Jobseekers & Students: Cleaning Up Your Online Profile

If you’ve been looking for a job in the past few years, chances are you’ve heard that you need to pay close attention to your online reputation.  Your social media profiles, tweets, blogs, comments and photos can all be seen by potential employers, and that snapshot from your cousin’s bachelor party could prove to be embarrassing, and even take you out of the running for a job.

Your online reputation doesn’t just affect your chances of landing a job. When you apply to graduate school, start a business or simply want to build your professional network, what shows up when someone searches your name can either help or hurt — and it’s up to you to make sure that it’s the former.

Start at the Beginning
To clean up your online reputation, first you need to know what it is. Begin by looking at your social media profiles. Are you tagged in a bunch of embarrassing photos? Is your profile picture less than flattering? Is your profile incomplete or full of embarrassing or inaccurate information? When you’re trying to create a professional image, it’s best that your social media profile reflect that image. Untag yourself, remove photos or links that might make your mother cringe and make use of privacy settings to ensure that only your closest friends and family see everything you post.
Once you’ve cleaned up your social media act, you still have work to do. Perform a search of your name and enclose it in quotations marks to limit your results. Look at the top five or six posts. Are they the first things you want the world to see? If not, you have some work to do.
In some cases, you can remove negative information easily. For example, if you wrote an ill-advised blog post ranting about your old boss, you can remove it, or you can contact website owners and request that posts, photos or other information be removed. In other cases, you might have to embark on a more aggressive personal public relations campaign.

Replace Bad with Good

In most cases, employers or admissions committees aren’t going to look past the first few pages of results when searching for you online. That means that you need to create positive content about yourself.  You could start a blog chronicling your experiences pursuing healthcare management degrees or discussing issues related to your work in a noncontroversial, informative manner.  Engage in activities designed to garner positive press, such as volunteering; if you serve on the board of an organization, your bio may appear on its website, which comes up in Web searches.
In some cases, participating in online discussions or commenting on blogs or news stories can help improve your online reputation. Comment on discussions related to your industry in LinkedIn groups or other reputable sites using your own name. If you can, write your comment to highlight something you want to be known for. If you’re commenting on a story about medicine, for instance, mention that you have a health care degree or other credential that lends credibility to your response. Avoid online confrontations under your own name. While it might feel good to let a troll have it in a flame war, a potential employer may see that discussion as evidence that you lack good judgment.

Stay Ahead of the Problem
Getting your online image where you want it to be is not a one-time task. Ensuring that your online reputation matches the one you project in person requires vigilance and regular attention to what you are saying online and what others are saying about you. Set up a Google alert to notify you whenever something containing your name appears, and set aside time every few weeks to search your own name. And refrain from putting anything online that you wouldn’t show or say to others in person. If you think that something would be embarrassing, it probably will be.
Taking time to clean up your online reputation can have major benefits for you, your career, your education or your business. While you can’t always control everything that winds up in cyberspace, you can control a lot of it — and that might make all the difference.

About the Author: Denver-based career counselor Charlene Woods has helped many students and jobseekers explore their options in Colorado State healthcare careers. She is working on a book about job hunting in the age of social media.

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