How to clean up your social media footprint for a job search

By David Hunt, PE

In this day and age where “social media” dominates our lives, the conventional wisdom in the job search world is that candidates will be searched for – on Google, Bing, and any other search engine that the hiring manager or human resources person fancies. They will also check people out on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.

Given the costs and consequences of a “bad hire” one certainly cannot fault them for doing so. And in most of these places, the information is public and intentionally uploaded. That picture of you chugging a beer funnel? The snapshot of you in a isty-bitsy bikini? The embarrassing story from a week ago you just had to share? All are put there by the job seeker… maybe. With photo tags, a person’s name can be attached to an embarrassing picture without their consent.

Hiring managers and human resources people search the internet for indications about a candidate’s personality, character, and human failings – and then are shocked and horrified to discover candidates have personalities, characters, and human failings. And re-reading this, I’ll add that candidates that don’t have any social media trail are often considered equally suspect.

This judgment assumes that they've found the right person! As a part of my own job search I have taken to searching for myself on google and bing using different permutations of my name, location, and title. There are quite a few David Hunts, even just locally. I just found a rather charged political comment by another “David Hunt” also from Nashua. Whether or not I agree with it is immaterial – someone searching for me would likely assume they've got the right guy, with a 50-50 shot (Democrat / Republican) of taking offense at what was said… by the wrong guy.

What you see isn't what others may find

Thanks to a TED talk by Eli Pariser some time ago, I learned that what I search for is customized by filters; what I see is not necessarily what someone else will see. Thus, I enlisted several trusted friends to also do searches for me on these permutations and any others that came to mind. This way I could better find possibly embarrassing things that might be “out there”.

A little help from your friends is all you need...

This is a critical thing for job seekers. Don’t just rely on your own efforts to scan and clean your internet footprint. Get others to help. A suggested course of action: For anything related to you that you don’t want, have your friend click on the next five innocuous items to raise them in the ranks. Lather, rinse, repeat on a daily basis.

Only by clicking on innocuous and irrelevant items can anything potentially damaging be driven downward in rankings by raising those items not damaging to you.

The rule of thumb is that if you can get that item down a few pages in the search results, it’ll be in the weeds and likely unseen – it’ll never be truly gone, of course.

Don't worry about being who you really are

Of course this isn’t permission to be stupid. Exercise some judgment. If you post pictures, consider the viewpoint of a potential employer – is this something they really should see?

If you blog, or comment on LinkedIn and elsewhere (and I do both), are you commenting intelligently – or ranting? Now everyone’s definition of a rant will be different… I consider cynicism and sarcasm as just one more service I offer, and that is part of who I am – but even these are tools in my service to make a point, differ with someone else, etc. But insults are right out, and doubly-so for anything smacking of bigotry, harassment of any type, etc. And actual threats are, naturally, even beyond that. 

For some mischievous satisfaction, Google your interviewer

But back to the use of such searching as a part of vetting a candidate. How many hiring managers and human resources persons could withstand such scrutiny? Remember the adage: the internet is forever. People do stupid things, and many people put their stupid things out there for people to see. A letter to the editor. A comment on a website. A dubious picture of any number of possible flavors? Do those persons who are judging candidates live such sterile, hyper-controlled lives that their internet trail is unassailable?

My bet is no. My bet is that most hiring managers and human resources people could not meet the standards to which they hold others.

In this case, let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

David Hunt is a Mechanical Design Engineer in southern New Hampshire looking for his "next opportunity" that allows him to design new products and shepherd them to stable production. His LinkedIn profile is:; he blogs at and tweets at @davidhuntpe.


  1. Great article, one thing I also mention to my students is if they have a private and a professional presence online (social media, etc.), they should try to make the professional one as accessible as possible. Then, if a recruiter finds one account quickly, they are less likely to continue searching for a second.

    1. Thank you for posting your reaction. And I agree, keeping the our professional profiles more active than our social ones, at least during the job hunt period, is a very wise move.

  2. Privacy controls must be used for these potentially negative textual posts and photos. Facebook & Google+ both have them so use them. I always do. ZERO of my posts are NOT public and only shared with those who connect with me.

    1. Good point Adam. I agree. Personally my preference is to never post anything negative at all...except about bad politicians and businesses of course, who I consider fair game ;-)