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How to improve your online reputation so that employers will hire you

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by Jennifer Bridges  @JenBridgesRD

Angled view of a very happy African-American businessman shaking hands

An average of 250 people apply for every corporate job opening, according to research (PDF) by Glassdoor. Of these applicants, only a handful will obtain an interview. So, how can you increase the odds of being one of these select few? 

One of the best ways to make it onto a hiring manager’s shortlist is to construct an impressive online reputation that highlights your knowledge, skills, and personality. Keep reading to learn why a well-managed online reputation is so important for job seekers and how to ensure yours is working for you, not against you.

Hiring managers are googling you

Employers want to know two things before they hire you: that you are qualified for the position and that you will be a good fit with the company’s culture. Because it’s relatively easy to find out these things on the Internet, nearly 80% of recruiters perform some kind of online search when screening candidates. In fact, doing online research has become such an important part of the vetting process that 30% of HR departments have assigned someone specifically to perform this task. 

“As a branding and recruiting professional, seeing someone’s personality via their social media accounts gives me a lot of insight into who they are.”—Sadie Lövgren, recruitment and branding coordinator at STS Education

How a strong online reputation can help your job search

What employers discover about you online can help you or hurt you when it comes to getting a job. According to a CareerBuilder study, more than half of employers have disqualified candidates because of something they found about them on the Internet. However, the same study also showed that 44% of hiring managers have hired people as a result of the positive impression they made online. This means that you can boost your chances of getting a job by improving your online reputation.

Are online reputation issues hurting your job prospects? Find out with our free Reputation Report Card. Start Your Scan

This doesn’t mean you need to obsess over every word or picture that you post online to construct the perfect image. HR professionals understand that people have personal lives. They expect to see pictures of you having a glass of wine on occasion. In reality, they are only checking for important items like the ones below.

Things that will get you the job:

  • A professional online image—Make sure your profile photos and usernames are suitable for business purposes.
  • Evidence of your qualifications—If your resume states that you have a special skill, make sure employers can verify it online. One method is to take skill quizzes on LinkedIn to gain badges on your profile that prove you’ve passed those tests.
  • Communication skills—Make sure everything you say online features proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar.
  • Creativity—Even if you’re not in a creative field, you can use graphics, icons, or charts on your personal website to market yourself to employers, like in the example below:

Online reputation management tips for job seekers

You’d never submit a cover letter or resume without proofreading it first, and the Internet is essentially a much larger version of your resume. To ensure it presents you in the best possible light, you’ll need to perform the following online reputation management tasks.

Google yourself

The simplest way to find out what hiring managers will find when they google you is to conduct your own search. This way, you will know what things you need to change or take down and what items you need to add if your online presence is a bit sparse.

Take control of your career with our free Reputation Report Card Start Your Scan
  1. Log out of any search engines you have accounts with. This reduces the chances of your results being affected by your past searches.
  2. Search for different variations of your name on several search engines (like Google, Bing, or DuckDuckGo). For example:

firstname + lastname

firstname + middle initial + lastname

firstname + lastname + city

firstname + lastname + occupation

  1. Don’t forget to search for images and videos too.
  2. Create a list of any search results that make you appear unprofessional. Then, review each item to figure out if you or someone else posted it. This is an important step because your options for dealing with negative content will be different depending on who controls it.
  3. Of the items you own, decide whether it makes more sense to edit the content or delete it.

When in doubt, be sure to mark for deletion any content that contains:

  • Explicit images or comments you have posted, or that others have posted about you
  • References to you using illegal drugs
  • Controversial statements having to do with race, gender, or religion
  • Your complaints about a previous company or coworker
  • Proof that you lied about your qualifications
  • Confidential information you have posted about a company you used to work for

“If I come across something inappropriate, I won’t submit you for the job, even if you’re a good candidate otherwise. Speaking negatively about other people or about your current or previous company, for example, is an automatic red flag.”—Tracey Russell, national recruiter at Naviga Recruiting & Executive Search

  1. Compare your search results to your resume and make sure there is a way for employers to verify your skills and achievements online. For example, if you claim to have written hundreds of articles but don’t have an online writing portfolio, then you’ll need to set up a website where you can showcase your work.

Remove or edit any content that reflects badly on you

Find the list you created earlier of which items you need to remove and which ones only require some editing. Then, take the following steps:

Are online reputation issues hurting your job prospects? Find out with our free Reputation Report Card. Start Your Scan

1. Clean up your social media profiles57% of social media users regret sharing something online. Therefore, it’s likely you have too. To improve your online image, you need to go through all your previous social media posts to remove or alter any content that reflects badly on you or that people might misconstrue. If you are on the fence about whether you really need to delete something or whether you can get by with simply changing the wording, it’s probably better to go ahead and delete it. Just be sure to avoid erasing your entire history, because having zero online presence will make you appear less trustworthy to employers. 

“Whether it’s intentional or not, this [not having a profile] always feels like you have something to hide,” said Sims. “Either you’ve specifically taken steps to make sure you can’t be found, or you’re using a childish byname – neither of which feels very professional.”—DeeAnn Sims, founder of SPBX.

2. Request removals or edits of content you don’t own—It’s a bit trickier to take down or modify content that someone else has posted, but it’s still worth a try. If the content is posted on a social platform, you can flag the content for removal if it breaks the site’s Terms of Service rules. If not, you’ll need to look through the websites where the offending content is posted to identify who has the power to change or delete it. Then, you’ll need to email that person, asking him or her for the removal and explaining how the content has harmed you (like preventing you from getting a job). Another option is to check Google’s removal policies to see if Google will delete the content.

Take control of your career with our free Reputation Report Card Start Your Scan

3. Ask people not to tag you in photos—Letting friends and family tag you in embarrassing pictures that you might not consent to—or even know about—results in a loss of control of your online image. As such, it’s vital that you ask your friends to avoid tagging you in pictures on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, especially when you are looking for a new job. You should also go to each platform and change the settings there to limit tagging or let you review photos you’re tagged in before they appear in your timeline.

4. Separate the personal from the professional on social media—You want potential employers to be able to discern your personality and skills from your social media posts. However, you don’t want them seeing your holiday photos or pictures of you dressing up your cats. A good compromise is to keep separate personal and professional accounts and make your personal posts only visible to close friends and family. Make sure the friend lists for the different accounts don’t overlap, and ask your loved ones to only post to your personal accounts.

5. Fact-check before you share90% of people don’t verify the things they read on social media. This means that when they share this information, they might be posting misleading or untrue content. Unfortunately, not fact-checking what you share can lessen your credibility over time. Like the main character in “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” you will have a hard time convincing people that you are telling the truth if you have a history of spreading falsehoods. To ensure what you’re sharing online is accurate, you can look up the information in a reputable source, like a newspaper or on an online fact-checking site.

Create your own website

One of the easiest ways to influence the online conversation regarding your name is to purchase your name as a domain—for example, FirstnameLastname.com. This ensures your website will feature prominently in your search results.

Buying a FirstnameLastname.com domain will also protect your name from being used against you if someone else purchases that domain first. One example of this is when the infamous pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli purchased the domain names of journalists he didn’t like and used the sites to mock them.

However, this doesn’t mean you have to create a whole new website if you don’t want to. Instead, you can direct your personalized URL to any website you want, including your Facebook page, your LinkedIn account, your personal blog, or a landing page like about.me.

Post content that shows off your knowledge, skills, and personality

Some ways to demonstrate your employability include writing blog posts, answering questions in online forums, sharing industry news on social media, and commenting on other people’s content. 

Of course, regardless of the type of content you post online, you need to use correct grammar and spelling to impress hiring managers. There are also some less obvious tips you should follow:

  • Focus on the positive—You should only share upbeat comments and posts. Whining and complaining on social media is not only a sign of immaturity, but it also makes potential employers think twice about hiring you, especially if your gripes involve previous jobs or coworkers.
Are online reputation issues hurting your job prospects? Find out with our free Reputation Report Card. Start Your Scan
  • Differentiate yourself from others with the same name—If your name is a common one, or someone with a strong online presence (even if it’s a positive one) shares your name, potential employers could confuse you with someone else. Therefore, you’ll need to take steps to clarify your professional identity. 

A good way to set yourself apart from others with your same name is to use variations of your name. For example, you could:

  • Include your middle initial or middle name
  • Go by your full legal name instead of a nickname (for example, Michael vs. Mike)
  • Add your maiden name as a middle name or as part of a hyphenated last name

Just make sure to use your professional name consistently on everything you post online. This includes your email signature, blogging username, social media profiles, website “About Me” page, and so on. You should also use the same easily identifiable photo of yourself.

  • Post the correct content on each social platform—Different sites have different audiences, all of whom are expecting to see certain types of content. For example, people go to Facebook to catch up with friends and family. They go to Twitter to learn what’s trending, and they go to LinkedIn to grow their professional networks and find jobs. As such, posting the wrong kind of content on a social media platform (like sharing a non-work-related family photo on LinkedIn) might make you appear tone deaf, or worse, incompetent.

Optimize your LinkedIn profile

A strong LinkedIn profile is key to building a personal brand that highlights your professionalism. To make sure it paints you in the best light, you should do the following: 

  • Use keywords—Recruiters have a better chance of finding you on LinkedIn if your profile (especially your headline, job title, and About section) contains the right keywords. One good way to know you are using appropriate keywords is to see what words employers are using in their job postings.

For example, you should change a short, nondescriptive headline like “Vice President of Sales at XYZ Corporation” to a more keyword-dense one like “VP of Sales. Driver of Revenue Growth for Cloud-Based Technology Solutions. Sales Ops Leadership & Product Development.”

  • Get recommendations—Ask your current and previous coworkers and supervisors for endorsements and recommendations. This social proof of your qualifications is what hiring managers are looking for.
  • Be specific in your accomplishments—Unlike a resume, your LinkedIn profile has lots of room for you to talk about your career accomplishments. So, be sure to go into detail about your past job duties and what you did that set you apart from your peers.
Are online reputation issues hurting your job prospects? Find out with our free Reputation Report Card. Start Your Scan
  • Keep your About section short—Serving as a cover letter to anyone who comes across your profile, your About section is your most powerful reputation tool on LinkedIn. It is where you get to explain who you are, what you do, and why you are good at doing it. As such, you may be tempted to include lots of detailed information. However, it’s best to limit this section to one or two paragraphs to avoid boring your readers or coming across as self-aggrandizing.
  • Make sure your photo and headline look professional—Your photo is one of the first things recruiters look at on your LinkedIn profile. While you don’t need to hire a professional photographer to take your picture, you do need to make sure that whatever photo you use presents a professional image. Wear work-appropriate clothing, keep the background simple, and smile.

“At a minimum, a LinkedIn or other social network should have a photo of some kind. To be honest, authenticity is important and even a photo that you wish wasn’t available online may help convey an aspect of your personality that a recruiter would like to see.”—Glen Loveland, HR manager at CCTV.”

Monitor your online reputation

Because people are always posting new content, you can’t just sit back and relax once you’ve taken the steps outlined above to improve your online reputation. Instead, you need to regularly monitor the Web for new mentions of your name. This enables you to respond to potential reputation problems before potential employers find them.

Take control of your career with our free Reputation Report Card Start Your Scan

One way to listen to what others are saying about you on the Internet is to routinely Google yourself. However, there are also several tools you can use automate the monitoring process:

With all of these websites, you simply enter your email address and the term you want to search for, and the tool sends you email notifications each time your name pops up online. 

For more information

Whether you are applying for a new job or are positioning yourself for a promotion, you need to learn how to keep your online reputation looking as good as possible. To see more detailed information on this topic, we offer several self-help articles, including:

You can also call us for free advice about your particular reputation situation.