Is your digital footprint hampering your job search?

Happy New Year!
Now, make  a resolution
to improve your online persona

To protect your digital footprint, evaluate your social networking sites by following the simple steps below. Although they may seem obvious, it is surprising how many people forget or ignore many of them.

  • • Limit posting while angry, frustrated or under the influence of alcohol.
  • • Never post anything that you might find embarrassing later.
  • • Be careful with the pictures you post on your public profiles. Many may be taken out of context and judged wrongly.
  • • Proofread all posts.
  • • Change the privacy settings so that only your friends can see your information.
  • • Defriend, unfollow or block those who pose negative risks to your online footprint.
  • • Do not post things to bully, hurt, blackmail, insult or afflict any kind of harm on others.
  • • Always keep in mind that once information has been posted online, it can be almost impossible to remove because of archiving and file sharing. Even though you deactivate your accounts, the information may still be retrieved by others.

Why should we worry about our online personas? Last year more than 80 percent of companies used social media networks for recruiting job applicants, and more than 25 percent of employers rejected job candidates because of something they found about them online. These numbers are on the rise, essentially making our online personas extensions of our cover letters and resumes.
A digital footprint is the data trail left by daily interactions in a digital environment: Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat and countless others. With so many social-networking sites at our fingertips, it is easy to forget who can view our posts and how long those posts can last. Do you remember what you blogged about during your first year of graduate school? What about high school (for the younger aspiring scientists)?
Your digital footprint is not as secure as you may think. Photos you post to Facebook can be shared without permission. Take a second to think about how well you really know your 300 to 500-plus “friends,” and you may be surprised by who has access to your embarrassing pictures from five years ago. Those Snapchat pictures that are designed to disappear in under 10 seconds — making them seem safe — can be saved forever if the recipient takes a screenshot. Long-forgotten blog entries still may appear in Internet searches. Tweets are powerful tools for instantaneously sharing important news or discoveries, but their ease of use and ability to be retweeted in seconds can be dangerous. The news is full of individuals (businessmen, celebrities and politicians) who tweeted before thinking, and by the time they realized their mistake it was too late: Their tweets already had gone viral. An often-overlooked aspect of social networking is the volatile nature of privacy settings, which are changing constantly with little notice, making once-private information public.
It is important to evaluate and protect our digital footprints. The simplest way to evaluate your digital footprint is to enter your name into Google or search through (slightly more in-depth) for potentially damaging pictures or posts.
To be proactive, set up free Google Alerts to have e-mails sent to you anytime your name pops up online. Signing up for Google Alerts is easy and takes less than 30 seconds.
For an in-depth evaluation of your digital profile, there are a number of free websites to use. These sites can tell you, for instance, which words you use most frequently, who your connections are, the categories of the Facebook Pages you “like,” whether your relationship to a company or person is derived from your LinkedIn or Facebook network, and many additional details about your digital footprint.
A few of these websites are the following:

  • • A social-media monitoring service designed to help users manage their online images across different social networks. Supports Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
  • • MyWebCareer: A service that helps you to discover, evaluate and manage online data that may help your career prospects. Supports Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.
  • • A service that enables you to monitor and clean your online social profile by analyzing your wall posts, status messages and photos for any ill-advised and inappropriate material that may harm your reputation. Currently supports Facebook only.

Online profiles are usually overshadowed by cover letters, resumes or CVs, and interviews, and understandably so, but they should not be overlooked. While it is true that an amazing online persona cannot overcome a lackluster interview, it is equally true that an offensive or embarrassing online persona can jeopardize a great interview. In the current competitive era when highly qualified candidates are competing for a limited number of positions, it is important to demonstrate professionalism on and offline.

Joseph TianoJoseph P. Tiano ( is a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases in Bethesda, Md.