If you're applying for jobs, be prepared to have your digital life scrutinized. Hiring managers and others making decisions as to whether to hire you won't just rely on your resume or the other materials you voluntarily share.
Instead, they will use all the tools available to them, and that includes looking at whatever digital presence you have online. That will include checking public-facing social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Microsoft's LinkedIn, as well as doing simple searches for you.
In fact, 70% of employers Google or otherwise research prospective job candidates, according to a study conducted on behalf of CareerBuilder in February. That's a 10% increase compared to the same report last year.
"Most workers have some sort of online presence today -- and more than half of employers won't hire those without one," said CareerBuilder chief human resources officer Rosemary Haefner. "This shows the importance of cultivating a positive online persona. Job seekers should make their professional profiles visible online and ensure any information that could negatively impact their job search is made private or removed."
What can you do?
The first thing you should do is scrub the digital presence you control. That means taking down the party photos from Facebook or Instagram, removing controversial political posts from Twitter, and making any personal websites employer-safe.
There are no clear rules on this, so you should use common sense. A Facebook picture of you in formal attire raising a champagne glass at a wedding is probably fine. One where you're shirtless and chugging from a funnel probably isn't.
The same applies to any political or potentially controversial views you share. It's hard to know exactly what an employer might see as a red flag (even when that's unfair or even illegal), so it's best to be careful.
Sadly, the same applies to any pictures of you with visible tattoos or piercings. You don't know whether they will prejudice a potential employer, so it's best to not make them public.
What about stuff you don't control?
When I worked as a newspaper editor, I was asked nearly every day to keep the record of someone being arrested out of the paper. We would never do that, even though people would routinely tell me that I was ruining their lives. What we would do, if asked, was add the dispensation of any case to the digital listing.
For example, if someone was arrested and found not guilty or the case was dropped, we would add that to the original page to tell the full story. That actually worked better than taking something down, because deleting a page on the internet does not always mean it's actually gone.
In many cases, the best way to see what a hiring manager will see is to Google yourself. If what comes up is a picture on a friend's social media page, ask him or her to take it down. If it's an arrest warrant or a newspaper story, there may be nothing you can do other than be prepared to explain the incident.
What to do when it's not true?
There are mistakes on the internet, and sometimes one person can be confused with another. For example, there are other people with my name who have also written for The Boston Globe, written books, and who appear on podcasts. We don't look alike, but we'd be easy enough to mix up if a hiring manager is not paying attention.
In those cases, if there's an obvious mistake that could occur, you may need to address it during an interview or in your cover letter. "I often get confused with Daniel Kline the professor and Daniel Kline the motivational speaker, but I'm in fact Daniel Kline the financial journalist."
If there are actual factual inaccuracies or information you want taken down, you may need to hire a firm like Reputation Defender, which specializes in doing that. There's no guarantee that any company can completely fix incorrect information, but it's worth a shot, especially when you can document why something should come down.
Some hiring manager may be the coolest person in the world who embraces every outrageous part of you. Many will not be. That does not mean a company won't come to love all of you. Instead, it's a question of putting the most presentable you forward.
Many hiring managers are cautious because they will be judged more critically for a bad hire than they would be praised for a daring good one. That means it's better off to appear safe and show how stupendous and unique you are once you have the job.