Most people treat their social media accounts as purely social outlets, casually updating statuses and posting photos with little expectation of scrutiny from friends or followers. The idea that these actions could seriously limit educational or professional prospects rarely impedes sharing. Unfortunately, it should.

Subscribe

Sign up for our monthly newsletter to get the latest news and updates!

What News Interests You?

Success

You're all set. Thanks for subscribing!

Found You

Looks like you’re already subscribed! If you want to connect with us in more ways, follow us on Facebook and Twitter at @BestCollegesCom!

Error

Oops, something went wrong. Please try again.

Checking up on applicants' social media profiles is becoming routine for many employers and admissions offices around the country. Recruiters say social media helps them gain a more comprehensive picture of a candidate than a simple resume and cover letter. Depending on how they view what they find, an applicant's web presence can make or break an offer. This is especially true for students or recent graduates lacking a detailed job history to support their application.

There's nothing wrong with using social platforms for fun, that's what they're for. Don't run off and remove every cat gif from your Tumblr account; no employer expects or wants that. But a little awareness will go a long way.

Reputation Management Basics

Let's break the task down into manageable chunks, addressing each step of reputation control while leaving no stone unturned. You'll learn how to customize privacy settings so that you don't have to worry about college and workplace recruiters stumbling across the wrong information.

Evaluate your reputation

Put yourself in the shoes of a hiring manager. Consider what they'll discover about you through everyday search engines, background checkers, family history websites, social networks and cached data. Digital interactions often leave behind footprints. What will yours look like? Here are your tools:

Search Engines
How to Check

Start out by searching for your first and last name, which is likely to pull up content regarding other people who share your name. Examine the first few pages of the search engine findings, and then try different combinations, including "name and city." Search for any usernames or nicknames recruiters and schools might have access to, such as your email. If you are worried about posts from a particular website or time frame, you can use Google's advanced search operators to narrow down the hunt. To find information that is more specific, put quotation marks around your name.

What to look for

Inappropriate information on your social media accounts, dating site accounts, retail wish lists, message board posts, blog articles, comments, mentions and other web service accounts.

Curate your reputation

Once you've identified any problematic content associated with your identity online, you'll need to take steps to remove or hide it. However, this can be trickier than it sounds, especially if the content has been posted by another person, archived on a website or stored in an account you can no longer access. Here are a few strategies that can help you work around common reputation roadblocks.

Social Media Problems
Other people's content

If you're tagged in another person's photo, post or comment, it might not be easy to remove your association with it. Facebook has an entire video dedicated to removing tags and reporting inappropriate photos. Ultimately, you might need to contact the person who uploaded it originally and request that they remove it.

Delayed deletion

Some content, such as tweets, don't always disappear immediately after they are deleted. Twitter explains that posts occasionally remain in search records for a period of time after deletion. This can lead to awkward situations, especially if you want to remove questionable material right away. Before you post anything that is potentially embarrassing or inappropriate, make sure to consider this lag.

Search Problems
Distinguishing yourself

If you have a common name, it can be difficult for you to set yourself apart from others who share your name. The tech news website, Lifehacker, encourages young professionals to purchase an exact match domain (EMD) of your first and last name. These URLs can help guide school admissions officers and recruiters directly to your web presence.

Remove Search listings

Google has a list of steps to take if you wish to remove personal information from search listings. The ideal method is to remove the content directly at its source, which might require that you contact a site's webmaster.

Preventative Measures
Google Alerts

You can customize Google search settings so that you receive an email alert every time a search listing with your name is added. That way, you don't have to search for yourself periodically to keep track of your reputation – Google does all the work for you. Just visit the Google Alerts website, type your name into the "Search Query" box, and customize the parameters. Select your email in the "Deliver to" box and click "Create alert."

Managing Your Reputation Throughout College

College students can best control their online reputations by remaining proactive about submissions; make sure you're absolutely certain that a post won't damage your career or academic opportunities before you publish it. Having this mental filter can prevent social media emergencies when you must rush to remove content or contact website administrators. Be very deliberate with the information you post online, and make sure that it doesn't tarnish other people's reputations either!

Freshmen-sophomores

  • Select new friends carefully, don't add strangers.
  • Avoid over-sharing information with the public; it could put you at risk.
  • Monitor tagged photos for inappropriate content.
  • Add classmates to maximize productive interactions.
  • Avoid adding current instructors or school administrators since the content either of you post can lead to awkward academic situations. For example, if you skip class and accidentally post a photo from the beach.

Upperclassmen

  • Remove or hide content that might affect your job search prospects.
  • Develop professional social networking ties through websites like LinkedIn.
  • Add connections that emerge from internships, fieldwork, and volunteer activities.
  • Investigate companies where you wish to work and contact key figures to ask questions.
  • Monitor social media job boards for upcoming employment opportunities.

Leverage Your Reputation During the Job Hunt

So you're ready to dive into the employment search - congratulations! According to statistics from Jobvite, an employee recruitment company, 77% of recruiters surveyed have actually hired candidates through networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter. Now that you have your online reputation cleaned up, you can actively use your digital presence as a way to connect with recruiters, provide supplemental material to your resume and increase your professional resources.

Create Profiles to Cover Your Bases

In this digital era, some recruiters see your social media presence as a sign of credibility. Unfortunately, this doesn't bode well for those who wish to maintain their privacy by not participating in social media. A lack of networking accounts can send the wrong message to recruiters regarding social and emotional health. Having existing accounts, even if they provide sparse information, can be better than having no online presence at all.

Expanding your influence

Your personal networks can be extremely valuable commodities, depending on the types of industries you're applying to. Marketing industry recruiters, for instance, are more likely to be impressed by applicants that can spark dozens of likes and shares with a single post update. This requires that you develop multiple social media skills, including:

  • Expanding your total number of friends and followers
  • Posting engaging content
  • Updating on a regular basis

First, you'll need to get an idea of your current status. Here are a few resources that can help you measure influence and reputation:

Once you start monitoring your influence, you can grow it with the following activities:

  • Starting conversations on group or event pages
  • Adding new connections on a regular basis
  • Posting thought provoking questions that encourage community answers
  • Posting current and compelling news that gets shared, liked, or commented on

Interview with Diane Domeyer

Diane Domeyer

Executive Director of The Creative Group

Diane is a noted career expert and frequent presenter on hiring and management topics. She has been interviewed by numerous publications, including the Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, and more. She also has been named by the San Francisco Business Times as one of the Bay Area’s Most Influential Women for six consecutive years. Diane holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of St. Thomas.

When reviewing an application, how much weight do you give to a candidate's online reputation in relation to the interview/resume process?

A strong online presence can be a career asset in today's competitive job market. Many employers are performing online searches – in addition to reviewing resumes and cover letters – in an attempt to learn about prospective hires, including their interests, industry involvement and, more important, their ability to market themselves effectively. In fact, 86 percent of executives surveyed by The Creative Group said they're likely to search online for information about potential hires.

If hiring managers are impressed by the content they find – like thought-provoking commentary or links to industry articles – they may be more apt to reach out to individuals for an interview. On the other hand, a lack of activity, inconsistencies with representations made on a resume or negative remarks, can be a turn-off.

What site profiles do you check most frequently and why?

According to a survey by The Creative Group, 68 percent of executives said they are likely to review job candidates' LinkedIn profiles; another 65 percent search for information online using applicants' names and 46 percent check out their Facebook pages. One-third of executives reported they review job candidates' Twitter profiles and 29 percent said they peruse their blog postings.

When recruiting for design roles, hiring managers also peruse candidates' online portfolios and even sites like Instagram to get a sense of their creative style and passion projects.

What are some of the most common blunders when researching a candidate?

We asked more than 500 executives to name the most common mistake professionals make with online profiles that they use for business purposes, and the top responses were (1) not updating them often enough and (2) providing too much information.

Being truly active and engaged online takes work, but it's important for job candidates to regularly update their social media profiles and monitor what information is shared about them on the Web to ensure they're projecting a positive image.

Professionals should also avoid publishing anything that connotes indiscretion, including negative commentary about current or past employers, colleagues, and clients. It's easy to forget who's in your network and you never know who might see the content.

Are there legal issues with employers researching social media profiles?

There are issues about how information found online is used. Employers should work closely with their legal and human resources departments when creating their policies for candidate screening.

How difficult is it to recover from a negative online presence? What are some basic steps you can take?

Monitoring your online presence shouldn't just be done when you're job hunting - it should be an ongoing practice. An easy way to do this is to set Google alerts for your name so you can receive an email notification every time something new is said about you online. Also check your privacy settings regularly to control who has access to what information. If you find something online that you wouldn't want hiring managers to see, contact the person who posted the information or the website administrator to ask that it be removed.

If questioned by hiring managers about unflattering information found online, be ready to explain the situation and try to spin it in a positive light. For example, if an employer asks about a wild photo from your college days, steer the conversation in a more positive direction by pointing out how your outgoing personality will help you thrive in the role. Most employers will be understanding if you are honest about the incident and can see you are qualified for the role.

Can you provide an example of someone you came across who's online reputation led you to hire them? Can you provide an example of someone who had an online reputation that made you not hire them?

When recruiting for content marketing and social media roles, especially, we often review candidates' online profiles. Those with up-to-date social media accounts and who actively engage with influencers and their peers - by sharing relevant links to articles and commenting on others' posts - immediately stand out. Conversely, candidates who look good on paper but who lack an active online presence can fall to the wayside during the recruiting process.

What are some basic rules that everyone should follow when it comes to your online image?

Being truly active and engaged on every social media platform could easily turn into a full-time job. So I recommend focusing your efforts in one or two places that you enjoy most and use them to build relationships and your brand.

Then, actively participate. Share your thoughts and expertise. Post updates on your job search and connect with like-minded people. Follow and comment on industry blogs or become a regular on a message board. Show that you are listening by responding to questions and comments.

As you do all this, emphasize quality over quantity. Having hundreds of followers isn't necessarily as useful to your job search as developing a handful of strong contacts.

Additional Resources

Online Reputation Management

Career Services

Social Media Privacy