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man_in_cafeGrowing up in a digital age has its benefits. The Millennial Generation  is the first generation to be able to communicate nonstop with their friends twenty four hours a day, listen to music on demand, rewind television shows, never have to consult a map and avoid visiting the library altogether. They marry later, buy houses later and have more student loans than any other generation but they have never known a world without cell phones and the internet. They are also the first generation to find themselves applying for colleges and entering the job market with their entire lives accessible to anyone with a computer, they have an entire digital history paving or blocking the way to their future. Anyone with a computer can peek into the life of a millennial and there is no place for them to hide. The days of filling out an application and relying upon a letter of recommendation to get a job are long gone. Admissions counselors, recruiters and human resource personnel are much more likely to look at Google results and social media accounts when selecting an applicant than a piece of paper. Digital Natives need to be very careful about what people will see when they decide to check them out online. These days, your online reputation is the reputation that really matters. You have to manage it and maintain it carefully in order to reach your full potential.

In a cut throat job market, one negative image on a google search could stand between you and a job.

How to Assess Your Online Reputation

When you are assessing your online reputation the first thing you need to do is search yourself on the internet and see what shows up. Use a variety of search engines and compare the results. What you see is what an admissions officer, recruiter or human resource employee will see. Sit down and think about every bad thing you have ever been involved in and then see if you can find it online. Have you gotten six speeding tickets? Were you arrested for shoplifting at age 12? Were you the victim of a crime in 1986? Are you divorced? Sit down and look for the records of those things and anything else you can find about yourself online. Advanced Google Search is the deepest search available but you can also search message boards like Boardtracker, Omgili, and Boardreader. Don’t forget to do an image search, too. Google Images, Yahoo, Bing, Flickr are the tip of the iceberg but they are a great place to start. Most people are not going to look at you this deeply. But if they do, you want to know what they will find and how to respond.

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No one expects a sixth grader to think about a future employer when he posts a picture of his Nerf gun on Instagram. Nor can anyone expect seventh grade girls to stop sending each other really silly selfies because college recruiters might think they are frivolous in five years. No one will ever hold those types of things against you. However, even juvenile post are held to a certain standard. Make sure that the juvenile posts in your accounts are never racist, never contain drugs or alcohol and are not front page news when the time comes to look good online. Never ever make threats, terroristic remarks, sexist remarks, or take photos where you appear naked, not even as a joke. Once things are posted online they never go away and they can and will come back to haunt you later. As digital natives, you are going to have old, silly things from your youth online, that is just a fact. It should never be what appears first when someone searches your name, however. It should be something they have to look hard to uncover.

People, businesses, brands and companies pay a lot of money to ensure that they are the first hit on a Google search. Entire companies are dedicated to finding the right word combination to make articles stand out and products appear at the top of the list. Lucky for you, someone will be searching for you by name so you don’t need gimmicks and key words, you just need to make sure that when they look you up good things appear. In order for that to happen you will have to spend some time building your brand.

Digital Natives need to be very careful about what people will see when they decide to check them out online. These days, your online reputation is the reputation that really matters. You have to manage it and maintain it carefully in order to reach your full potential.

How To Improve Your Online Reputation

Start with putting all of your content in one place. Experts recommend buying your domain name,  lots of them in fact, and then linking all of your other accounts to that one address. If your name is Joe Kadima and you are able to purchase JoeKadima.com, JKadimablog.net and KadimaJoe.me then do so. If you have a common name then you might need to include your middle name. You want this to be the first thing a search engine finds. Post a flattering headshot, an up to date CV and links to all of the other places that you have a positive online presence. You can use Tumblr,  Wordpress  or About.com to build yourself a professional looking website that easily links to your domain name and requires no web design skills at all. This is a great place to showcase awards, work samples, etc. if you have them.

Next it is time to polish up your social media profile and make it work for you and not against you. Regardless of the site you are posting on some measures must always be taken. Your spelling and grammar must be flawless. Your photos should always be appropriate. There should be no mention of illegal drugs. It is advisable to keep your political views to yourself. 1 in 6 recruiters found shared political views to have a negative effect on their opinion. You should share your volunteer work and charitable donations, however. 66% of recruiters reported a positive response to reading about charity. Have someone take a good profile head-shot for you. A clear photo of your face is much better received than a grainy selfie.

The social media network that is most important when you are trying to start your professional life is LinkedIn.  79% of recruiters say they use it in their hiring practices. LinkedIn also gives you another place to link your website, post your social media account addresses, showcase your CV and get your name out there. You can scroll down to where it says “public profile” on your profile page, and edit the URL. Where it says something along the lines of http://www.linkedin.com/profile/view?id=30269383&locale=en_US&trk=tyah, you can set the URL to read http://www.linkedin.com/in/yourname. Any time you can make your name appear, you should. Remember, the goal is to get positive, current things to appear first in a google search!

Join Facebook and/or clean up the Facebook account that you already have.  If someone has tagged you in an inappropriate or politically charged picture or post remove it immediately. Share your social, philanthropic and community life, however. Recruiters often use Facebook profiles to vet candidates before and after interviews to help them get a feel for who someone is and how they get along with others. You want to put your best face forward but you also want your personality to shine through.

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Google+ isn’t trendy but it wouldn’t take long to set up an account and to link it to your other sites. Google prefers its own sites when conducting a search so it is a great way to get your name to show up. Thanks to Google docs and Google sheets the Google brand is gaining a foothold in businesses and schools. It won’t be long before Google+ becomes more prominent, as well. You will be ahead of the curve.

If you do all of these things and it doesn’t push your silly photos or youthful foibles down several pages into the Google nether where no one ever looks, then you might need some professional help. There are a variety of services that you can purchase to clean up your online history. This might be necessary if you Google yourself and the first thing that appears is your mug shot or a photo of you mooning everyone in town from a water tower. Prices range from $79 to $6,900 to remove one photo. Some of the services monitor your name and make sure the image never reappears and some do not. Obviously, the best course of action is to never have an incriminating photo appear on the internet. But sometimes things happen and a calamity occurs. If that happens, you need to know it right away and either bury it under good things or have it removed. In a cut throat job market, one negative image on a google search could stand between you and a job.

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