Editor’s Note: Last month our careers columnist Benét Wilson wrote about fixing gaps in your resume. This month we’re going to focus on how to repair negative results that may appear when employers plug your name into search engines such as Google or Bing.
With more companies utilizing online tools, it’s easier for potential clients or employers to find negative content on potential employees, making it more difficult to find jobs.
A study conducted by Microsoft, owner of search engine Bing, found that 79 percent of U.S.-based human resource professionals research a prospective employee’s online reputation, but only 32 percent of prospects take their online reputation seriously. The company also found 42 percent of Bing users search their name as a precaution.
Sabrina Clark, executive director of marketing for BrandYourself.com, said search results are typically an employer’s first impression of a person.
“It’s your resume, business card and reputation all rolled into one,” Clark said during a webinar on combating negative search results. “Most people don’t come across as good online as they do off line. One or more negative results coming up from your name can have a massive impression on anyone who’s looking you up.”
Negative search results aren’t always images that show people in compromising positions, Clark said, but can include negative press, blog posts or business reviews as well as revenge porn or, in the case of BrandYourself co-founder Pete Kistler, mistaken identity.
“In college, he was being confused with a criminal in Google search results with a similar age range and similar location,” Clark said. Kistler founded the online reputation management company in 2010 after being mistaken for criminals when job hunting.
Clark said while the negative results are damaging, there are ways to combat them.
Ask the website owner or user to take down the content
There are different approaches to asking depending on whether it is a smaller site or larger one. If it’s a smaller site, Clark suggests contacting them directly through the contacts listed on their web page.
“Some smaller blogs like to talk to you and their user base will openly provide contact info,” she said. “If you can’t [reach someone] you might be able to use their domain (to look them up).”
Clark said using who.is is helpful when finding more information on the website. Just type in the domain name and it will give the information it has on the site. If a person is still unable to find what they are looking for, they may have to contact the hosting provider, which may be listed on who.is as well.
Larger websites usually have their own terms of services and a team of people dealing with these issues, Clark said. She also said writing a clear explanation with screenshots makes it easier for websites to handle this issues.
While this is a more common solution, Clark added that a few issues may come out of this: The person who posted it doesn’t have to take it down and if the post is taken down they are archived in search results, which may not disappear immediately. Also, other sites may have the same content posted.
File a legal complaint with Google or a Digital Millennial Copyright Act (DMCA) Takedown
If the first approach is unsuccessful, Clark suggests going to support.google.com/legal, which will have information about filing a complaint.
Copyrighted content or images being used without consent is typically investigated, along with postings containing personal information such as credit card or social security numbers, Clark said. Google won’t, however, remove embarrassing information or content just because a user doesn’t like it.
If unsuccessful with Google, another legal route is to file a Digital Millennium Copyright Act take down notice. The DMCA was passed in 1996 to protect copyrighted material online. In this situation, users have to make sure the material is copyrighted and that they own the copyrighted content.
If the information is false, call a lawyer
If a DMCA takedown request is denied, the next step may getting a lawyer. This is most helpful when dealing with defamation suits in which false information is posted about a person in an attempt to diminish their character. According to abine.com, an online privacy blog, a person could get a court order declaring content as defamatory if the claims are presented as facts, are proven false and/or negatively affects their reputation. Abine.com also advises speaking with a First Amendment attorney who specializes in Internet defamation.
Going the legal route is not an easy fix, but for some it may get less complicated. Last year a European Commission ruled online users had the “right to be forgotten,” meaning users can now ask Google to remove irrelevant or inaccurate content regarding them. The ruling applies to companies in the European Union as well as U.S.-based companies operating in the EU, including Google and Facebook. But Google has created an online form that even U.S. citizens can now use to ask the search giant to remove links or posts containing personal information.
Build your online presence
“The only effective way to combat negative results is to actively build a positive online presence,” she said. “It will safeguard you from negative results.”
Since the goal is to build a positive reputation, she recommends that online users create a personal website using their name as the domain name. Clark also suggests using WordPress since it’s free and easily guides users through the process of search engine optimization for websites.
Next, she said to get on relevant social media, particularly ones pertaining to a person’s professional field, and to share professional content. Clark also encouraged starting a blog since they help people stay active on the web while producing good content.
“[Blogging] is simpler than you think,” she said, “adding sites such as Medium allow you to very easily start blogging from day one and share interesting content related to your industry, which would only add credibility to you as a professional.”