These 4 varsity Googling skills will show you what the web is saying about you

Varsity football play Google logo

Image: Justin Carrasco/adcounselor.com, 2012.

Google is your new resume, and you’d better know what’s on it. It’s not vain to Google yourself; it’s smart. Why? Because it’s pretty much guaranteed that there’s information about you on at least a few websites, and hiring managers, potential dates, and complete strangers are looking you up and forming opinions of you based on your search results. Both your online privacy and your future career could be at risk.

And even though you may not know what’s out there about you, other people do. While roughly 57% of people have searched for themselves, 86% of male and 61% of female hiring managers review a job searcher’s online info.

The top 3 types of info that hiring managers look at most frequently are search engines (78% use them when researching applications), social networks (63%), and photo sharing sites (59%), like Flickr and TwitPic.  Surprisingly, hiring managers check professional sites like LinkedIn–sites designed around the job search process–only 57% of the time.

It’s time to get some varsity-level Googling skills. Note that I’m talking specifically about Google because it’s by far the most popular search engine: 83% of Americans say they use it, while Yahoo is in a distant second place with 6% use.

Now let’s get you good at Googling. For this guide, I’m using brackets to indicate that everything inside them is a separate search. For example, [John Smith] means that I typed that name into Google, but without the brackets. 

1. Know how to build a search phrase

Review Google’s search system to understand how to word searches for maximum effect. Here are the basics:

  • Quotes: Words and phrases in quotes will return results for exactly what’s in the quotes, misspellings and all. Quotes are one of the most powerful tools in your search arsenal.
  • AND/OR: Google interprets spaces as the word “AND,” so typing [bed pillow] will produce results that contain both these words. Typing “OR” between words will produce results for either one word or the other: [bed OR pillow].
  • Wildcard: Adding an asterisk to any part of a word acts like a wildcard, so typing [boat*] will return results for “boat,” “boats,” “boating,” boated,” and more. You can also use the asterisk as a wildcard within a phrase, like [here's my number, so * me maybe].
  • Not: You can prevent words from appearing in search results by putting a dash in front of them. Let’s say you’re searching for the band Tool, but hardware keeps coming up in your searches. You could do [Tool band -hardware -hammer].

2. Run a series of searches designed to dig up dirt

Google search for criminal recordIt’s Little League-level to type in your name, hit “search,” and end there: you have to include “danger” terms that are more likely to turn up controversial things. Take notes or screenshots of the results you find. Some may be negative, others positive, and others neutral. It’s very likely that hiring managers will do these kinds of searches on you, so consider how the results would look to a person who doesn’t yet know you.

We recommend going through all of the searches below that apply to you.

1. Your name without quotes. E.g., [John Smith]. Note that the relevance of these results will depend on how common your name is.

2. Your name in quotes. E.g., ["John Smith"]

3. All variations of your name in quotes. E.g., ["John R. Smith"] ["John Robert Smith"]

4. Your name and its variations combined with your home town and/or state. E.g., ["John Smith" "Massachusetts"] ["John R. Smith" "Boston"]

5. If you’re a college graduate, your name combined with your school’s name. E.g., ["John Smith" "Hamilton College"]

6. If you’ve worked previously, your name combined with your past employer. E.g., ["John Smith" "Abine, Inc."]

7. If you’ve worked previously, your name combined with your job title or industry. E.g., ["John Smith" "lawyer"] ["John Smith" "privacy"]

8. Your name combined with the words “email,” “phone,” and “address.” E.g., ["John Smith" "email"] ["John Smith" "address"] ["John Smith" "phone"].

9. Your name combined with the email address you provided on your resume. E.g., ["John Smith" "jsm...@gmail.com"]

10. Your name combined with any aliases or pseudonyms you’ve used. Although hiring managers probably won’t know your pseudonyms, it’s still good to know if there are any sites linking your alias to your real name. E.g., ["John Smith" "ZeroCool"].

11. Your name combined with various risk words. Use an asterisk as a wildcard to make the most of searches like these. E.g., ["John Smith" "Boston" arrest*] will bring up results with all forms of the word “arrest,” including “arrested.”

Common risk words include: [charge*] [detain*] [discipline*] [fire*] [subpoena*] [sanction*] [violat*] [probation*] [*legal] [pornograph*] [ex*] (as in ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend) [employ*] [divorc*] [custody] [explicit] [alcohol*] [drugs] [drunk*] [drink*] [assault*] [myspace] [criminal]

12. Any other terms that you have reason to suspect may bring up negative or unwanted search results. For example, if you have an arch-nemesis out there who’s a blogger, you may want to search for your name alongside that person’s name.

3. Use all of Google’s search services, not just web results

Google search types

There’s a lot more to Google’s search engine than the Web results we’re all familiar with. Information about you can show up in more than a dozen of Google’s other search services, such as Images, Videos, Blogs, Groups, News, and Realtime (which monitors social network mentions). There’s a lot more out there besides the original Web search, so make sure you check these additional results pages when you’re Googling yourself extensively in step 2, above. They’re listed across the black bar on the top of your Google window.

Google reverse image searchBecause a picture’s worth a thousand words (and nobody knows that better than Anthony Weiner…except maybe Prince Harry), we recommend spending extra time on Image search. Specifically, run a reverse image search on every photo you’ve ever used as a profile picture on a website.

To do this, go to Google’s image search, click the camera icon in the search bar, and upload or paste the URL of the photo you’d like to search. Google will give its best guess of the identity of the person in the photo. Reverse image search is a great way to find all the old accounts you registered in the past using the same photo.

4. Set up Google Alerts on your name

Google Alerts setupNow that you’ve done an extensive search for yourself and have a good idea of what’s out there, you can have Google email you whenever it discovers any new references of your name. Google Alerts make it easy to stay on top of any references about you.

To set up alerts:

1. Go to http://www.google.com/alerts.

2. Type in the term that you want to monitor–most likely, it will be the name you use on your resume, along with any other terms that will help narrow down the results to you and not someone with a similar name.

3. Under “Result type,” select “Everything.”

4. Under “How often,” select “As it happens.” This selection ensures you’ll see mentions when they happen, not after the fact.

5. Under “How many,” select “All results.”

6. Enter an email where you’d like your results delivered, hit “CREATE ALERT,” and you’re done.

Now you’ll know whenever you’re publicly mentioned online.


Because Google is most people’s first stop for information, it’s worth mastering the art of Googling yourself. Hopefully we’ve put you on the path to being an expert. Do you have a tip for Googling yourself that we missed? Let us know in the comments below!




14 comments shared on this article:

  • Kaushik says:

    Nice keep going it helps to protect privacy

  • Teresa Murdick says:

    Since I have started using DNT+ I can not BELIEVE the number of programs it has stopped on ME. I am going to print this Google information so I can go through it step by step like you said, and check. I am on the computer all the time, which we own a business but it is a Corporation so….yeah, my husband’s name would definately show up. I better tell him about this too. Please keep sending me these emails. I read them all. I am amazed at how many children (pre-teens, but still) that have cell phones, bare in mind, I either know these people personally or I am related to them. Since Facebook as went to this Timeline junk….I will go in to check on my neice (just turned 14) and it actually shows on her map where she is at because of having FB on her phone. That is insane. I only use facebook to get pictures of my grandkids from my daughter. She is lazy about printing them. I’m from the old school, I still like to look at a photo album or a box of old pictures. Oh and BTW, I went throught FB when you all sent that notice out about how to really protect yourself. I did it all and my cousing called me and said, what have you done……you have your Timeline page set to where friends have to ask to enter. I said you dam straight. I gave him yalls website. He was going to do it. Just wanted to tell you that yall are a true life saver on here. Keep up the great work

  • Azalia says:

    Thank you for this article. I love learning new things :)

  • Lisa Ostella says:

    I would like to add one more search variation to #3, “Use all of Google’s search services”. After you put a search term in the Google Search box and receive the first display of results, there is new search navigation terms that appear on the left side of the screen. Click the word that says “More”. That reveals more options. Select “Discussions”. This option searches “Web Forums”. This is a different search than “Blogs” or “Groups”.

    Thank you all for all you do.

  • kenric himes says:

    will this protect comp. identity when searching for malishas child stalkers etc.

  • Tara says:

    Hello thanks for the great info. One question, how do I change that 1st photo that appears now when I’m googled, at the top of the page (not in images just at top of results) next to my age, place of birth etc? Mines terrible and I work in the entertainment industry so I need a better one to represent me. Thank you

  • Phil Tumminia says:

    Great advice. Keep on blocking and deleting.

  • Jamie C says:

    If you did search for all these things directly from google, WITHOUT using something like do not trck me, wouldn’t all those trackers/dataminers/google themselves etc KNOW you had been searching for those dodgy-looking terms and keep records of THAT somewhere too?!

    Also, since google’s predictive autocomplete works by offering the most popular/ most statistically – likely options, according to what you and the rest of the googling world have been typing previously, wouldn’t doing this kind of (re)search actually ADD some of these negative associations to your name, whether done overtly, or more covertly, ie on ‘private’ datatracking databases?

    To explain: If, say, there have only been 20 recent google searches on your name, and five of those searches were done in conjunction with the word ‘criminal’, wouldn’t google make a link between the two words? (Even if it didn’t show YOU in any way that the connection had been made?)
    It may have been YOU performing all five of the searches linking ‘criminal’ to ‘your name (maybe done over a couple of days whilst showing friends etc), and you may be completely innocent, but isn’t it possible you yourself may be making your name synonymous with ‘criminal’ by doing it?
    And is it not also possible that at a later date a random searcher typing “Yourname Cr” might be offered “Yourname Criminal” in the little pop-up box?!

    At least on YOUR own machines, at least until caches and histories have been cleared, if google knew you had searched in the past for “YOURNAME + paedophile”, autocomplete would offer you that as an option, wouldn’t it?

    If you were at work and did the searches on a work PC, then later typed in your name (for a different purpose, say whilst bosses/colleagues were around), words like “paedophile” popping up in autocomplete, in connection with your name, would not be amusing.
    It could even be that a colleague using a machine you’d earlier done that kind of search on would be offered that as autocomplete. Whoa, cowboy!! No thanks!

    I’d suggest searching – both generally, and particularly whilst searching for ‘dodgy’ terms – using an intermediary; something that does not track or autoocomplete, like DuckDuckGo.com. This site effectively allows you to search google’s pages in exactly the same way as usual, but without using google to do it.
    I’m not personally or professionally affiliated with DDG in any way, but find their policies and their searches infinitely preferable to Google. It’s not just me: Abine, who make DoNotTrackMe amongst other things, recommend using DDG themselves. Take care out there!

    • Sarah Downey says:

      We absolutely love DuckDuckGo and encourage everyone to use it, but that said, we wrote this post knowing that the vast majority of people searching the web still use Google, and our guide needs to address Google to be useful.

  • Adolf H. says:

    That was very helpful. I own a bulletproof car.

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