When people hear the term “reputation repair,” it brings to mind extremely negative, even catastrophic, images. But reputation repair is broader than that in my mind. Managing your reputation is the work of every single professional, from those with a sterling reputation who are happy in their current situation, to the ones getting ready to make a career transition, to people dealing with the impact of negative press.

Think like a recruiter.
Not many people monitor themselves online like they should. How long has it been since you last put your own name in the Google search bar? Anything that shows up in the results needs to be reviewed. Ask yourself, “Will this help or hurt my reputation?”

Too many people look on the surface, stopping after the first few search results. But recruiters go deeper than that. They will look at the first several pages of links that mention your name. You need to take a deep dive on yourself to look for info that is not only overtly negative, but articles, quotes, or images that could be misinterpreted.

I also urge you to think critically about your engagement on social media. Recruiters can easily monitor your activity on your social media accounts—even your personal ones. Someone intent on digging will be able to see not only what you post on your personal account, but also other accounts you follow, posts from others that you have liked, and photos or posts you have been tagged in by other accounts. You have to engage wisely and stay on top of what appears on social media.

Think before you speak.
A good way to avoid search results that could hurt your reputation is to think before you speak. This is important not just for when you are looking for your next opportunity, but at all times. The fact is, everything we say is open to others’ interpretation, regardless of our motivations and intentions. We likely all know or know of someone who wrote or said something at the wrong time when organizational or cultural tensions were high, and it cost them their jobs.
Slow down and consider your words from a variety of perspectives, especially in today’s environment.

Think about your response.
When you find something negative in your search results, you must decide the best strategy for your response to the article, photo, quote, etc. Do not make the mistake of assuming that no one else will see it or that it won’t affect you. You must decide on an approach and do something about it.

Depending on the nature of what you find, you have to decide whether to get out ahead of it, or wait for the objection to come. If you choose to get ahead of it,  tread carefully. Introduce it into the conversation at the right time. Make sure you’ve had a chance to establish some levelof connection at that point. In  general, it’s better to talk about it at the end of a conversation, and not the beginning.

It is also essential that you determine the right lens for the information you’re sharing. How you tell your story is extremely important. Consider it from your audience’s perspective. Ensure that you haven’t created any gaps where they can insert their own thoughts or interpretation of your story.

Many people believe you can remove whatever you find on the internet, but that’s not really possible. On the rare occasion a news source will remove an article, but repairing your reputation often requires some professional assistance to help you tell the truth and impact the search results. It’s a partnership, not a one-way thing. These professionals guide you in publishing articles and other repair activities, but you have to put in the work to get positive press. It’s a slow  process, and you have to be patient with it.

Ultimately, reputation repair comes down to the concept of personal branding. Managing your reputation and being aware of what kind of information and connotations are attached to your name is always wise, no matter the current condition of your reputation or your career plans.

Author: Jim WiederholdJim believes his 39 years of experience--particularly his more than 26 years in healthcare--has prepared him well for what he does. His wealth of experience spans key areas, including finance, operations, management, leadership, sales and sales management, corporate, contingency, contractual and retained recruiting, outplacement and transition work and executive coaching.