Every once in a while, I would run a Google search on myself. On the first page, I would see my LinkedIn profile, an article I wrote a few years ago on an obscure topic, and my five-star Yelp rating. Thankfully, no drunken college pictures appeared. So my Google footprint was clean — which is supposed to be good. But then I ran a search on two other attorneys I highly respect and saw pages showing their accomplishments, their connections, and newspaper articles featuring their names. That’s when I realized that I was a nobody.
But now that I am looking for a job, it is very important that my internet image is clean and wholesome. So I did a more detailed search. I tried using different search engines, like Yahoo and Bing. I also used more detailed search terms. Unfortunately, I discovered an old rant on a message board which I think some employers might find offensive. So now I had to find a way to remove it before someone sees it….
It’s hard enough to get noticed by employers these days. When you are one résumé among a large group of job applicants, you will feel like a nobody. These days, if you want to get the attention of an employer or recruiter, a cover letter and résumé are the minimum documentation you need. Your internet image will tell someone more about yourself — whether you like it or not, and whether it is true or not.
When I was interviewing potential employees, I looked at cover letters and résumés with a level of skepticism. They were highly prepped and scripted — as they should be. But chances are, some of their experience is probably exaggerated and, in rare cases, outright false. And the résumé is not going to tell me certain intangible things that I won’t discover until later — like work ethic, professionalism, and the ability to keep a secret. So I ran Google searches on them to see what I could find. Most of the time, I did not see anything unusual, but there were some instances where I was thankful that I did.
Since I’m back in the job market, I have to assume that potential employers will look me up on the internet as well. While it is paramount to remove any bad information or pictures from your internet history, it is also important that your internet image portrays your expertise and other intangibles that your résumé cannot.
Let’s first discuss how to remove the bad posts about you. Many news websites have policies against removing articles (including Above the Law, so don’t bother asking ATL to take posts down). But you may have greater control over content you have posted on the web yourself.
I won’t get into details in order to protect my anonymity, but I’ll say that in the distant past, I posted an emotional tirade on a message board that contained some NSFW language. Unfortunately, I was unable to delete the post myself, and the webmaster did not get back to my requests to delete it. But I found this helpful infographic and thanks to the advice, I was able to ensure that no employer or internet stalker will connect that comment to me. Some have suggested using other legitimate scrubbing tactics, such as using a different email address and even different regular addresses (or a P.O. Box) on your résumé.
Now that the bad posts are gone, my internet image is clean. But it is also empty, boring, and needing improvement. So one immediate step I took was to set up a website specifically designed for employers. One thing I did was include a very detailed biography about my experiences and future career goals — items that are typically superfluous for a résumé. I plan to periodically write articles and commentary on topics related to the areas I am interested in practicing.
The next step is to be featured on news articles and websites. This requires establishing relationships, which can take time and patience. Nowadays, I found that journalists include their contact information on their articles, and they are for the most part accessible, so long as you act professionally and provide helpful information in return. And I also know solo practitioners with their own blogs, and they are happy to let me guest post once in a while. Finally, if you join a committee or organization and help plan a major event, it is possible that your contributions will be noted on the organization’s website.
Since it is common knowledge that employers — and others — will look you up on the internet, a solid internet image is crucial and can determine if you will get called for a second interview. So I plan to tweak my internet image to project my professionalism, work ethic, connections and leadership skills. Otherwise, I will be another résumé in the pile.
Shannon Achimalbe was a former solo practitioner for five years before deciding to sell out and get back on the corporate ladder. Shannon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.