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
It’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
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.
Because 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
Now 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!