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Get yourself a little online privacy

Marketplace Staff Mar 2, 2007

Some downer news from Challenger, Gray & Christmas this week. The outsourcing firm said layoffs rose 33 percent in February. That means a lot of folks are pounding the pavement looking for work. While their polishing up their resumes, they might also do well to Google themselves and see what comes up. Chances are, a potential employer will do the same. Marketplace’s Jeff Tyler looks at how to deal with what you find.

Lies, rumors, gossip, the World Wide Web is like a virtual bathroom wall. Character assassination in cyberspace can be anonymous and hard to erase. Why bother? You might ask. Better to just ignore it. But, in fact, employers monitor your online reputation. One young woman believes vulgar comments about her on an Internet discussion board have stained her professional reputation.

WOMAN: It actually made it very difficult to find a job.

We’re not gonna make it even harder by telling you her name. It should’ve been easy for her to find a job. She’s an Ivy League law student. She’s Hispanic. She’s had articles published. And as a kid, she won some prestigious awards. But recruiters wouldn’t know that from her resume.

WOMAN: People would bring that up to me in the interview. So when they did, I knew they had searched me on the Internet. Just googling her name leads to a discussion board featuring profane comments about her. She believes recruiters stumbled upon the Web sites. Of 18 applications, she got no job offers. And she didn’t have any luck trying to convince the Web site to remove the offensive statements. So the Ivy League law student turned to a company called ReputationDefender.

MICHAEL FERTIK: Our motto is search and destroy. We are a PR firm for the everyday person.

That’s company founder and CEO Michael Fertik. For as little as 10 bucks a month, ReputationDefender will compile a list of all the information about you floating around in cyberspace. For an extra 30 bucks per item, the company will attempt to get offensive material removed. Much of the time, the information is embarrassing, but accurate. Fertik says the Internet can provide clues about your age, your health, your politics, information an interviewer would never ask you directly.

FERTIK: The employer may never admit to considering the fact of your medical condition, your political history, your political statements, whatever it turns out to be, when denying you that job. But you better believe they found it. You better believe they’re considering it.

Digging up digital dirt is a growing trend. A survey by the professional networking organization, ExecuNet, found that more and more companies research job candidates by going online. Dave Opton is the company’s founder and CEO.

DAVE OPTON: The most recent data that we have indicated that 77 percent of the recruiters told us that they use search engines to uncover information about candidates. And of those, 36 percent of them told us that they had eliminated candidates based on the information that they found.

ReputationDefender has had some success politely asking Web masters to scrub embarrassing items. But so far, no cooperation from the Web site that’s hurt the reputation of the Ivy League law student. So when scrubbing fails, try accentuating the positive, and puff up your online profile. For example, until recently, an Internet search for Chicago dentist, Mark Zieba showcased old photos from college. Picture this.

MARK ZIEBA: You and your friends sitting at a table with a bunch of beer bottles in front of you. Most people have done that in their lives once or twice. But the point of the matter is that when somebody is searching for a new dentist to go to, that’s not the first image they wanna see.

So he hired a company called Naymz, that’s N-A-Y-M-Z, to create a professional Internet portfolio. For five bucks a month, Naymz positions his professional profile near the top of an Internet search. They could get a link directly to my office, where I wanted to be sent in the first place. Not that he’s ashamed of his hobbies, he just prefers that potential customers see him as a dentist first, and a Wiffle Ball champ a distant second.

Masking my own reputation behind a common name, I’m Jeff Tyler for Marketplace Money.

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