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What Google Finds on You

January 1, 2010

We’ve all heard about the guy who was passed over for a promotion because of that detail on his Facebook profile, or the woman who Twittered herself out of the running for a job. The simple fact is that today, recruiters and hiring executives start at social networking sites to learn about potential candidates. In fact, a survey of 2,600 hiring managers conducted last year by CareerBuilder.com found that more than a third of respondents were dissuaded from hiring someone based on their findings at job candidates’ social network pages. Negative findings included provocative or inappropriate photographs and information or content about drinking or using drugs. However, 18 percent of hiring managers in the same survey found content on social networking sites that convinced them to hire the candidate, such as a profile that provided a good feel for the candidate’s personality.

All it takes is a few minutes on the Internet for someone to learn a lot about you. With the recent rise of social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, personal information has become less . . . well, personal. Although this may be beneficial for social networking, it can be downright detrimental to your career.
How recruiters comb the web

When recruiting a new AE, one of the first steps we take at Leonard Pfeiffer and Co., like other recruiting companies, is to research potential candidates using LinkedIn, Plaxo, and Facebook. We also go a step further and use sites such as Zoominfo and LexisNexis, which compile information from press pieces and media outlets.

LinkedIn is especially important because it provides a candidate’s professional history and organization affiliations, as well as honors or awards received. Another positive aspect of LinkedIn is the “connections” section. Your contacts show us who you are connected with that we know, which enables us to get a reference. So be selective about whom you add to your contact list.

When the board Googles you

Having completed more than 200 CEO-level searches, we’ve had many instances where the board of directors simply Googled a candidate and found entries pertaining to the candidate that shed a positive or, sadly, a negative light on the executive. Often if what is found is negative, it can lead members of the search committee to conclude that the candidate is not qualified for the position or simply left a bad impression that all the qualifications in the world couldn’t overcome.

The Internet does not have a delete button—once something has been put out there, it can be found by anyone . . . forever. To ensure that the personal information about you on the Internet is favorable, pay special attention to the pictures, personal views, and negative comments—specifically about previous employers or coworkers—that you post.

Online photos: good, bad, and ugly

Photos add credibility to social networking online, so it’s hard to get around posting your headshot. Profiles without photos can seem lazy or even suspicious. Likewise, an unflattering, poor quality, or quirky picture is probably the easiest way for you to misrepresent yourself. Your best bet is to post a color headshot taken by a professional photographer.
When it comes to personal photos, feel free to post that album of Jamie’s 45th birthday party extravaganza, just be sure to edit your privacy settings on Facebook so that only friends can access them.

It’s not all about damage control, though. Sometimes stumbling upon a photo can unexpectedly lead to a positive outcome. For example, several years ago we had a candidate who was a very successful businessman in his own right and who happened to be well qualified for our CEO search. As was the norm, someone on the client’s search committee Googled the candidate. When they discovered a photo of the candidate with his retro-rock band, they were delighted, believing it demonstrated work/life “balance.” It also served as a great opener for the interview, putting everyone at ease, making for a far more successful interview. Simply put, show discretion with what you put out there, without sanitizing your personality.

Curb your opinion

Exercise extreme caution when it comes to widely expressing your views, specifically on religion and politics. It is completely acceptable for you to share your religious affiliations or political persuasions. However, an excessive amount of information about your views can be dangerous. We have had situations, especially with searches for government relations staff, where particular candidates were deemed to be too vocal in the media regarding particular issues. This gave the hiring board of directors pause because they perceived (correctly or not) that the candidate was a radical.

Another area detrimental to candidates is negativity, especially in the form of comments made about previous employers and coworkers. We understand that everyone needs a release for their feelings and negative experiences, but posting them online is just bad judgment. Making negative comments about people related to past places of employment appears very unprofessional and immature, two traits boards consider undesirable in potential senior executives.

Be smart, be responsible, but most of all, be careful with what you put on the Internet. Rest assured, someone out there is watching and reading.

Remedies for Negative Information Online About You

If a Google search of your name turns up negative, unflattering, or embarrassing information, don’t give up hope. There are several things you can do to mitigate the potential damage.

First, work to bury the bad information under good information. Launch a blog or Web site where you showcase your talents and accomplishments. Post to it often so it shows up higher in the Google search rankings than the negative information. According to online reputation management company LookupPage, very few searchers will progress beyond the first ten results of a Google search, so it’s vital that your most important information appears there. Additionally, eliciting professional recommendations and posting them on your social networking profile will go a long way toward countering any negative postings from the past. Finally, participate online wherever and whenever possible by posting positive comments on industry blogs and forums with links back to your own Web site.

Once you have exhausted all the measures you can take on your own, there are also services that can whitewash your life online. One such example is ReputationDefender. For $32, they will work to remove any content a subscriber specifies using tactics ranging from polite appeals to the content’s publisher to threats of legal action. Other services, such as ReputationManagers.com, help you bury negative material by promoting
new positive material.

Leonard Pfeiffer heads Leonard Pfeiffer & Company, a national executive search firm. He can be reached at 202/737-6327 or BD@pfeiffercompany.com. Temi Williams-Davies contributed to this article.