Reputation Management for Students

I. Intro

Today’s students see their smartphones, tablets and laptops as extensions of themselves. But when it comes to sharing personal information online, students often take their usage too far.

Reckless online behavior, regardless of intent or interpretation, exposes students to one essential risk: that admissions counselors or prospective employers will discover something online that will ultimately determine whether or not they move forward with an application, be it for a job, a graduate program or a scholarship.

Given how serious the consequences can be, students need to know how to police their online reputation. This means regulating your actions and your online footprint in anticipation of how others will perceive you. We’ll introduce you to the mentality and resources you’ll need to keep vigilant.

If you do decide to go with a professional service, be wary of ones that are less than reputable and are unclear about what they’re providing. If you do decide to use a service, always remember to do your homework and Google them!

II. Why Online Presence Matters

A 2012 Kaplan survey of 350 admission officers at the top 500 U.S. universities, as determined by U.S. News & World Report, found that 27% of officers reported they have Googled an applicant to learn more about them; 26% had viewed applicants Facebook profiles. Furthermore, 35% of officers admitted to uncovering something in these searches that, in turn, negatively impacted an application. As the numbers suggest, this sort of web-based screening is very much on the rise in graduate admissions offices. But what about in the professional world?

Well, for starters, it’s no secret that employers today prefer an online resume in the application and interviewing process to learn whether or not applicants have over-exaggerated their skills. This is more than enough motivation to run an exhaustive check on a major new hire. Microsoft released a survey that showed a higher number (79%) of hiring managers and recruiters across the United States who’ve admitted to reviewing information online about interviewees and potential applicants. 70% of these managers and recruiters admitted to rejecting applicants due to uncovering an offensive social media profile.

The survey also revealed the sorts of things employers considered in the application rejection process:

  • 58% had issues with the interviewee’s lifestyle
  • 56% did not like inappropriate comments posted by the candidate
  • 43% did not like the inappropriate commentary posted by relatives and friends of the candidate
  • 55% were taken aback by inappropriate videos and photos found of the candidate
  • 40% were not happy with the comments made by the candidate about past employers and co-workers
  • 35% did not like the membership of the candidate in specific groups or on certain social media networks
  • 30% discovered the candidate had given false information during the application process
  • 16% were concerned about the financial background of the candidate

Such varied findings should tip students off to the many layers at play in an online background check. The wrong oversight – even something from years before – can mean a decisive rejection from an otherwise eager employer.’s own research on reputation further emphasizes how serious employers take their online research of candidates. Highlights from a survey of 2,303 hiring managers and human resource professionals include the following data:

  • 45% of people surveyed go online to learn more about a candidate’s qualifications
  • 37% use social networking sites to do some amount of their research
    • 65% use Facebook
    • 63% use LinkedIn
    • 16% use Twitter
  • When viewing these sites:
    • 49% rejected candidates after finding inappropriate material
    • 45% rejected candidates after finding information on drinking or drugs
    • 35% rejected candidates after finding their online communication skills to be lacking
    • 28% rejected candidates after finding discriminatory comments
    • 22% rejected candidates after finding they had lied about qualifications

As the survey makes loud and clear, employers are finding ample reasons to reject candidates and following through on doing just that. Now it’s time to consider what you can do to stay above board.

III. How to Take Control of Your Online Reputation

Reputation management is comparable to protecting a personal brand. It is essential for students to be aware of the kind of content linked to their names. A student’s online presence should, of course, convey a positive image. Any activity that introduces negativity, inaccurate information or harmful material needs to be spotted and shunned.

Online Search Trends, 2001 – 2009


via: Pew Internet

Let’s start with visuals. If you are posting photos online, be careful of what these photos represent and how others will perceive them. Inappropriate images, even seemingly benign pictures of drinking at party, are likely to damage your chances of gaining admission to a school or landing that sought-after job. Even if the photo has been taken down, someone in your network may have publicly shared copies. You need to make the effort to spot questionable material, track down all users sharing said materials and request the owners to remove or restrict access.

But photos are just one social media variable among many to consider, and while each could merit a step-by-step breakdown, we’ve put together a list of pointers to help you start an examination of your social media-driven identity:

  • When creating a social media account, change settings to private and understand what that setting entails. Be sure to restrict pictures and video sharing so that things other people post about you won’t be found in a basic search
  • Be wary of sharing too much about your political or religious beliefs online
  • Refrain from joining any groups that would be considered controversial
  • Disassociate from Facebook friends who post embarrassing comments
  • Share thoughts without being overly opinionated
  • Setup Google Alerts to monitor any new online content with your name
  • Don’t post anything negative about your school, professors or past employers
  • Be sure that information about employment and education are exactly the same on your resume and social networking profile
  • Audit all social media profiles – even old accounts, like one on MySpace
  • Avoid spontaneous responses, especially when discussing hot button issues
  • Don’t try to delete any of your social media networking accounts; colleges and employers may see this as you deliberately obscuring yourself
  • Be mindful of online scams and phony friend requests. Never include your phone number, mailing address or home address in your profile.
  • Keep abreast of new laws regarding user privacy and adjust your online profile accordingly

Remember, you should always expect colleges and prospective employers to view material available to the public. Therefore, compromising information should be cleaned up prior to any outreach on your part. Use this checklist to direct your preparation efforts.

IV. Turning Your Online Reputation into an Advantage

Your online reputation isn’t simply something to keep in line. As a student, once you’ve ensured you have a squeaky clean profile you’re comfortable sharing with others (both personally and professionally), you can turn the corner and find ways to make yourself stand out online.

Consider search trends in 2009:

Search Trends, 2006 vs 2009


via: Pew Internet

With the growth of the internet, making it in the business world and job market means making it past online queries; 44% of individuals used search to vet professional services. Your online reputation and background have become increasingly linked to your ability to land a job.

It should come as no surprise then that LinkedIn is the essential professional platform for college grads. First and foremost, LinkedIn serves as an extension of your resume. In some senses, it’s actually confirming the authenticity of your resume’s claims. For example, your relationship with former employers can be easily ascertained based on your LinkedIn connections. Networking with the leadership of a past company via LinkedIn demonstrates to an employer that you took previous occupations seriously. Outreach on your part to important people in your field of choice will also show employers you are able to identify the right people and are comfortable reaching out to them. These sorts of steps will tell anyone reviewing your profile that you have the hunger to succeed – one of the key qualities most employers seek in new hires.

While LinkedIn is there to promote your resume and the strength of your online network, a personal website will put your entire online persona into focus. A simply laid out site dedicated to your resume, accomplishments and portfolio will make it clear to anyone interested in you that you are a reputable and forward-thinking person. And given how user-friendly free site building tools such as WordPress can be, there’s nothing to stop you from making your own site. This is the sort of effort you need to take if you want to truly solidify your reputation.

Another tool gaining momentum in the online reputation space is Klout. Klout looks to standardize online influence and reputation through data-driven metrics. These metrics look at your networking skills across all social media platforms, and then determine whether or not people engage with you and what you share. The tool then scores you on a scale of 1 to 100; the higher the score, the greater your influence. While Klout is by no means a determiner of success, in more and more positions, a candidate’s Klout score could be the evidence an employer needs to favor one person over another.

LinkedIn, personal sites and Klout are just the tip of the iceberg in the online reputation game. In our additional resources below, you’ll find resources that teach you more about staying straight-laced online and standing out for all the right reasons.

V. Additional Resources

Below you’ll find excellent resources and tools designed to help students further understand and act upon their online reputations: