Career Doctor: Repairing Self-Inflicted Online Wounds

What can you do to make sure hiring managers don’t come across unpleasant surprises online.

By Dave Willmer | April 2009 


"I’m an accomplished IT professional with several desirable certifications and strong interview skills, but I’ve found it difficult to land a decent position – and this was true even before the recession. I believe my problems stem from some compromising information about me that was available online until recently. I managed to have the information removed, but what else can I do to make sure hiring managers don’t come across any other unpleasant surprises?"

Dave Willmer responds:

Now that more employers are searching the Internet for information about job applicants, it has become critical for candidates to actively maintain their online presence. However unfair it may be, your chances of landing the position you seek can be damaged by even the slightest piece of unflattering content. And as hiring managers have become increasingly cautious about their investments in new staff, any red flags are likely to carry extra power. A piece of information that might have been a minor embarrassment in the past may be a deal-breaker in today¿s economy.

Repairing Self-Inflicted Online WoundsTake An Inventory

First, make sure you’ve found everything that exists about you online. Problematic content might include unflattering photos on a social networking site, an angry message-board post you wrote about a former employer, information from court documents and so on. Search for your full name surrounded by quotation marks, and repeat the process with several search engines. If you have a common name, try refining your search by using your middle initial, your hometown or former employer.

If you find content you wouldn’t want a potential employer to see, contact the site’s owner and ask that it be removed.

Unfortunately, some owners will be unwilling or unable to accommodate your request. For example, a newspaper story in which you were quoted may be impossible to remove. In such cases, be prepared to explain the findings to the hiring manager in case he or she asks about it during an interview. If the content is seriously damaging and easy to find, you might consider broaching the subject first.

Your Own PR Campaign

Your efforts should go well beyond eliminating negative content. Especially since you’re in the IT field, a hiring manager will be surprised if you don’t have some kind of online presence. In today’s competitive job market, establishing a strong – not merely "clean" – online presence can tilt a hiring decision in your favor.

A little effort can go a long way toward presenting yourself in a positive light. For example, if your name shows up in user group discussions or a professional association’s newsletter, employers are more likely to view you as an engaged IT leader. You might also start a blog about a technical subject you know well, take part in panel discussions at industry events, write an article for a business or technology publication, or launch a Web site detailing your professional skills, interests and accomplishments.

Make sure your profiles on LinkedIn and any other networking sites you use are polished and thorough. If you have a personal blog or social networking profile that contains any potentially inappropriate content, use privacy settings to hide it from employers (or delete it entirely).

Guide hiring managers in the right direction by including the URLs of positive sources of information about you in your resume or cover letter. For example, if you’re applying for a .NET developer position, you might point the employer to an article you wrote about the platform. Having found such material, a hiring manager may be less likely to scour the Internet for negative information.

Keep an Eye on your Image

Building a positive presence is an ongoing process, not a one-time fix. Conduct an online search of your name every few months. Set an alert using Google so you know every time something new is said about you online. Services like BlogPulse and Technorati can also track online conversations about you and your sites.

Maintaining your online reputation may also require you to be a more cautious in your day-to-day online interactions. Be selective about the venues you participate in and whom you let into your personal and professional networks. If you contribute to blogs or forums, consider how your statements might be interpreted by those outside your immediate peer group, or use a pseudonym when posting.

Such caution should also extend to general online etiquette. For example, while networking sites might make it easy to interact in a familiar, casual way with people you haven’t met, it’s wiser to treat everyone you encounter with courtesy. Even if you don’t offend someone, a slightly negative first impression can have a lasting effect.

Keep in mind that everything online that’s related to you, whether or not you are directly responsible for it, has the potential to impact your professional life. Making sure the cumulative impact is positive may take some work, but your job search prospects – and the long-term health of your career – may depend on it.

Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at

One Response to “Career Doctor: Repairing Self-Inflicted Online Wounds”