Erik Hansen is a graduate student pursuing a Master of Public Policy and the “When I Was a Mustang…” columnist.

Approximately 300 U.S. corporate recruiters were interviewed on the impact of the “online presence” of potential new hires in a January 2010 report commissioned by Microsoft and conducted by Cross-tab Marketing Services. It found that approximately 80 percent of corporate recruiters will follow-up on potential new hires by looking them up online.

The report goes on to state, of the recruiters interviewed, approximately 75 percent said their companies have formal policies in place requiring hiring personnel to research applicants online.

The methodology and types of websites used by hiring personnel to research applicants online should come as no surprise to anyone. From the report, a breakdown of the types of websites used/visited is as follows:

– Search engines (78 percent)

– Social networking sites (63 percent)

– Photo and video sharing sites (59 percent)

– Professional and business networking sites (57 percent)

Basically, this means that hiring personnel “Googled” applicants, and then looked at their Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and LinkedIn accounts — and anything else Google could dig up.

The report found approximately 70 percent of U.S. corporate recruiters had rejected a potential new hire based on information about the applicant found online, while approximately 85 percent of these same hiring personnel stated that an applicant’s positive online presence influenced their hiring decision “at least to some extent.”

Today there are companies specializing in shaping, controlling and monitoring the online presence of businesses and/or individuals, such as Reputation Defender.

However, before you contract with a company to control your online identity, the following are a few simple steps that anyone can take to clean up their online presence.

Be Proactive: First thing’s first, Google yourself. By now most of you have probably already done so. You have probably even Googled your friends, just as they have probably Googled you.

Take it a step further though. In the search field, Google: 1) Your name and where you grew up. 2) Your name and “Cal Poly.” 3) Your name and “San Luis Obispo.” Maybe include your middle name or middle initial.

Be sure to Google your e-mail address(es) too. Do the same thing with the two other search engines people have a slim chance of using — Yahoo and Bing.

According to StatCounter.com, in the U.S., Google is currently used approximately 80 percent of the time, whereas Yahoo and Bing are used about 10 and 9 percent of the time, respectively.

From these queries, create a list of Web pages that you would like to edit, remove or at least push to the second page of search results.

Clean: Now it’s time to start sweeping and scrubbing. That old LiveJournal account from your freshman year of high school should probably go. From the list of Web pages you have created — the list that you have deemed detrimental to your “brand” — go in and delete all entries, pictures, posts, etc. Then, close the accounts all together.

Did you forget your password to that old blog where you used to write about how much you love ponies and rainbows? Just contact the webmaster directly. Most websites have a “contact” option buried somewhere on the homepage. The webmaster can either send you a new or temporary password, or simply close your account all together. In a few weeks those old, embarrassing Web pages will not even register in Google’s cache anymore.

Don’t want to close your Flickr account? Much like what you have probably already done with your Facebook account, adjust the privacy settings so only your close friends can view those interludes you had in Thailand last summer.

Rebuild: While Googling yourself, you probably noticed three websites always rank extremely high in your search results: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. If you have not already done so, register with these three websites. Make sure to keep these accounts current and clean — reflecting a positive light on your past and current accomplishments. Or, just keep your privacy settings set very high.

You could also consider registering an Internet domain name using your full name, or close to it, and writing wonderful things about yourself.

By joining high ranking websites and registering your own Internet domain, you begin pushing other search results you are associated with lower. If a search engine spits out  Web pages you are in and have no control over removing — like a column in the Mustang Daily — your only real course of action is to push it lower in the search results.

Control: For better or worse, because Google is the search engine used approximately 80 percent of the time, by creating a “Google Profile,” Google allows you to have a little more control over the search results people get when they Google you.

Creating a Google account and profile is fast, free and easy. Upon creating your Google Profile, you should enable it to be searched for by your name — set your Google Profile to show your full name publicly.

Monitor: Finally, monitoring your name online is fairly simple, and there are several services that will e-mail, or “alert,” you when new internet content about you, or something related to you, is available. Set up alerts for several variations of your full name, or your full name and some other identifying field if you have a common name, at alert services such as Google Alerts, Technorati and Tweetbeat. This will allow you to monitor the Web, news, blogs and Twitter. These services are great, and useful for monitoring other Web content you are interested in as well, not just your online identity.

After you have completed the above steps, be sure to Google yourself again in a couple months. Reassess your new online identity, looking for any more changes that need to be made — wash, rinse and repeat. Maintaining a clean and positive online presence is not just reserved for corporations and businesses anymore.

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