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DIY Online Reputation Management: Exorcise the Skeletons in Your Digital Closet

It’s no secret that companies research the digital past and present of potential new hires. Anything discoverable by Google with your name attached to it is fair game—especially publically shared pictures and posts on social media sites. Some companies and government agencies have even taken to asking for your Facebook password so they can take a more intimate perusal through your account. (Although some have argued that such requests may be attempts to screen out overly compliant and gullible individuals who might potentially give away confidential company information.) Even a thirty minute minute cursory web search can turn up your embarrassing college photos, angry political screeds and YouTube party videos—any of which may diminish your employment prospects. Some companies are using sophisticated searches that leave no rock unturned.”As a former Google recruiter, I’ve been trained to do deep dive Boolean (Internet) searches,” says Andrew Liu, a recruiter for HR for Startups, a San Francisco firm that handles talent acquisition for Bay Area tech companies. “My advice to candidates is to be careful and protect as much of your info as possible.”Job hunters and college applicants aren’t the only ones who should be worrying about their online identity. Small businesses, CEOs, doctors and lawyers can also be negatively impacted by the digital equivalent of dirty laundry. A negative review from an angry patient on a website like Avvo or Health Gradescan give a health provider major headaches and hurt their reputation. A pithy critique of a restaurant on Yelp could cost it plenty of new diners. A single bad review, in many cases, outweighs a dozen good ones. As these black marks add up, many professionals and businesses are turning to online reputation management services to help remove them.

Like Scrubbing Bubbles For Your Online Reputation

Reputation management services offer what is, essentially, an online makeover—spotlighting flattering features and concealing negative ones for individuals, high-level professionals and businesses alike. These companies often begin by auditing your online identity and identifying potentially troubling areas.

“Facebook and Twitter are the two most popular [sites for employers to look at] as you can really get insight into an individual’s personality and to see the true nature of their beliefs and interest,” says Evan Lamont, a brand management specialist. “[Whereas] LinkedIn is generally a more polished, professional page and generally contains the same information covered in a resume or cover letter. ”

Lamont is CEO of the California based Lamont Group, and has worked with doctors, attorneys and corporate leaders. He notes that old snapshots lingering online can create real problems for job-seekers.

“Any photos that contain title or description tags with the individual’s name will also appear [on Google Images],” he warns.

Lamont’s company can help you remove these embarrassing pictures and other less-than-professional data, but his services and others like it can be expensive. The popular site Reputation.com typically charges $120 for $600 for average cases. But individuals with a lot of internet baggage—like politicians, execs or celebrities—may have to pay anywhere between $5,000 and $10,000 a month to have their online reputations kept squeaky clean.

DIY Online Identity Management

For those without money to burn or with a degree of Internet savviness, there’s always the option of hiking up your shirt sleeves and doing your own online scrubbing. Manually removing embarrassing photos from Facebook (or simply activating the default-disabled privacy settings) and deleting controversial blog posts and Tweets is easy enough.

A slightly more difficult option is buying a domain name and establishing a professional website for yourself that serves to distinguish your online identity from less savory characters sharing your name—whether convicted felon or foul-mouthed frat boy. Registering an eponymous domain, if available, typically runs around $10 a year.

Snatching up usernames and profiles with your name on popular websites like Twitter, Flickr and/or building a LinkedIn profile will also help push a more positive portrayal of you to the top of a Google query. Search engines tend to prioritize heavily trafficked sites like these.

More than anything, you should simply watch what you say and what you post on the Internet. After all, it’s the “information superhighway,” not “information inconspicuous back alley.” Staying reputation conscious and protecting your personal brand could save you plenty of hassles and setbacks down the road.

“Conservative companies will definitely think twice about a blog post or Facebook photo that paints a candidate in a poor light, regardless of position, but definitely for senior level roles,” says Liu. “For startup companies, they are a little less buttoned up and just want very smart and hard working people. If you’re a little weird, or like to party, sometimes that’s seen as a plus!”

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