3 Ways To Get Rid Of Digital Dirt In Internet Searches


We all know digital dirt can cloud your job search or career development without you even knowing it. One of the first ways we talked about finding digital dirt was conducting a series of internet searches on yourself. But once you’ve uncovered that digital dirt, what can you do about it? Here are the three major ways you can proactively get rid of negative information about yourself before your current or prospective employer finds it. For best results, you’ll likely want to combine these three strategies.

1. Eliminate The Dirt. The best option for you is to get rid of the negative information altogether. If your internet searches of yourself are pulling up page after page of bad information, there’s no better place to start than by tracking that information back to the source. Go to each search result and see how the information might be removed. If you have control over the source—for example, your Facebook page—then change your privacy settings or delete the information. If someone else has control over the source, you may be able to request the information be removed. Sometimes, for example, comments to blogs can be removed—especially if the blog owner is a friend of yours.

This can be a long process that won’t necessarily purge the negative information from the web overnight, but it might make it a lot harder to find it. Remember internet information can stay cached and available for long periods of time, although over the weeks, months, and years that information should slowly disappear (or at least drop in the search result rankings). Also, someone else might have copies of those incriminating photos, so they’re not gone from Real Life. Photos that still exist in Real Life (or in someone’s private files) can still reappear. Stay vigilant!

2. Brush The Dirt Away From You. Here’s a radical idea: change your name. If you’ve always gone by a nickname, consider using your full name for your job search. Or using your middle initial. This will help give you a “clean” name to start your job search and your career. For example, if you’ve uncovered loads of publicly available information that shows “Billy Smith” in a bad light, consider using more formal variations of your name like “William Smith,” “William T. Smith,” “Bill Smith,” or “Bill T. Smith.” Other steps you can take are setting up a new email address for your job search, a new telephone number (even through Skype or other online services), or other new contact information.

Again, this doesn’t destroy the dirt altogether. Remember, for example, that someone who already knows the dirt about “Billy Smith” can certainly connect it to “William T. Smith” if she knows you’re the same person. But it should help to create a protective buffer between your professional persona and your personal one and help you start your career with a clean (or at least, cleaner!) slate. Over time, what you did in high school, college, or law school as “Billy Smith” will matter less and less to the professional reputation of “William T. Smith.”

3. Bury It. The third defensive strategy is to bury the dirt. The idea here is to create such large amounts of positive (or, at least, innocuous) search results that the “bad stuff” is dropped to page three or four of the internet search—where it’s less likely to be uncovered. How do you create new search results? Start by setting up quality, professional profiles at LinkedIn and other highly ranked social media sites. Set up a professional Twitter account. Leave thoughtful comments on highly ranked blogs. Write articles, if you can. Send updates to the class notes sections of your alumni magazines. Volunteer at organizations, especially if they have an online directory where you will be listed. Write guest blog posts or articles. Create your own professional website using your name as the domain name.

In short, do everything you can to ensure prospective employers are inundated with good information about you, and never click far enough down through the search results to find the bad stuff. Again, over time, some of this bad stuff may disappear on its own. And as it becomes more remote in time, and as you develop a professional reputation, employers will have less interest in it anyway.