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Polish Your Online Image

Compromising photos or offensive posts could deflate your career prospects.

When you sit down for a job interview, assume that the people on the other side of the table have run a Web search on you and peeked at your social media pages. Even if you’re not looking for work, keeping your online persona clean will serve you well when a recruiter, business contact or even your current employer looks you up.

Orchestrate your search results. Knowing what’s out there is the first step. See what pops up when you search your name with Google, and set up a Google Alert of your name to monitor the Web for its use. You’ll get an e-mail notification each time new information involving your name appears in the search engine.

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Your biggest concern should be what appears on the first page of Google search results, which is as far as many people will look. Try to push positive content you’ve created to the top, especially if something unflattering about you turns up. For example, build a Web site—WordPress is a popular platform for beginners—using your name as the domain, if it’s available. Post your résumé and any articles or papers you’ve written, says Mary Ellen Slayter, a career expert for job-search site Monster. Making insightful comments on articles you’ve read and blogging in your area of expertise can help make your search results shine, too. If other people with the same name are competing with you for top Google results, you may want to differentiate your name—say, by using a middle initial.

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Clean up your social media profiles. Any public pages you have on social networking mega sites, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, will likely rise to the top of search results for your name. You don’t necessarily need to sterilize your pages, but you should delete any offensive comments that you or anyone else has posted on your page. Photographs of you enjoying time with friends and family show a well-rounded life and personality. But pictures of you grasping drinks at bars and parties—especially if you have just graduated from college—could be problematic.

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Deactivating your social media accounts to remove compromising information is tempting, but it could backfire, Slayter says. A Web search for your name may end up yielding more negative or irrelevant content—for instance, sites listing your name and address or your online reviews of restaurants and hotels. And a potential employer may be suspicious of your behavior or unimpressed if you disappear from the map.

Harmonize with the “real” you. Besides ferreting out red flags, employers want to see how well a job candidate’s online presence matches the rest of the candidate’s profile, says Lida Citroen, owner and principal of LIDA360, which specializes in reputation management. Your cover letter and résumé may sell you as energetic and Web-savvy, but a languishing LinkedIn page won’t support it. As you build your online presence, think about how you want people to perceive you, and try to be authentic. (But not too authentic. Peppering curse words throughout blog posts probably isn’t a winning idea.) “It’s a lot easier to be you than to be someone else,” Citroen says.

Face the music. Prepare a response to questions you may receive about any unfavorable material on the Web that you can’t remove—scandalous photos, a criminal record, blog posts from detractors. Often, a potential employer is as interested in how you reply as in the issue itself, Citroen says. You could explain what you learned from a business failure or describe how you’ve developed since an incident during your college years.

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