searching or networking!

When you search for information on a product or a person online do you find what you want? I’m guessing that you often don’t, at least not easily. What often happens is that you end up spending a lot of time searching until you really find what you were looking for.

That’s because you get to see what Google and Facebook (and increasingly many other companies and search engines and solutions) think you want to find.  And here is the real bad part of the news.  It can also be because you have likely left a lot of personal online garbage out there on the internet. So, don’t be too surprised if you get hit with some embarrassing content from the past.  With this in mind, I strongly suggest that you clean up your ‘online shrapnel’ before you kick off your networking for a career change or before you embark on your job seeking mission.

I have received many personal emails from Job Seekers in Australia and New Zealand requesting information and help on the subject of how to clean up your online reputation.  I am sure you all know what I am talking about, but just in case you are a bit lost, here are a few samples of potentially embarrassing content.

  • Your regular ‘not so private’ Facebook posts, including your ‘Likes’, ‘Shares’ and photos;
  • Your weekend twitter rants and re-tweets;
  • Photos and videos that you are ‘tagged’ in;
  • Your last video on YouTube from that Bucks party in Auckland;
  • Your nude/embarrassing/inappropriate photos from a camping trip in the Hunter Valley;
  • Your detailed and, in retrospect, inappropriate rant in 2010 about your former employer (e.g. mentioning your manager’s bad breath on an industry message board, or Facebook, or …).

I could go on forever. The list of unwanted personal content or ‘online shrapnel’ as I call it is endless and I am not even going to mention the various ‘other profiles’ you may have.  Almost all of us have our share of history and personal details online.

What does it mean when I refer to shrapnel? It means that if I search for your name online I will likely see different information than you do, even if we do exactly the same search.  Companies filter what you see and that can result in a very biased view of the world. That’s a scary consideration especially when it comes to how you are presented online, especially when you are in the game for a career change or when you are actively job seeking.  So, if you haven’t already ‘Googled yourself you should.  If you haven’t already set up a Google Alert’ on your name you should. More importantly you need to create a hub that accurately represents your story, told the way you want it to be told. But don’t start anything yet – start with the clean up first!

I did some research and have come up with 4 useful ‘autumn cleaning’ exercises for you. I suggest that you Google or search your name first to see what comes up and then start with No. 1.

No. 1- Walk before you run. Delete as much online content as you can.

There is more to our online life than our own posts and shrapnel, there is also eventually some not so flattering material from writers who have tagged you or possibly even wrote some not so pleasant commentary about you in their posts or portals (not just Facebook).  So you need to find out what that is and then remove it from its original source first so that it does not show up in Google or any of the other data broker websites and search engines again. Sarah Downey from DeleteMe has published 7 comprehensive deletion tips to help you to start with the basic rules of your ‘autumn clean up’. She regularly writes posts in the Abine Online Privacy blog. If you get stuck, write her in her blog or simply browse through some of the recent commentaries.

No. 2 – Facebook window dressing

If you are one of those prolific Facebookers and if you are worried that you might have missed some content that you’d rather not be there, here is how you can clean up your profile. There are many recommendations out there, but the most comprehensive and, in my opinion, most intuitive instruction kit of how to improve your online reputation and how to fix online embarrassments was written by Adam Dachs from LifeHacker (he is one of my favourite nerds).

He really nailed it and his instructions are easy to follow without the nerd talk. So give it a try if you want to clean up your Facebook profile and enjoy your social network activities without the looming fear of embarrassing content.

No. 3 – Remove the dirt, hire a hit man or simply bury it!

Steps 1 and Step 2 should do the trick for most of us but if you still have some sticky and persistent online shrapnel which re-surfaces no matter what you do, then you need to attend to Step 3. I found a few New Zealand and Australia based Professionals who can help but I have to admit, their fees were a bit of a turn off. So I continued my research and found this blog post in the 2012 archive of our Australian job portal, CareerOne. Allan Hofmann is a Tech Job Expert and he has the answers to the final steps. It requires a bit of work and you eventually have to sign up to some service subscriptions but I am sure you won’t mind an extra $50 – $100 per year if it helps you to re-establish your good reputation.

Tell us about your experience or even better share some useful insights and tips with the readership of my blog and if you know someone in your circle of friends, co-workers or contacts who would find this blog post useful, simply share or forward the content. I look forward to your comments and emails.

In the meantime, hunt wisely