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A Guide to Online Presence for Job Seekers

April 13, 2023

You used to have just one resume:  it was paper, you controlled everything in it, and you gave it to hiring personnel.  You got to choose exactly how to present yourself.  

For better or worse, that period in hiring history is now over.  Today, you have two resumes:  the traditional one that you carefully write and edit and distribute, and the nontraditional, digital one that’s the sum of your online activities.  

Many hiring personnel will look at both. Read on for our advice on putting your best foot forward online.

Unfortunately, many people aren’t aware of how public their digital selves are.  Job seekers can no longer afford to neglect their digital resumes and cover letters.  Employers want to know as much as they can about you, and the trail of activity you leave behind you on the Internet gives them a much more detailed view into your life than a carefully-worded resume does.  

Think of it strategically:  when job hunting, you now have another channel to present yourself and make a great first impression (and we’re not just talking about your LinkedIn profile, either).

Online Presence for Job Seekers: Is It Really That Important?

Yep. A CareerBuilder survey found that 66% of employers look up a job candidate online, and 70% look at their public posts on Facebook and other social media platforms. 

There are now even companies that streamline the process of screening job applicants based on their social media presence and other online profiles.

In rare cases, employers may even ask potential hires for their Facebook login information as part of the hiring process. 

Factors to Consider When Deciding Whether or Not to Post Something Online

You want to balance the positives of social networking, like expressing yourself and connecting with people, against the risks.  

One-third of employers who check social networking sites in hiring have passed on a candidate because of a red flag they found in the process. Assume that everything you post on social media sites and elsewhere online (including forums) is public or will end up public.  Ask yourself if you’d be comfortable with it being in a major newspaper next to your name.  

What does it mean for something to be objectionable?  It depends on the workplace culture of the employer you’re interviewing with, but always ask yourself if it’s something you would do in the office or at work or that you can imagine other employers doing.  If the answer is no, de-tag, delete, or don’t post.  

Here are some general guidelines, with particular emphasis on photos:

  • Apply the highest standards to your profile pictures.  These are the ones that employers are most likely to see.
  • Focusing on drinking = bad.  One glass of wine in your hand or a beer in the background is probably fine, but holding three shots up to your face isn’t.
  • No drugs or drug paraphernalia.
  • No sexually explicit or overly suggestive photos.
  • Please don’t document your makeout/hookup through tags.

Certain posts are riskier than others.  

Of hiring managers who declined to hire a candidate, 49% did so because of provocative or generally inappropriate photos and posts, while excessive drinking or drug use came in behind at 45%.  Poor communication skills, like misspellings and bad grammar, came in at 35%.  33% of hiring managers didn’t choose a candidate because that person had publicly badmouthed a previous employer; 28% for discriminatory comments about gender, religion, or race; and 22% for lying about qualifications.

Steps to Take to Sanitize an Unflattering Digital Footprint

First, do a Google search of your name to see what comes up on search engines. This will give you a good idea of what the web is saying about you. 

Then, because a picture’s worth a thousand words, start with photos.  De-tag and delete any photos you’re uncomfortable with being seen by a potential employer.  You can download everything from Facebook in one quick step so you have copies of your pictures.  

Another important cleanup action is removing your personal information from background check websites.  

You may have found your personal information publicly listed and up for sale on background check websites, also called data brokers or people search websites (read more about these websites in our ultimate guide on data brokers).  One example is the site  Take a second now to visit Spokeo and search for yourself; we’ll wait.  You’ll probably be shocked by what comes up (and FYI, here’s how to remove your listing).

Many employers purchase background checks on potential hires as part of the hircess.  

However, background check websites are notorious for providing inaccurate files, sometimes reporting that a potential hire has a criminal record when they don’t, or getting other factual information wrong.  The FTC fined Spokeo $800,000 for actively marketing its background checks to hiring managers and recruiters.

Your best bet is to review the information these sites list about you and either make sure it’s correct or remove it from the site.

We’ve step-by-step guides on how to remove your name from some of the most popular data broker sites. 

Alternatively, our premium DeleteMe service will do the removals for you continuously (data brokers tend to relist individuals as soon as they gather more information on them, even if they had opted out previously). 

Balancing Online Authenticity And the Need for a Professional Image

Think of the job search process for the limited time period that it is:  you won’t have to be this strict forever.  It’s also unnecessary to censor so much that you aren’t yourself.  You can still speak about what’s interesting and exciting and funny to you but do so eloquently and with an eye for potentially risky content.

Use social media profiles and commenting to create a personal brand, improve your online reputation, and showcase your skill set.  

If you’re prepared for a little self-censorship, posting under your real name can be a smart strategy.  Knowing that anything you say online may show up when someone looks you up, use your postings (on personal websites, social media accounts, or elsewhere) to your advantage.  Post intelligent, grammatically-correct, spell-checked, well-reasoned content.  Express yourself in the field in which you want to become established.  Don’t forget that good search results can be better than no search results.

You can also create positive online content to bury negative online content, either by creating your own website or posting on existing sites.

Certain sites consistently appear high in the search results, and by simply creating a profile on them with your name and a bit of identifying information, you can suppress negative results. Make sure you set your privacy settings to be publicly viewed and only post content you’re absolutely sure you won’t regret later. Here’s a list of sites to use:

We hope these FAQs were helpful, and good luck getting hired! 

DeleteMe was created in 2010 when we realized the difficulty of navigating privacy issues in today’s interconnected and digital world. Our mission is to provide everyone with the power to control t…

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