Drunken party pics on your Facebook page. Idiotic tweets. A half-assed LinkedIn profile you asked your nephew to put together between bar gigs. A night in the slammer for letting a goat loose in the gym on Senior Day. None of these look good to prospective bosses—and, trust me, they will look you up online.
Believe it or not, 75% of recruiters are required (required!) to research a prospect on the Web; what’s more, 70% of employers have nixed recruits based on what they’ve found there, a survey by cyber-reputation management company Reppler found.
To stand out from the crowd—in only the best ways—and get the job you want, here’s how to dress up and clean up the online you.
Firsts first: Look great on LinkedIn
No two ways about it: LinkedIn profiles have replaced the traditional résumé. Last year, 93% of recruiters said they check social profiles before making a hiring decision, according to a survey by online HR resource Jobvite. The site they used the most? LinkedIn, to check candidates’ experience and skills as well as less-tangible metrics like how well they write or whether they’ll be a good fit for the company.
So to really shine, you need to make your LI page as strong as possible, with an impressive summary of your experience, a flattering, appropriate photo, and detailed descriptions of at least your past two positions.
But you’ll need to go way beyond the obvious stuff. To wit:
In your headline and job history, embed the most industry keywords you can—LinkedIn filters its searches so profiles with the most relevant terms jump to the top. For instance, for a headline: “Fundraising consultant who helps major nonprofits raise more money. Clients include the Red Cross” (from an LI post by recruiter Pete Liebman). Throw in keywords relevant to your industry into your job history (like “SEO” for Web search).
■ Create a vanity URL for your profile, so instead of linkedin.com/in/172177, you’re linkedin.com/in/marioarmstrong. This puts your profile higher in Google’s search results. (The Help Center has how-tos.)
■ Add enticing extras—like multimedia content—to your profile. If you’re a designer, say, turn your page into a portfolio highlighting your best work by uploading JPEG files into your profile.
■ Get endorsements! Nothing makes your profile pop more than getting folks you’ve worked with to sing your praises.
■ Join LinkedIn discussion groups and participate to grab members’ attention—one could be looking for talent.
■ Sign up for LinkedIn Premium, starting at $30 a month, which gives you killer advantages such as the ability to contact industry higher-ups or contacts who could give you a hand, so you can get advice or ask to grab a cup of coffee and talk about the field. (Free LinkedIn users can send InMail direct messages only to people they’re connected to.) Premium also lets you create “Relationship” tabs when you view a profile, so you can make notes, set reminders to reach out, and build a tag system to organize present and future connections.
Put on your best (public) face
Unless you’re stuck with a supergeneric name like Tom Smith (in which case, skip this part because they’ll never find you), take the time to brand your online image.
First, attach a face to the name. Just like the first picture on your Tinder profile, your social media photo will shape first impressions of you, so choose carefully. Get a good shot of yourself dressed correctly for your profession—how formal you go depends on the culture you want to be part of. For finance, it’s a suit; for gigs in media or start-ups, something more casual (but not ridiculously so) will be fine.
On that note: Companies want happy employees, so smile—at least a little. In a study by neuroscientist Andrew Newberg, M.D., in which subjects rated the emotional content of symbols they were shown, the one rated highest in positive emotional content was the smiley face.
Survey says...! Clean up your act
Once you have a great pic, use it to update your profile image all across the Web—WordPress, Blogger, every account tied to your name—to make sure employers see the best you in their search results.
Now, for your posts. Jobvite’s survey unearthed some other employer-related nuggets. The good news: Candidates who posted about doing volunteer work or donating to charity were more likely to be considered for a job, so talk up your good deeds on social. And more than 60% of hirers didn’t care about political posts, so you’re probably cool there. (Though 17% did mind them, so if you’ve posted pics waving the Confederate flag, heads up.)
Profanity, poor spelling or grammar, and mentions of drugs, sex, guns, and alcohol all made a hire less likely. So spell-check all your social profiles and bios and edit them line by line for other typos. (Reading through them backward is also a guaranteed glitch-catcher.) For questionable subject matter, though, you may have to take more drastic action. Like deletion.
Trash those old tweets
Take Ethan Czahor, who was Jeb Bush’s chief technology officer. For a 36-hour window earlier this year, the 31-year-old’s career came crashing down when reporters unearthed a cache of homophobic and sexist tweets from as far back as ’09. Oops.
With HR departments getting more and more tech savvy, the same thing could happen to you, so cleaning is in order. Instead of relying on Twitter’s own janky Web-search feature to find your embarrassing tweets, I’d vote for declaring old-tweet bankruptcy and doing a one-shot deletion of all tweets older than, say, a few months. Sites like TweetDelete can also help you do it in just a few clicks.
Tame your Facebook
You know by now that all the crazy frat-party photos need to go, so I won’t bore you with the basics of sanitizing your profile. But a few great tips can keep prying HR eyes from seeing your FB blunders.
To start, bolt the doors: Only friends should be able to see your page, so adjust “who can see my posts” in the privacy settings. You can even turn off the “let search engines link to your timeline” option so that you’re harder to find in the first place.
Finally, if an employer tries to friend you or asks for your FB username and password—Maryland’s Department of Corrections used to do just that, till the state made it illegal; and last year an Emory University junior told USA Today he’d been asked for his username/password multiple times when applying for marketing and management internships—I suggest you ignore the request (if it’s online) or politely say no. Many states now have laws banning this type of invasiveness, so do some research if it happens to you.
Bottom line: Sure, saying no could lose you the gig, but do you want to work for a joint that goes to that level of Big Brother?
Beautify your own site
If you want employers to see you in positive Google results when they search your name, get yourself to the top of the rankings by creating a strong Web presence.
First, buy your own name as a domain name. Namecheap (namecheap.com) gives you a dot-com in your name, plus a free year of WhoisGuard to keep your e-mail address and phone number offline.
Next, build the site. This doesn’t have to be painful—with tools like Squarespace and Wix, you can whip up a good one in a few hours. Unless you have a huge portfolio or client list, go simple: Include a strong headline saying who you are/what you do, a bio highlighting your experience/accomplishments, and a few of your best work samples. Or, simpler, create just a landing page—I like Flavors (flavors.me)—with basic info and social links.
Last, put the URL into your “website” on LinkedIn and at the bottom of your Twitter bio to speed it into Google’s algorithms.
Erase a negative rep
If a drunken mistake made it into the papers or an evil ex is trying to tarnish your name—all of which could pop up in a Google search—you’ll need the big guns. Namely, online-reputation management.
Reputation.com is the industry leader; its top service, ReputationDefender, which starts at $3,000, will create several sites and dozens of posts to highlight your positives and banish the dirty laundry to Google’s back pages. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth it if you’ve got that amount of dirt.