When applying for a job, you’re really giving a relative stranger permission to stalk you online.
But what if you don’t like what comes up when people Google your name? What if you have a common name and can’t distinguish yourself? Or, worse, what if you share a name with a drug dealer who’s in the news more often than you are?
Thankfully, you can turn Google’s search results in your favor when you’re applying for a job.
Google Yourself When Applying For a Job
You might feel strange about searching your name on Google. But consider this: A Harris Interactive survey, paid for by online reputation firm BrandYourself, said 75 percent of U.S. adults have searched for themselves online.
A more important number: 48 percent of them said most of their results weren’t positive.
When searching your name, sign out of your Google account or use a private-browsing window that hides your location. You’ll want to see what strangers see.
Beyond confirming your credentials, company human resources managers are likely to search for you online to make sure no red flags exist. A silly tweet or a college Facebook picture, for example, could cost you an interview or job offer.
What Google Will and Won’t Remove From Search Results
Thankfully, Google — and other popular websites populating your content in its search results — allow you to limit what you share on the web.
Be careful about sharing your date of birth, telephone number, and address — all of which Google typically won’t remove from search results. For example, sharing your age with an employer might affect how a potential employer perceives your experience level (although you should know that this is illegal discrimination).
Fortunately, Google will remove the following from search results. Some of it won’t affect your job application but will affect your vulnerability to fraud:
- Social Security number
- Bank account number
- Credit card number
- Images of signature
- Nude or sexually explicit images
- Medical records
Anytime you submit this kind information to an unsecured website, it could end up in search engines.
The first step toward removing sensitive information or unflattering images that have been shared without your consent is to contact the webmaster of the website sharing it.
Google can only stop this content from showing up in search results; it can’t remove it from the internet.
If a website has deleted the content in question but it’s still showing up in Google search results, you can use the search engine’s quick tool to make a formal removal request.
If, on the other hand, the webmaster isn’t responsive or won’t grant your request, you’ll need to provide the following to Google:
- Website URL
- Google search URL
- Screenshots of the material
Google’s troubleshooter can guide you through these steps.
How to Control Social Media in Your Search Results
Off-putting search results can also come straight from your social media accounts.
Depending on where you’re applying for a job, you might not want social media updates and blog posts to be public. A would-be engineer, for example, might prefer to promote their carefully curated LinkedIn page, but keep their oft-political Twitter account out of the spotlight.
Thankfully, the following platforms (and others like them) make it simple to remove or strengthen their ranking in your search results.
WordPress: Under the “Reading” settings, you can choose whether you want your blog or website included in search engine results.
Facebook: In privacy settings, you can select whether you want your profile page included in search results.
Even if you hide your profile from the web, you might still want to restrict access to other Facebook users. A hiring manager with their own account could find you using the search bar, skipping Google altogether.
Twitter: Differentiating your Twitter name and username from your professional name will eventually remove the account from Google search results, according to Twitter.
Protecting your tweets with a password will also stop search engines like Google from cataloging them. If your newly-protected tweets still show up in search, there’s recourse.
Paste a link to the questionable tweet in Google’s quick removal tool. (If you’re not sure if you have damaging tweets, you can have Twitter send you a link to download your archive for inspection.)
LinkedIn: You can check boxes to select who can view certain aspects of your public profile. That’s how you can manage your networking profiles that show up in search results. How you improve them is mostly about common sense.
You’ll likely find, for example, that your headshot on any one of these platforms will come up as a top Google Images result. So pick a professional one.
If you’re fresh out of college, you might even want to consider creating separate accounts on these platforms that can be used when applying for a job. That’s just one of the things that recent grads can do to score a first job.
4 Tips to Managing Your Online Presence
Erasing negative search results is one thing. Creating a positive set of results is another exercise, and it might require more effort.
Here are four quick tips to boost positive search results when applying for a job.
1. Claim Your Domain Name
Even if you don’t have a professional purpose (or a personal desire) for a self-titled website, reserve your domain name to keep someone else from abusing it. That’s especially true if you have an uncommon first and last name.
If your name is shared by many other professionals around the globe, consider distinguishing yourself. James Smith, for example, could have an easier time showing up as James O. Smith. If you switch monikers, make sure to be consistent with it on all your job application materials.
When creating a website or blog, implement basic search engine optimization practices. Include the keywords you’d like to rank for — “Student Loan Hero Andy,” for example.
Linking your website to your social media accounts will also help Google connect the dots of who you are and how you want to be represented online.
2. Share Only on Sites With Privacy Settings
If you’re like most people and skip past websites’ terms of conditions and privacy policies, follow a safe rule of thumb: Only post content to websites that allow you to set your privacy preferences. Otherwise, what you share with your friends could be shared more widely than you think.
3. Consider Paying for a Complete Makeover
You can do a lot of cleaning up of your online presence at home. But if you prefer professional help, that option exists.
Scroll through website services like BrandYourself and Reputation X to see what they can do for you. Just be sure to review their free resources before agreeing to pay for something you could do yourself.
4. Set Up Alerts and Perform Routine Searches
You don’t need to feel silly about searching for yourself online. It’s the only way to discover results you might not want to share with your next employer.
To be even more proactive about your digital footprint, set up a Google alert with your name. This way, you’ll be notified via email when your first and last name hit the web.
Anything you say or do can be used against you in a limitless, 24-hour-a-day digital space that isn’t known to be forgetful.
Keep this in mind when marketing yourself and applying for a job. Then consider these expert tips for landing a better job.
This article originally appeared on Student Loan Hero.