Defensive Googling: What Does the Internet Say About You?

It’s common for job applicants to search for company information online before a job interview – but savvy job seekers know that companies may also be searching them. Have you Googled yourself lately?defensive googling 1

The job search resource site Jobhunt.org calls this practice “Defensive Googling,” and it’s a smart practice for every job seeker, whether you have an active online presence or not. A 2012 study conducted by CareerBuilder indicates that nearly 2 in 5 companies use social media to screen candidates, and a third of those reported reconsidering a candidate on the basis of information found online.

So what do you look like online?

It’s valuable to know what online impression you’re making. Even if you’re using privacy settings on your social media, remember that anything you post can be reposted by a friend. If you comment on news articles, web pages, or a company Facebook page, those comments become public. Someone could learn a lot about your political views, what you read or buy, and how you spend your free time just by looking at your online footprint. Social media lets us tie together a lot of our online activity, but you might choose to skip the convenience of one-click logins and read or shop anonymously – it all depends on your own personal comfort level.

But what if it’s not you they’re looking at?

In the vast world of online information, it’s entirely possible that a search conducted on your name will turn up information on someone whose name is a match, but whose behavior is not. Even if you’re never online – even if your public persona is squeaky clean – you have no control over the impression made by others with your same name. It’s up to you to be aware of any potential mistaken impressions and deal with them proactively.

If you’re aware that you could be mistaken for another person, you may want to consider using a nickname or variation on your name, or adding your middle or maiden name to your online profiles in order to make it easier to tell you from someone else. Use this version of your name consistently in all your job search activities.

Here are some tips for managing your online reputation:

defensive googling

  • Set up a Google Alert or use a service like SocialMention or TweetBeep to notify you when new content or search results match your name.
  • Assume that everything you post will become public
  • If you’re tagged in a post or photo that you don’t care to be publically associated with for all time, remove the tag that identifies you. Ask others not to post content without your consent.
  • Treat others as you would like to be treated online, and respect others’ right to privacy
  • Check your online identity regularly; be sure to use more than one search engine
  • Post positive content about yourself to move negative/inaccurate/misleading content down in the search results

It pays to be aware of the information available about you online – and the impression it can make. While I’m not suggesting that anyone needs to hide who they are or try to put up a false front (far from it!), everyone needs to take responsibility for managing their online reputation. It’s one of your greatest assets in the Information Age.

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