Most students today exist in a world where their entire life has been splashed across social media, either by their parents, grandparents, friends, or even themselves. This generation has a digital footprint that showcases their greatest accomplishments, their funniest failures, their best dance moves, as well as their thoughts and opinions.

This wealth of “YOLO” (you only live once) content makes them each unique and special, which is amazing, but it also plays an important role in their future. What a potential employer or school admissions officer sees or reads when they “Google” a student can make or break their chances of being selected. The reality is that a student needs to take the time now to clean up their digital dirt so that it does not negatively impact their future.

Mining social media websites and the internet for information on job applicants is still a developing area within the United States legal system, but it is very much a reality in the world we live in today, and we can only assume that this will increase with time. 

Bottom line, your digital footprint matters. Like it or not, or legal or not, you may have a hiring manager looking into your online information. Companies may even disclose that they will be “Googling” you to look for information such as threats of violence, drug use, racist or sexist language, or defamation of previous employers. 

Our best advice is for you to be thoughtful about your online presence and always operate with the idea of keeping your future in mind at all times. Though this is sage advice, for some of us it may have come too late; therefore, what you need to do is conduct your own research and work to improve your online reputation.  Know that this will be a continued effort – even while employed – because you never know who is looking into your information, or what opportunity you may want to pursue next. 

Here are our suggested steps for cleaning up your digital dirt: 

1) Google your name:

First, conduct a name search on Google by using your first and last name. You should try this several different ways. Start with your first and last name and see what you find. Then, try your first and last name in quotation marks, or even add your middle initial. (Example: “Jane Smith” or “Jane B. Smith”).  Look at the first few pages of the search results and see what you find. Most people don’t look beyond the first two pages of search results… Then, click over to images, videos, and news and see if you appear on any of these searches. Also, try combinations of your name in quotation marks and add the word ‘and’ along with other identifiers such as your city, your school, or your particular field of interest that are not in quotation marks. (Example: “John Doe” and XYZ High School). If you find unflattering references about you on websites that you do not control, be sure to contact that source to learn if and how you can remove the information.

2) Clean up your social media posts: 

Second, login to every social media platform that you use, or have used in the past, and review these accounts and postings. Delete anything that employers might find offensive, specifically any type of compromising pictures, threats of violence, inappropriate jokes, drug usage, racist or sexist language, bullying, etc. If you are unsure about how a post might be interpreted, ask a mentor for their opinion. Your goal is to leave content that showcases the best of you.

3) Update your privacy settings: 

Your best line of defense is to strengthen your privacy settings on all social media accounts. Read through each network’s privacy policy and select the option that best fits you and your comfort level. Also, if you no longer use a particular app, go ahead and remove your content and close the account. This is one less account that you will have to monitor going forward.

4) See who is tagging you: 

In each social media platform, see who is tagging you. What your friends have posted might surprise you! Do you like that you are being tagged in a particular picture? If not, learn how you can remove tags or limit tags to only people within your network. In some applications, you can even choose to be removed from a post.

5) Who or what are you following: 

Be sure to follow organizations or thought leaders in your industry or major. This shows that you are knowledgeable about your field. Also, be sure to review who and what you are following on social media. Sometimes the company we keep can impact your reputation. Again, updated privacy settings can help.

6) Seek professional help: 

Companies, consultants, and software now exist that can help you clean and improve your digital footprint or digital reputation. A simple internet search will yield you many resources in this area, so if you have concerns, then you may want to explore these options in more detail.

7) Be proactive: 

The best approach is a proactive approach where you create and post digital content that shows your strength of character, respect for others, successes, and abilities.  Be your best promoter! Now is your chance to build the reputation that you want the world to see. Start fresh!

8) Continue monitoring: 

Remember to continually monitor and protect your online reputation going forward. 

Social media can be a positive and wonderful tool in life. Your goal should be to harness its power to highlight the good in your life. To do this, spend the time it takes to clean up your digital dirt and then post responsibly going forward.

By: Jessica Stuart, Founder and President of Career Xplorers

Career Xplorers provides career guidance for students ranging from middle school to college, as well as job interview training and online courses for people of all ages.

Posted in
Career Xplorers