Regardless of whether you realize it, someone has likely used the Internet to dig up information about you, and what he or she finds may not always paint you in the most flattering light. It could be an unbecoming New Year’s Eve photo, an off-the-cuff Twitter rant or, even worse, an individual may have posted damaging details about you without your knowledge.

In a matter of seconds, your image could be forever tarnished, and it doesn’t take a supersleuth to find the digital dirt. All it requires is a few keystrokes. What the Internet says about you is of the utmost importance because it has become a resource for both personal and professional vetting, with employers readily admitting they use popular search engines, such as Google or Bing, to scour the online presence of potential employees.

In fact, relatively quick searches of someone’s name often result in direct connections to popular social networking platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, providing potential employers with a peek inside that person’s day-to-day activities. According to a survey conducted by Harris Poll for CareerBuilder last year, 51 percent of employers who researched job applicants on social media said they’ve found content that caused them not to hire the candidate. That’s up from 43 percent in 2013 and 34 percent in 2012.

Although it is possible for employers to search websites without candidates’ knowledge, some are opting to use social media to create opportunities for candid engagement. Shatonda Cephas, of Baltimore, Md., says a recruiter for a health insurance company attempted to connect with her on Google Plus prior to her scheduled in-person interview.

“I was really freaked out because I know [recruiters] search for you on there, but I’ve never heard of anybody going as far as actually requesting you as a friend or adding you,” the 31-year-old shares, noting the same recruiter attempted to connect with her on LinkedIn. “It kind of shocked me that he would actually add me on Google Plus instead of just using the contact information on my résumé.”

Cheryl Palmer, founder of the professional skills coaching firm Call to Career, says more employers are using the Internet to research candidates because it gives them more ammunition. “Previously, they just had to rely on what you and your references said,” she states. “Now, they can actually go online and see what you’ve said about yourself on Facebook or Twitter and/or what other people may have said about you.” Palmer agrees that search engines have become an employers’ go-to tool, and she urges job seekers to research themselves to see what the recruiters are seeing.

“If you don’t Google yourself, you don’t know what’s there or what’s not there,” she explains. “There may be other people with the same name, and if someone with your name has committed a heinous crime, you could be mistakenly associated. So you have to investigate what’s out there so you know and can take control of that information.”

Arlen Herrell, who works as a federal employee in Washington, D.C., has taken that advice. He had good reason to do so after a woman he barely knew attempted to ruin his online reputation. “This person stalked my social media accounts and posted inappropriate messages,” reveals Herrell, adding that the woman was also writing negative things about him and linking it back to his social media pages. “It was difficult to deal with the situation; it felt like I was being attacked.”

Although he blocked the seemingly obsessed woman from contacting him, Herrell became concerned that her malicious attack would appear during an online search, and at the time he was being vetted for a job. “Of course, I was a little nervous,” shares the 32-year-old, who got the position despite his antagonist’s efforts. “Sometimes we tend to be a little more candid on our social media than we would necessarily be when applying for a job.” Herrell no longer allows people he doesn’t know to connect with him on sites such as Facebook, and he’s taking advantage of the privacy settings offered. “You have to secure your Facebook account,” he urges. “You can monitor who can see what you post. Not everything you post should necessarily be public. Be cognizant of who’s following you and who’s commenting on your page.”

It is not, however, just employers and recruiters tracking your digital footsteps. The Web is also being used by those seeking romance to find out more than what was discussed on the first date.

Singer and actor Tyrese Gibson appears to have discovered this firsthand. In a now-deleted Instagram post, the entertainer shared earlier this year that he went out with a woman who, he learned while on the date, had looked up his net worth on her smartphone.

“Ratchet all the way,” he wrote in the post.

For many, finding unfavorable insights about themselves on the Web is disappointing, and figuring out how to remove those items seems daunting. Luckily, all it requires is a bit of strategy, and DIY seems to be the most widely touted method. A quick search leads to tips on how to remove or reposition negative information. There are numerous companies that offer to clean up your online reputation for a fee, but Palmer suggests doing heavy research on the brand before taking that route. When it comes to page posts, she says one way to tackle the problem is to “drown out” the negative comments so they don’t appear on the opening pages of a search.

“If you can upload information to the Internet that’s going to have a higher rank than anything negative, then you have a much lower risk of employers seeing adverse information about you,” she says. “So that’s a very important thing for people to do if there is actually content out there they can’t take down.”

Despite the fact that there can be pitfalls to Internet searches conducted by people who you may not know, there can actually be some benefit if you have favorable matter appearing online. Thirty-three percent of employers who research candidates on social networking sites say they’ve found information that made them more likely to hire a candidate, the CareerBuilder survey adds. Approximately 23 percent of employers have seen content that directly led to them hiring the candidate.

“Above all, think before you post,” Palmer warns. “You can put positive information out there about yourself by way of your Linked-In profile, and Facebook and Twitter accounts. Why not take advantage of these different platforms and show employers what you’re all about in a beneficial way?”


1. Search for Your Name to See What Comes Up

Even if you have not personally put up any details about yourself on the Internet, it is still possible that there is information about you on the Web. Don’t take anything for granted. Utilize multiple Internet search engines to find out if something has been posted.

2. View Your Social Media Profiles with an Objective Eye

If you didn’t know yourself, would you hire yourself based on what you see on your social media pages? With an average of more than four job seekers competing for every position, employers are looking for ways to narrow the field. Don’t give them a reason to weed you out. Examine your social media profiles for anything that could be perceived as negative.

3. Look for What Others May Have Posted About You

If you are inclined to pat yourself on the back because you know you haven’t posted anything negative on your platforms, don’t be too smug. There is always the possibility that someone else has posted something detrimental about you. It could be an unflattering photo in which you are tagged, or it could even be that one of your friends on Facebook posted a comment laced with profanity. Delete them. Some employers will check to see what your friends have posted and make a determination about you. Translation:  guilt by association.

4. Drown Out ‘Digital Dirt’

Most people do not go past the second or third page of Internet search results. If you have online drama you don’t want everyone to know about, add positive information to the Net so that the positive results come up first. By creating social media profiles on many different sites and perhaps starting a blog and/or website, you can point employers to what you want them to know about you.

5. Make Sure Your Social Media Profiles Sparkle

All your social media  profiles should represent you well, but you should pay special attention to LinkedIn because it is the site that most recruiters use to source executive and  professional candidates.