Dear Dr. Civitelli,
I am writing to ask you for career advice about what to do because I made a big online mistake that could hurt my job search. I work in banking and in a burst of anger one night, I posted a rant to a popular banking industry website. I made some statements I regret, things that might make an employer cautious about hiring me.
Unfortunately, I used my real name, and now when someone puts my name in a search engine, this rant comes up in the top three listings for me. My name isn’t common so I can’t pretend it isn’t me! I repeatedly tried contacting the website to beg that they remove the information and no one has ever responded to my request. What should I do?
Dear Desperate Banker,
To answer your question, I consulted Miriam Salpeter, a career coach with expertise in managing your online reputation during a job search. I asked Ms. Salpeter what she thinks you should do to recover after an online mistake. Ms. Salpeter says, “The best defense is a good offense. In other words, ideally, the person will already have a well developed online profile and a strong digital footprint. For example, if he or she is active on Google+, has a regularly updated blog, and participates on LinkedIn (for example), his or her Google results should still point to that information. It would be wise to ramp up those efforts in light of an online mistake, as the best thing you can do to salvage or save your reputation is to provide a lot of positive content for Google to index about you.”
She continues, “A tool that may help is Vizibility, as it allows you to create some “verified results,” which then will show up on Google. There are services that say they help with reputation defending. DefendMyName claims to be able to get things deleted from search results. Another one is Reputation.com. These are fee-based options.”
I agree with Ms. Salpeter’s advice. You may get recommendations from others to be the first to bring up the online mistake so that you can come clean and apologize, but I have big concerns about that strategy. There is social science research that says when people don’t know each other well, anything negative observed about someone gets greatly magnified because there is an absence of positive information to counteract the negative information. So to me, it would be very risky to bring up the online mistake when you don’t even know if the prospective employer has seen it. I recommend doing everything you can to flood the Web with positive information that builds your good reputation. Also, keep trying to contact the website because the best possible outcome would be that someone at the website agrees to delete the damaging information.
I hope that helps!
Miriam Salpeter is the author of “Social Networking for Career Success: Using Online Tools to Create a Personal Brand. She coaches job seekers and small business owners via her consulting firm, Keppie Careers.