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Whether you are looking for a new job or want to succeed in your current one, having a dubious digital past can be an albatross round your neck. How do you deal with online liabilities?

When should I worry?

“Assume that every employer is constantly looking at your profiles,” says Michael Fertik, chief executive and founder
of Reputation.com, a reputation management company. “Just because you don’t get negative feedback doesn’t mean it’s not there. They probably just don’t tell you.”

It is not just photos of drunkenness and inappropriate comments you should worry about, he adds. “If you’re passionate about environmental engineering, but everything you say online is about music and cats, there’s clearly a mismatch that will raise questions.”

What can I do?

Personal branding consultant Lesley Everett advises: “If you are concerned that your online presence might raise eyebrows, add intelligent posts and comment perceptively on newspaper and magazine articles. The more ‘layers’ you add the more you dilute and obliterate your dubious past.”

Keep social networks distinct – Facebook for friends, LinkedIn for work and so on. You can use privacy settings, tagging and notification to your advantage. However, privacy policies change so may not be fail-safe.

Mr Fertik suggests: “Make sure you have LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook accounts that say who you are and use your real name as they’ll show up when people search for you. Broadcast things that you’ve read, think about professional interests and try and express a life of the mind. You don’t need to do it that often – just once a week. People spend ages on their résumé without realising Google results are also their résumé.”

What if a current boss brings it up?

“Own up to it,” says Ms Everett. “You can’t change it, but you can say that it isn’t a true reflection of you and that you’ll be more aware in the future.”

You might also consider deleting the social media accounts.

What if someone brings it up in a job interview?

Clive Davis, a director at the recruitment consultancy Robert Half, advises: “Whatever you do, don’t lie. Acknowledge that there may be some posts or photos that are not representative of how you conduct yourself in your professional life.”

“Instead of getting defensive, calmly ask them what specifically they felt was negative about your profile and address the issues individually.”

What if it’s not me?

If you are being bad­-mouthed or impersonated online, call in the experts. “A few years ago, you could have dealt with this yourself but now it’s too complex,” says Mr Fertik. “You need professional help.”

The writer is the author of ‘The Careerist: Over 100 ways to get ahead at work’

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

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