Six ways to stop one Google search ruining your career

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Believe it or not, most recruiters search you out online during the screening process meaning your digital footprint could be jeopardising your career prospects. Christian Bace offers six ways you can make sure your online activities don’t scupper your job chances

The challenges facing job-hunters nowadays aren’t just restricted to high unemployment and the competitive nature of the job market. As the Huffington Post has recently pointed out, recruiters will scope you out online during the screening process and it’s this digital footprint that could jeopardise your chances of finding your dream job.

What your Facebook account says about you

What does your Facebook account say about you? That profile picture of you holding several pints of beer whilst dancing on the table may show your fun and sociable side to your friends, but what would it suggest to a potential employer?

How about your Twitter profile? The nature of a tweet – quick, succinct and often irreverent – means you can send something potentially offensive and incriminating without realising it. Just ask some of the country’s MPs. Websites like We Know What You Are Doing show just how easy it is to find out who the excessive drinkers and drug-takers are. It’s important, then, that you make sure what you’re putting online today won’t create trouble later.

You may face the problem that your social media accounts were created at a time when hunting for your first proper job wasn’t the major thing on your mind. If you create your various profiles – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and so on – during your school or college years, your social media activity starts off as a primarily informal social experiment to engage with friends and meet new people.

How forgotten social media updates from years ago can cause problems

However, as the years go on it’s easy to forget that time you made an inappropriate comment about that political issue, or the time you uploaded holiday snaps that may cause you some embarrassment later on down the line. When you’re CV building, collecting references and working on dozens of different cover letter templates, the last thing you’ll want to do is trawl through thousands of status updates from years gone by.

It’s important that you do, however, as it only takes one off-putting comment to get your application binned. Why take that chance? Here are six practical steps you can take to ensure a spotless digital footprint – and if this seems like a lot of effort, bear in mind that other applicants will be going to these lengths.

1. Google yourself. It might seem a bit pretentious, but this is where the recruiters will start. If you see something inappropriate, and it’s from something you did on Facebook, simply delete it there and then. If it’s something a friend has tagged you in, you can untag yourself.If the content in question is on an external website over which you have no control, a nicely-written email to the site’s webmaster can often remedy the problem.

TIP: Use speech marks around your name when you search (for example, “John Smith”). This will make sure Google looks specifically for that text.

2. Check your privacy settings, and make sure everything is as private as it can be. These settings can be hidden away, but a useful website to help you out here is, don’t assume this gives you a license to do and say what you want because only your ‘friends’ can see your profile – especially if you’re connected to hundreds of people. Anybody with a grievance can take a screenshot, and Google results can sometimes circumnavigate such settings.

3. Download your history. Sites like Twitter and Facebook have options available that let you download every status you ever made into one document. Once you’ve done this, you can easily do keyword searches for inappropriate comments and quickly identify how far back you need to go on your account to delete such things.

4. Get a second opinion. Ask someone you trust to give you their honest impression of what your pages say about you. They might see things which you don’t realise could be held against you.

5. Make yourself appear professional. You may have decided that since your profile picture is of you in a bar acting normally, smiling brightly and clearly sober, there’s no need to delete that. Great, your recruiter might think that’s fine too. But is it going to impress them? Why not show a picture of yourself receiving an award or qualification? Or that time you suited up for a friend’s wedding? Have you done any volunteer work that has been captured on camera? General common sense often prevails here: make yourself presentable.

6. Make yourself un-Googleable. If you must have an outlet online where you can vent and say what you wish then simply create an anonymous account that has nothing to do with your real name, background or current occupation. Of course, you still have to abide by the law; don’t be that guy who gets arrested over a stupid tweet.

When you have a nice, clean and respectable digital footprint, you’ll have one less hurdle to overcome in your hunt for a new job.

Christian Bace is AAT's former Online Community Coordinator.

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