How to Protect your Digital Footprint When Looking For a Job

An online extra from UCR Magazine's Fall 2013 issue

The Fall 2013 issue of UCR Magazine is here

UCR Magazine’s Fall 2013 issue is here, and in it, we talk about privacy, what it means in this modern age, and how technology has transformed the way we view personal boundaries. Read the issue at

By Phil Pitchford

You spent four years working hard so you can dazzle a potential employer with an amazing GPA and a college transcript that speaks volumes about your intellect and capabilities.

Now spend an hour tightening up your social networks so they don’t leave you dead in the water before you even get an interview.

“You want to develop a professional image, both online and offline,” said Cristina Otegui, a career counselor at the UCR Career Center. “We encourage students to evaluate their social platforms through a professional lens – the earlier, the better. It’s a good habit to start once you start to develop your professional resume.”

Yes, all those stories are true – employers really do Google potential hires. And what they find can affect whether they even make you an offer. Photos of excessive alcohol consumption, any sort of drug use or anything else suggesting poor judgment can be a deal killer.

That off-color joke you posted on your Facebook page about that thing your roommate did that seemed so funny at the time? Get rid of it.

That photo of you doing a kegstand during Rush Week? Take it off your Flickr account.

The YouTube video that made you the hit of your dorm, but now might seem a little odd? Pull it.

Some of these steps may seem extreme, but look at it from the perspective of somebody who might be about to hire you. The workplace is littered with people who interviewed well but ended up not working out for a number of reasons. If an employer can weed those people out by spending a few minutes researching your online past, that’s time well spent.

“It’s so easy to go online and Google someone and see what comes up,” Otegui said. “You need to make sure that first impression is a good one.”

To protect yourself, remember that any social media that is available to the general public should be shifted to the most private level possible. Switch Facebook to “friends only.” Turn your Twitter account to “protected” so you are not tweeting to the entire universe. Start preparing a response for any potentially embarrassing tweet already out there.

Change your Facebook settings so you cannot be tagged without your permission. You may not be a boorish oaf, but your buddy might be. If he posts comments that demonstrate that on your social network page, leaving them on your page can imply that you endorse the sentiment or, even worse, do not recognize it as offensive.

“You may not even be the primary person who put up the post, but you can still suffer from the consequences,” Otegui said. “You need to know that if you are being tagged, it’s for something appropriate.”

There is an upside to social media, of course. Otegui highly recommends that students and other jobseekers create a LinkedIn account and update it regularly, ensuring it spotlights the best things about you as a potential employee.

“LinkedIn is a great reference point for students,” Otegui said. “It really shows the kind of quality that you can bring to a company.”


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