Avoid the Pitfalls of Digital Dirt

Many executives and recruiters regularly use the Internet to search for
both positive and negative information about a candidate’s background.

By Rose Curtis | July 2006

A recent survey conducted by ExecuNet revealed that 75 percent of 102 executive recruiters perform routine online searches as part of their background checks on prospective hires. The survey also points out that more than 25% of these recruiters have rejected candidates based on background information that was discovered via searches on Google, Yahoo, and Dogpile, as well as such social networking sites as Myspace, Facebook, Friendster, and Xanga. The "incriminating" personal information – commonly referred to as "online personas" or "digital dirt" – found through informal, online searches is rapidly becoming a way for employers to screen job seekers.

Especially for recent graduates, the Internet has been a forum for expressing private frustrations and interests; many young professionals, though, fail to realize just how public these expressions have become. Many executives and recruiters regularly use the Internet to search for both positive and negative information about a candidate’s background, including drug use, extreme political views, excessive profanity, or sexual exploits. All of these lifestyle behaviors can taint a prospective employee’s professionalism and decision-making abilities in a hiring manager’s eyes.

Although some of these sites are accessible only through registration, these hurdles are often easy to overcome. School recruiters can use email addresses to view pages of students who attend a given schools; these recruiters might also ask student interns to conduct searches for them. Most of the information on the Internet is self-published, and can therefore be managed. However, another possibility about digital dirt is that someone else has posted information or embarrassing pictures of you on the Internet.

To make sure that you prevent digital dirt from compromising your career opportunities, following these guidelines:

Conduct an Online Search

Do a search for your name on the Internet and take a look at the results. If the search results contain something that raises a red flag, contact the owners of the site and request that the information be removed. You can also receive alerts when new information about you is published with sites like PubSub, which sends you an email when your matching information appears.

Scrub Your Online Persona

If you have a blog or page on a social networking site such as Friendster or Myspace, take a critical look at how you present yourself. Is there anything that would offend anyone or jeopardize your career? If you have unwelcome guests posting unwanted responses to your blog entries, activate comment blocks, or delete these comments.

Replace Old Dirt with New Dirt

Most Internet searches yield results in reverse chronological order, meaning newer content is ranked first. Furthermore, information published on the Internet can float on the World Wide Web for many years. If you are unable to remove unflattering information about you on websites, try to post new content that highlights your personal and professional persona. You can write letters to the editor of online magazines or post new blog entries. The more entries you publish, the deeper your digital dirt will be buried.

Remember, within any tight job market, competition is fierce, and hiring managers look for any reason to reject a potential job candidate. Don¿t let digital dirt undermine your resume. Take steps to make sure your online persona complements, and not detracts, from your professional accomplishments.

Rose Curtis is a freelance writer living in New York City.