Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Erase Your Online Footprint

Most legal job-seekers already know how to carefully craft resumes and cover letters, and that they must dress-- and behave-- professionally at interviews and call-backs. But it’s how they behave in their "off" time that may ultimately cost them the job: last year, nearly a quarter of hiring managers surveyed by CareerBuilder.com admitted to investigating candidate profiles on social networks and other websites; of these employers, one-third had declined to interview or hire a candidate based upon what they found. (Full Story)

Suddenly haunted by that Facebook photo album from last year’s Halloween party? Worried about all those spirited debates you had on that geeky listserv back in college? Looking up resources to legally change your name? Hold on! The Goodson Blogson is here to help you clear your good name.

1. Google thyself. See what potential employers will see. Put your name in quotation marks; experiment with and without your middle initial. If you have a very common name, try adding your hometown as an extra keyword, or your college/university name. Although you have limited options for removing any damaging material on someone else’s website, Google does offer a help page for Removing Information from Google. If it’s your own site that you’d like removed from search results, see Webpage Removal Request.

Remember that although Google is certainly the engine of choice for most users, different search engines will yield different results. Pipl, a people-finding search engine, also allows you to search based on a person’s name, an e-mail address, or a screen name (such as AIM). Pipl crawls the “deep web” to find pages that other search engines do not generally unearth, and is a good secondary place to check for information that may give potential employers pause. A quick check of your personal profiles on social networks like Facebook may also be helpful. Again, your control over the content on others’ sites may be limited, but if you are aware of what potential employers will find, you can meet any embarrassing questions head-on.

2. Close up shop, if necessary. Did your self-search reveal that terrible blog which you haven’t updated since freshman year? A recent PC Magazine article, How to Delete Accounts from Any Website, covers the cancellation procedures for major social networking sites and online retailers, including MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and Blogger. Note: even if you’ve deleted your account on a site, old material may still show up in a search engine cache or on the Wayback Machine.

3. Don’t go completely off the grid. Keep in mind that an applicant need not erase all traces of his or her presence on the web. For example, Facebook offers a wide variety of privacy settings that keep you in control of who views your profile, and the site also allows you to remove tags of embarrassing or incriminating photos...allowing you to happily Facebook amongst friends, and keep your profile locked down from nosy HR staff.

For advice about taming the beast of social networking, see the Social Media Law Student blog series, “What Career Service Office Advisors Should be Telling Law Students about Social Media”. The author, a 3L at St. Louis University School of Law, offers practical tips about effective and professional usage of LinkedIn, Twitter, blogs, and other social media.

These few simple steps at the start of your job search might save your resume from the “recycling” pile. Once you've erased or addressed the past, remember the old adage in the future: try not to put anything on the Internet that you wouldn't want to read on the front page of the New York Times tomorrow (or, perhaps, Above The Law).