How to clean up your digital footprint when looking for a job

Apr 14, 2022

5 mins

How to clean up your digital footprint when looking for a job
Javier Lacort

Redactor freelance especializado en tecnología y startups

Your resume is no longer the only source of information that a recruiter has. Almost four out of five companies in the US admit to having rejected candidates due to their activity on social media, and nearly all businesses seek out such information about potential employees before deciding whether to hire them, according to the Manifest, a business news website. Some of the reasons for this rejection include: inconsistencies between what’s posted and what’s been mentioned in an interview, and poor grammar or spelling mistakes. Potential employers also look out for instances of hate speech, photos of heavy partying or drug use, and the sharing of confidential or sensitive information about a former employer. It would be a shame to lose out on a job because you let a recruiter find out something about you that doesn’t suit the position that you’re applying for – especially if it’s not representative of who you are today, right?

Our digital footprint is any online trace that we’ve left behind due to our activity on social media platforms, forums, and other websites. This includes the photos we’ve uploaded over the years, the pages and content we’ve “liked”, and the posts we’ve written, for example. Some of those footprints are not up to us to remove or there isn’t a way to delete them (or not a simple way perhaps).

You may think that your digital footprint is simply what you’ve posted on social media, but the list is far wider and more all-encompassing.

It includes:

  • What search engines find when you run a search for your email address (not just your first name and surname)
  • The comments you’ve left on other people’s profiles
  • The reviews you’ve left on online marketplaces or on hotel and restaurant platforms

So what can you do to ensure your digital footprint doesn’t come back to haunt you?

First step: find yourself

This isn’t a spiritual metaphor. The first thing you need to do is run a search of your name and surname in Google, and then scrutinize every single result it finds. Go page by page. Don’t skip any search result. If you do this in another search engine such as Bing, you’ll be able to double-check the results. Create a log of all the websites where your name appears that actually refer to you. This way, you’ll have a database you can work with.

Should you do this with just Google and Bing? Of course not. Go to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube – even Spotify. The aim of these searches is to locate that “hidden side” to you that you don’t necessarily want on display during an application process.

Bear in mind that you’re not just searching for what you may have posted online recently but also that comment you posted when you were younger that you may not agree with today. Or any photo that your friend uploaded, which is still up there and appears when you search for your name. The internet is huge, social media has been around for years, and there are many places where traces of our digital footprint can be found. Be patient while creating this log and include any URL where you appear.

Second step: do a spring clean

Check your privacy settings

Once you’ve got this log, you should first decide which information you would no longer like to be public. To do this, check the privacy settings on your social media accounts carefully. You may want to be visible on LinkedIn, given that it can act as a professional springboard, but do you really want the same exposure on Instagram, which often has personal content? Unless you control your content strictly, it may be best to make the account private and unfriend anyone you don’t have much of a relationship with. Some people have two accounts: a personal one (which is protected and with no full identity), and a more sanitized account that can easily be found.

You should also let your friends and relatives know how you’d like to proceed with regards to posting photos and videos in which you appear or content where your name is used. This way you can establish a culture of respect towards your privacy.

Delete any undesirable content

Decide which content would be in your best interests to delete (a word of advice: if in doubt about whether to delete or not, it’s always best to delete). If there is a social media account that you no longer have access to or a username on a forum that you’ve lost the password for, it’s time to restore access. There are normally online forms for this. However, if you can’t do this, you can get in touch directly with the administrators and explain the situation to them. If any content is in the hands of a third party – such as a friend who uploaded a photo on Instagram – you’ll need to ask them to delete it.

If you have no success with these steps, you can sometimes – depending on the jurisdiction – turn to more official ways that are enshrined in law. For example, in Europe, there is the “right to be forgotten” while in the US, California, Colorado, and Virginia have “Right to Delete” laws – which forces search engines to remove certain personal data.

By using the official forms provided by Google, Bing, and other search engines, you can delete your listing. The content will still be available on the website in question but at least it won’t show up in search engines.

Third step: think relatively

At times, you may not be able to erase certain content no matter what you do. In this case, assess the potential damage that this content could cause you and give some thought as to whether it was serious or not (remember that the recruiter was young once too, and, depending on the content, it may not be an issue).

Monitor your digital footprint on a daily basis

The best thing you can do is get used to the idea that whatever you do on the internet is there forever. Even if you could delete everything you post, it’s better to work with this in mind. The sad fact is that the reaction to comments or photos you share can spiral out of control in ways you might not imagine. As the saying goes: “Prevention is better than cure.”

Don’t forget your usernames as they could potentially identify you, if they contain your initial and your last name, for example. Therefore, if you don’t want the content linked to that username to be associated with you, stop using it or change it.

You can also set up Google Alerts to monitor all of this. This Google tool will notify you with an email whenever it detects a website that uses certain terms such as your name, surname or email, for example.

Remember that during an application process, your future employer will be looking to find out who you really are. To do this, it’s quite likely that they will turn to the internet to run a search on you. The power to clean up your digital footprint and ensure your online presence represents who we really are is in your hands. So go for it.

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

Translated by Jamie Broadway

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