Jump Start Your Job Search is a five-part blog series that shows you the best way to find and get your ideal job. Read Part Four—How to create an all-star LinkedIn profile and why you need one.
Part Five: How your Internet footprint can make or break your job search
According to Wikipedia, “On the World Wide Web, the internet footprint, also known as cyber shadow, electronic footprint, or digital shadow, is the information left behind as a result of a user’s web-browsing and stored as cookies. The term usually applies to an individual person, but can also refer to a business, organization and corporation.”
The information may be intentionally or unintentionally left behind by the user (usually it’s the latter). People who are interested may be passively or actively collecting the data (again, usually it’s the latter). Let’s put that together: most users leave behind data unintentionally that is actively collected by interested people. You can gather lots of free information by using search engines (e.g., Google, Bing). Employers research potential applicants by looking at their online activities; this practice is called cyber-vetting. It’s popular because it takes little time and no money to type a few words into Google.
Law enforcement agencies use internet footprints to gather information that would otherwise be unavailable due to lack of probable cause. However, some criminals are stupid. They post photos on Facebook and brag about not getting caught by police not realizing how public even the most private settings can be. They are almost always caught by authorities within 24 hours of their social media posts.
Remember! You are responsible for your internet footprint.
There are three types of internet footprints
A positive internet footprint means you are easy to find on the Internet if someone searches your name + another variable (e.g., your employer, your city, your organizations). Ideally, your website (if applicable) and your LinkedIn profile will show up on the first page of Google/Yahoo/Bing results.
A negative internet footprint can mean several things:
- Someone searches your name + a variable and the wrong person shows up and/or that person has a criminal record, bad reputation with Better Business Bureau, or any number of horrible things. The point is—the person is not you, but you share the same name and that particular variable.
- Someone searches your name + a variable and you show up, and you have some information that may cause an employer/recruiter to question your judgment. Usually, these items are photos on social media sites (yours or someone who tagged you) that were made public (i.e., think the Facebook globe). While this issue is time-consuming to repair, it is easier to fix than a convicted felon having the same name as you!
A neutral internet footprint means you are invisible. This can happen for a number of reasons:
- You have a common first and last name, especially gender-neutral names like Lee Smith.
- You do not have a website, you are not active on social media, and you are not involved in any organizations that have active websites or social media accounts. If this is the case, employers/recruiters think YOU ARE OLD.
- You are a ‘Prepper’ who is preparing for the world to end and you have purposely eliminated yourself from the Internet including Google/Bing/Yahoo. I know someone who had all views of her house removed from Google Earth!
Remember! You have an internet footprint. Is it positive, negative, or neutral?
What is my internet footprint?
Put on your employer/recruiter hat and begin to cyber stalk YOURSELF.
- Google all versions of your name, especially important for women with maiden/married names and men with Jr/Sr.
- Google image yourself too. (Most people don’t do this part!)
- Google your name + your employer; + your city; + your past jobs; + your email address.
Read through the first three pages of results. What do you see? Do you have a positive, negative, or neutral footprint?
If you have a POSITIVE Internet footprint, congratulations. You still need to audit all of your social media accounts (a career coach or someone who is NOT connected to you on social media channels needs to assist you) to ensure your privacy settings are intact.
Remember! When you Google yourself, click on images to see if any photos of you show up.
How can I fix my internet footprint?
If you have a NEGATIVE Internet footprint, make note of all the negative results and ask yourself:
- Do the negative results belong to me? Are these my social media accounts? For example, someone once created a Facebook account in my maiden name and became active on it. All of the information was accurate. It took me about a month to get Facebook to permanently delete the account, which no longer shows up in search results. So, even though it wasn’t my account, I was responsible for it.
- Do the negative results belong to someone else? One person or multiple people? Who are they? Do they have a criminal record? Bad reports with professional associations? It’s challenging but there are multiple ways to combat negative search results by creating content Google loves including a stellar LinkedIn profile, content-rich website (if applicable), and cleaning up the results with companies like brandyourself.com.
Remember! Create content Google loves to combat negative results.
If the NEGATIVE results belong to you …
- Create a spreadsheet of every single URL.
- If the result belongs to someone else, you may have to bury it with positive content. A porn star is not going to remove his website just because you share his name.
- If it looks like a case of mistaken identity, like a company tagged you or linked to you accidentally, contact the company and politely point out the error. Ask them to remove your name from their site.
- If it is a site like Intelius, which gathers information from public records, you can contact them directly and ask them to revise any inaccurate information. Note: they will not remove you from their website, but they are usually willing to correct factual errors though they won’t make it easy.
- Audit all of your social media accounts, especially Facebook.
- Check your privacy settings.
- Untag yourself from all photos you did not post. Then, turn on the ‘must ask my permission before accepting tag’ feature.
- Delete old Facebook posts, especially negative ones. Consider it a soul cleanse.
- For posts you want to keep, set them to ‘friends only.’ Check every single one!
- Make sure the pages you LIKE are set to ‘friends only’ as well. The default is usually public. You don’t want anything showing up in the search.
- Review your friends. Is there anyone you should unfollow? (You like them but you’re tired of reading their rants.) Facebook isn’t going to tell them if you unfollow them. Or are there people you need to unfriend? It’s okay, just do it.
- For a free step-by-step tutorial on how to clean up your Facebook profile, click How to clean up your Facebook profile (BLISSS Builder members only).
Remember! You are responsible for what shows up, especially on your social media accounts. Cleaning up your Facebook account is time-consuming but worth it.
If you have a NEUTRAL Internet footprint, ask yourself why?
There are different tactics and strategies depending on the answer to that question.
- Have you been purposely avoiding the internet? Do you refuse to have any social media accounts? I understand if you don’t want to be on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, but being on LinkedIn is a non-negotiable if you are a working professional.
- Do you have a gender neutral name that gets buried in a sea of other names? If so, that’s fixable. You may have to change your social media profiles (and website if applicable). For example, if your name is Lee Smith, consider using your middle name or initial or any combination that works: Lee M. Smith, Lee Myra Smith, L.M. Smith, etc. By using your middle name, you will stand out more and you tell a potential employer (in this example) you are a woman. If you prefer your gender remain neutral, stick to your initials. Many authors including E.L James and J.K. Rowling used this tactic to widen their audience.
Remember! You can change a neutral internet footprint into a positive one.
The best way to avoid having someone create content in your name is to prevent it from ever happening. Use Knowem.com or Namecheckr.com to claim your social media profiles. I’m not saying be on every social media platform, but do claim your name on the popular channels. For example, I signed up for Pinterest under AndreaWilWoods (AndreaWilsonWoods is too long) knowing I may never become active there. However, by claiming my name, no one else can post content posing as me.
Keep in mind the structure of the various social media channels. Many platforms like Twitter and Pinterest limit the character length of your personalized user name. If you have a short name, you’ll be fine. If you are like me, you may have more than one user name. The most important thing is to be consistent. On social media, you will find me under ‘AndreaWilsonWoods’ or ‘AndreaWilWoods’ but not Andrea J. Wilson, which is my maiden and legal name.
I hope you enjoyed reading this five-part blog series. Check out the bonus video How to clean up your Facebook profile.
P.S. Are you unemployed? How much have you lost in wages? Download our FREE Salary Loss Tool to see why you may need to hire a career coach to help you find your next dream job.