Understand Your Online Identity

When was the last time you googled yourself?

Or MSNed, or BINGed yourself? If you have any kind of an online presence, you will show up. That includes, Facebook, LinkedIn, discussion groups, mailing lists, posts to photo and video sites etc.
You may have been mentioned in a blog. Or perhaps someone posted a picture of you on their site. Before you go to interviews, it pays to see how the rest of the world sees you. Because today everyone uses search engines.

Make A List

So, the first thing is to do a search. Put your first and last name in quotations, like this "Your Name". If you have a well-known nickname, do the same for that. Also, search for your name together with your school(s), companies you've worked for and any other associations you've been affiliated with.

Use at least three search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo. You may also consider specialized engines such as technorati.com (Blog search engine), blogsearch.google.com (Google blog search), video.google.com (Google video search) and youTube.com (Video search). Look at the first three to five pages of results as a minimum.

But what if there are school party pictures – hey you won the keg contest, and it was featured on drunkenuniversity, remember? What about remnants of a heated online discussion where you weren't your mature best? Or someone else's not-so-wonderful comments about you? How about that collection of dubious photos on the photo site? Time to make a list and do something about it.

First, fix what you can control

If the problem is your own Facebook page, MySpace site, YouTube posting, Flickr collection or blog, change it. Make it private or delete it – the sooner the better. Look for pictures, text and videos. What's your criteria for changing something? Just ask yourself how you would discuss this sitting across from a potential employer, or worse yet, your mom.

What about sites you don't control?

Here's where you learn diplomacy. In the kindest possible way, you are going to contact the Webmaster, blogger or content owner and ask to have that information removed. Be specific about the page and section and ask for them to take it down as a courtesy to you. Tell them it doesn't accurately represent you, and thank them in advance.

What if they don't remove that nasty comment?

If after asking a few times, they either don't respond or flat out tell you "no", you have a few options. If it's something you feel comfortable speaking to in an interview, be prepared to do so. If it's beyond that, and you feel it's defamatory, you may want to consult a lawyer to get it removed. Often a strongly-worded letter from a lawyer will do the job.

Take positive action

Sometimes the embarrassing stuff is ages old, but still shows up because there's nothing new about you. So, the trick is to start creating new and positive content about yourself across various Web sites. Since search engines like "new" over "old", this will start showing up on top in the results.

Start by creating or updating your profile on networking sites such as LinkedIn, Zoominfo, etc. Add more contacts, and ask for references. Go to industry sites that have forums or blogs and participate. Comment on posts using your full name. Have you read any business books recently? Why not write reviews on the book sites such as Chapters/Indigo, Amazon or Random House?

If you have your own Web site or blog, update it. On your blog consider adding industry news and a blog roll to other industry sites and blogs.

Your job is to "get out there". Give the search engines plenty of good content to find about you. You don't have to restrict it to your professional life though. If you belong to clubs, organizations or groups that show you in a favorable light, make sure you participate so that your name shows up. If you have interesting photographs, post them on a photo site.

Monitor your name

Going forward, it pays to keep track of your name on the Web. You can use free tools such as Google Alerts to monitor the Web and send you emails whenever it finds your name. You never know if someone else is mentioning you (ex main squeeze writing memoirs online?). Google is your friend and will let you know.

Net takeaway

Assume everyone uses search engines. Before hiring you, your name will be searched many times. Be prepared.