Your Online Persona

Finding Out What’s Out There

First, however, you need to figure out what you are dealing with. You not only need to have a way to find negative things that are already out there, but you need to be able to quickly be alerted to new problems. While it’s tempting to simply start trying to remediate the problems you are aware of, doing so before you are aware of all the problems is not a good idea. Unless you have just searched for your name in one of the major search engines, your perception of the biggest problems is unlikely to be accurate. Search engines prioritize things that you might not expect, and it is better to be prepared than surprised.

The most obvious thing you should do is put your name into a search engine and see what pops up. Don’t do anything with the information you find yet, just take notes about what is being said and where it is being said. You’ll also need to repeat this search in relation to where you’ve lived in the last decade or so. For instance, I might search for “William Gant near Nashville TN” and “William Gant near McMinnville TN.” You should do the same for major skills that you are listing on your resume. When doing this, take special note of the following:

  • What was said, and how it was said. If someone is praising you in some way, take note of the way they expressed it. Similarly, if it is negative, do the same. Also make sure to get the usernames or forum handles that people are using.
  • If the post was something you said, take note of the username that you used and the web site.
  • If any links are included in the post, take note of these as well.

This will give you a rough idea of what people are saying, including what you said about yourself earlier. Now you should also do similar searches for images, using the same criteria that were listed previously. People often forget this step, but any photos or videos that you have out there will often expose more information than you might think. I’m relatively lucky in this regard because I’ve never liked having my picture taken, so there aren’t very many of mine out there. However, my attitude is far from common. Looking at a friend who is a bit closer to normal, I can see several things that might give an inappropriate impression or reveal information that allows discrimination. For instance, the following things are trivially discernible from photos that are publicly available:

  • Your race, marital status, a rough idea of your age, your religious background, and your gender. While many of these things are going to be obvious when you go in to an interview, their availability online can enable discrimination before the fact. If you are concerned about this, it might be a problem. Whether this is a concern or not is very much a personal matter.
  • Your past history of things that others find negative. This can be anything from alcohol and drug use to hobbies that tend to be stereotyped. People often make shallow judgments of others based on their pasts, hobbies, and pastimes. Others may not be judgmental or even view things positively. For instance, drunken pictures from a pool party during college might have been fun at the time, but lend a decidedly unprofessional air when you are trying to get a job at large accounting firm.
  • These images can also reveal your usernames on other sites if they were used for a profile picture. This can be tied to other posts.

Make a full list of the usernames you have, and do a search for that username on the broader web. While not all of the posts you find will necessarily be you, you need to be aware of any that can be misidentified. You should take note of all these that you can find.

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