How to Clean Up Your Online Reputation Before a Job Search

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When you're applying for a new job, you might stress about getting your resume and cover letter just right. But it may actually be your Instagram post from last weekend's party that ultimately sways an employer's decision.

That's because 70% of employers check out applicants' social media profiles during the hiring process, according to a CareerBuilder survey. The survey also found that 57% of hiring managers have seen something on social media that disqualified job applicants.

The way you use social media can be a powerful factor in your job application process—both positively and negatively. Here's how to clean up your online reputation before starting a job search.

Your Reputation Precedes You

Your online reputation consists of everything that comes up in a search about you. This may include a news article with the names from your graduating high school class, your Instagram account and your LinkedIn resume.

If a potential employer types your name into a search engine and is concerned by what they see, it may cause you to be eliminated from their list of possible candidates.

This is why it's a good idea to clean up your online reputation before a job search. Here's how:

  • Search your own name to see what comes up. Google is the most widely used search engine by far, but it's wise to also check out Bing, Yahoo Search and others. Take steps to have negative information removed (more on that below).

  • Review your social media posts and posts you're tagged in.

  • Remove or make private any questionable photos, posts or tags you come across.

  • Check through work you've published to see if there are any potential conflicts with the employer in question.

  • Ask friends who have tagged you in inappropriate posts to remove them or untag you.

  • Update your profile information and photo to something professional and inoffensive.

Hiring managers may go beyond simply searching your name, as well. If they can make the connection with something like your Twitter handle, some hiring managers may try to see what they can find when searching a username you've used. Consider what they might find when doing so and take steps to distance your full legal name from handles as well as private accounts that don't feature your name just in case.

Search Results That Can Hurt Your Application Chances

While doing a deep dive on the results, look for specific types of social media posts. Some of the most obvious types of posts that might disqualify you for a job are those that show you doing illegal or offensive things, but every hiring manager has their own standards. Use your own judgment to decide what's innocuous and what isn't.

The job you're applying for can also be a factor. A quick social media scan for egregious content will likely be enough for retail and office jobs. But if you're applying for a government job or one that involves working with children, be aware that hiring managers may be more thorough.

You can use reporting functions on social media websites to attempt removal of photos or stories you can't get removed otherwise. For bigger issues, you may want to speak with reputation management services but be aware there are costs associated and you may be able to do many of the same things yourself for free. Plus, some services—such as those that remove mugshots—may be associated with the site hosting the unwanted information as part of a money-making scheme.

Of course, there are some things you'll never be able to get off the web. If you've been in major legal trouble or have received negative news coverage, you may need a bigger approach than simply securing social media. Working with your lawyer to have old charges expunged or sealed so that they no longer show up in judicial record databases may be an option.

Most news outlets won't be willing to remove accurate information that paints you in a negative light. If you find that untrue information has been published about you, however, you may have grounds for a defamation lawsuit. If this is the case, contact a lawyer to learn more about your next steps.

How Your Web Presence Can Work for You

While you may hope your potential employer won't see certain things about you in an online search, you don't want to just hide everything. For some jobs, zero online presence may actually hurt your chances. For instance, if you are applying for a marketing job that will involve social media, employers may want to see that you have experience managing social media accounts for yourself. If nothing comes up, they may have questions about your familiarity with these tools.

Employers also like to get a sense of who you are and what you can do. Blogs, personal websites and social media can be a great way to show off your personality as well as your previous work—whether that's writing, welding or landscape design. Using those platforms effectively can reflect well on you during the interview process.

If there is something you'd like to bury in the search results, building up your online profiles could even help you outcompete those posts you wouldn't like an employer to see. Promoting your own personal brand could obscure that one embarrassing article from your college newspaper about a Saturday night gone wrong five years ago.

But before you can truly strategize, you need to know what's already out there. Keep an eye on your posts and ones friends have tagged you in. Update positive information, such as professional blogs and profiles, so they're able to be found in searches. Taking the time to clean up your online reputation could even enhance your job search prospects.