Earlier this month, a professor took to Twitter with a request. She wrote, “Dear Academics on the job market: Please make a google scholar page for yourself. Sincerely, Search Committees everywhere.”
In the Twitterstorm of comments that followed, some respondents thanked the professor for the inside-track information. But the suggestion rubbed others the wrong way, and not just because of its haphazard capitalization. To them, the comment’s tone seemed to admonish them for failing to do something superfluous and seemingly arbitrary. A Google Scholar page? I mean, OK, but why?
It’s no wonder job applicants have so many questions about what potential employers are looking for. You think you’ve submitted a polished CV and a brilliant cover letter—then suddenly you learn that you also need to make yourself look presentable online. It may seem like overkill. But the reality is that if you get far enough in the job application process—whether inside academia or out—someone is likely to Google you. With that in mind, here are some tips for sanitizing your online presence so that you can look presentable to hiring committees everywhere.
Make absolutely sure you have a [INSERT NICHE PROFILE SITE HERE] page. What, you aren’t on ResearchGate? Then how do you connect with other scientists socially but in a restrained academic way? You don’t have a Google Scholar page? You’re not using Publish or Perish? What’s your ORCID ID? How often do you update your profiles on LinkedIn, Monster, Indeed, and BioSpace? Have you joined Inspire and Publons and bioRxiv and GitHub and Academia.edu? Surely you know that every single hiring committee is going to search all of these sites, and if you’re not active on their favorite one, you’re not a serious scholar. Just be sure not to waste time on these sites at the expense of maintaining your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Wikipedia pages.
Google thyself. Want to see what your prospective employer can see? Simply try to search for yourself the way they will. Don’t forget to search images as well. It would be unprofessional and creepy for an employer to search for you this way, so you know they will.
Try Bing, too. No one uses Bing because they want to use Bing. But some people use Bing because it’s the default search engine for Internet Explorer, and they use Internet Explorer because they are in their 80s. Remember that different search engines may give different results, so check a few.
Plead your case. If your friend wrote an unflattering blog post that mentions you, it might be within your power to convince them to delete the post—or at least your name. But you can’t just send a friendly email to Google and have the company take down everything you don’t like on the internet. A more effective approach is to physically travel to northern California and run through the nearest tech office plaza pointing at the offending post and yelling, “TAKE IT DOWN TAKE IT DOWN TAKE IT DOWN” while waving your arms like a Muppet. This will ensure that the post in question is no longer the most embarrassing thing about you on the internet.
Change your privacy settings on social media. This foolproof method will keep your posts visible only to friends, friends-of-friends, and anyone to whom you granted permission by accident. Don’t accept new friend requests from accounts that are clearly prospective employers trying to sneakily learn about you: “Hello, close friend! My name is HR Admin. Let’s be buddies online so we can learn about each other using the least secure settings!”
Scan social media for youthful follies. Did a friend post a photo on Facebook showing you doing a keg stand in 2009? Untag yourself. Did you check into a Hobbit-themed escape room once on Foursquare? Uncheck it. Did you publicly Venmo a friend for Nickelback tickets? Discard your computer. Don’t think of these changes as revising history; think of them as presenting your best, most dignified, and least authentic self.
Don’t forget older accounts. Your TikTok profile isn’t the only page that can be found on the web. Remember to deactivate accounts you created years ago on sites you thought were going to be amazing. This includes your Myspace profile and, if you can still find it, your Geocities account—whatever the heck that did.
Make yourself look professional. It’s not just a matter of deleting old stuff. Actively portray yourself as the consummate professional who you know yourself not to be. Post scientific journal articles! Discuss academic matters on a career-focused blog! Follow boring science organizations on Twitter! Portray this as your normal life. This is important, because no laboratory wants to employ a well-rounded human.
Got cats? Yeah, tone down the cats.
Never, ever post anything anywhere about hating your job. I used to work with someone who not only filled her Facebook feed with complaints about her stupid job and her stupid boss and her stupid lab work, but she even posted these complaints during working hours. You never know where potential future employers will materialize; they may even come from within your Facebook universe. Why would they want to hire you after seeing a pattern of negative comments? If you truly need to vent, the most secure way is to write your thoughts at the end of a Word document containing your dissertation, thus ensuring that your computer will delete the file before you think to back it up.
Hire a professional reputation manager. For a mere several thousand dollars, you can hire a smarmy sleazeball to trawl through the internet and beef up your search results with posts that amount to nothing more than distractions and lies. This is what we’ve come to, people. Do yourself a favor, though: Before employing a reputation manager, Google them.
You know what? Just don’t use a computer, ever. When in doubt, this is the only surefire method of keeping your online presence crisp and professional. Also don’t use a phone, end your friendships with anyone who owns and uses an internet-enabled device, and be sure to regularly change the aluminum foil in your hat.
Sanitizing your online presence is something previous generations never had to think about. Then again, they also couldn’t press two buttons on a glass rectangle and summon a taxi delivering tacos, so I’d say we’re doing pretty well in general.
But the good news is that an employer’s ability to access your personal secrets generally only extends as far as your willingness to share them. Before you post that tweet about how you and your friends attended a meeting of the Flat Earth Society, think about whether it portrays you in the most positive light.
Sincerely, Search Committees everywhere.