6 Ways To Find Your Digital Dirt—Before Your Employer Does


We all know digital dirt can cloud your job search or career development without you even knowing it. But how do you even know what digital dirt is even out there? Here are six ways you can proactively undercover negative information about yourself before your current or prospective employer finds it. 1. Internet Searches. Start with doing a few internet searches of yourself. Don’t limit yourself to Google, and don’t limit yourself to just your proper name. Use a few internet search engines, and check variations of your name in quotes (with and without your middle initial, for example). Also check any nicknames you use, your telephone number, and your email address. Also conduct image or photo searches. What comes up in these searches? Keep in mind that any results that come up this easily for you will come up just as easily for a legal recruiter, potential employer, interviewer, or anyone else who has the power to positively—or negatively—affect your job search and career. Set up Google alerts on your name to keep you posted on new information that crops up.

2. Social Media, Blogs, And Forum Searches. Who hasn’t put up an ill-advised post on a social media platform? Well, now’s the time to do something about it. Go through all your posts and photos. Review, lock down, or delete anything you don’t want to explain to a potential employer. Check the name and email address associated with a “tainted” social media, blog, or forum account. Can it be easily traced back to you? Do you need to change the alias? Or close the account?

3. Public Records Searches. Public records are also a potential source of information. They’re often databases that are part of the “hidden internet” and so they don’t come as part of a general internet search. You have to go to the database to find those records. What kind of public records are found in databases like this? Court records, tax records, real estate records, and criminal records, among others. These records are routinely searched by employers who conduct background checks as part of the hiring process. You can search the public government databases for your county and state to see what they say about you. Again, search under your name and address, along with any options (like phone number or Social Security number) they offer. Alternatively, you can pay an online service to do it for you.

Conduct these searches at least once a year—even if you’re convinced you’ve done nothing wrong. Every recording agency makes mistakes (like transposing digits in Social Security numbers), and you want to uncover those mistakes as fast as possible. Otherwise, those lingering mistakes could prevent you from getting your dream job or advancing your career.

4. Credit Checks. Credit checks are also routine for some employers and some job opportunities. There are three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion), and each produces its own report on you. Credit checks produce information like whether you’ve applied for a credit card; your work and address history; your maximum line of credit on each credit card, along with details about the terms of payment; whether and how often you’re late in payments; whether you’ve ever been referred to a collection agency; and whether you’ve been sued, arrested, or filed for bankruptcy. The credit bureaus use this information as part of their algorithms to calculate your credit score.

Again, this information isn’t public, but it’s routinely requested as part of a background check so you need to know what those credit bureaus are saying about you. Negative information can stay on your credit report for up to 7 years (up to 10 years for some bankruptcy information). Because each credit bureau complies its information independently, you need to get and review a credit report from each bureau. Thankfully, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) entitles you to one free credit report (this report likely won’t have a credit score) from each bureau every 12 months. Don’t be tricked into paying for these reports. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com, which is according to the Federal Trade Commission, is “the ONLY authorized source for the free annual credit report that’s yours by law.”

5. Employment History Checks. Call the Human Resources department of current and former employers and find out what information they give to prospective employers who inquire about you. Will they give job titles? Dates of employment? Reason for leaving? You need to know what HR will say about you so that your resume, job applications, and other representations match. Also keep in mind that an employment history check with HR may ease your mind if you’ve ever left an employer under bad circumstances because many employers have a policy against giving your reasons for leaving. (Which is not to say that it won’t be uncovered in other ways, like reference checks!)

6. Educational History Checks. Order your transcripts from every school of higher education you’ve attended, if you don’t already have copies. Be sure those transcripts will verify your major, transferred credits, graduation date, honors, and GPA. You don’t want a potential employer to find a discrepancy. (I knew an attorney who lost a job opportunity because of a 0.01 error in reporting his GPA on his resume.) While you’re gathering this information, confirm all your CLE or professional education credits too.