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What is a Digital Footprint? And Why It Matters

A few years ago I worked for a company who were looking to hire a new staff member. We were a small team, so when the most likely candidate arrived we huddled around my computer and, naturally, Googled him. What happened next is a lesson well worth heeding, and one we’ll return to throughout this article…

digital footprint

If you’re looking for employment, particularly in the online marketing space, you should care about what your digital footprint looks like. Why? Because it is easily accessible and just as important to employers as your resume.

As our use of the internet has blossomed (or fallen, depending on your perspective) from occasional information intake, and ad hoc communication, to being an interwoven part of our day-to-day experience, there is an element that we often neglect.

What are we leaving out there that future employers could take a particular stance on?

If you are to spend hours curating the perfect cover letter and resume for your application, you should be equally concerned about what a quick online search of your name might turn up.

Why should I care about my digital footprint?

When we Googled this candidate’s name, a key thing from his past turned up – across the first two pages of Google’s SERPs.

He had decided to take part in a reality TV show called Married At First Sight (some of you may have heard of it!), and hadn’t been particularly careful in how he behaved throughout the series.

One particular controversy would affect his future employment, potentially forever…

Your digital footprint says a lot about you, and it can often be hard to reign in what’s out there. The good news is, of course, that most of us will not have made global headlines because of a popular TV show.

But that isn’t good news because it means your footprint doesn’t matter!

It’s good news because, by following the steps below, it is much easier for you to create a positive history online that employers will look upon favourably.

Your digital footprint is a track record of everything you do online. As we wrote in this explainer post, “Everything you read, view, say, buy, and search leaves a trail that can be revisited by others.”

That very same data that is so helpful to us in Digital Marketing Jobs can be a thorn in your side when you’ve graduated, and want to land that first big role. It is your responsibility to make sure it supports your application rather than hinders it.

Here’s how to do it…

6 Quick ways to reduce your digital footprint

Some of these may seem obvious, but if you’ve never considered the importance of doing this, then it may never have occurred to you. So let’s start with the one that’s screaming out, but many of us never do.

1. Google your name

The last time you agreed to meet that hot Tinder date, you probably did a quick search of them first, right?

Well go ahead and do that for yourself. Because whilst the candidate I mentioned above knew what it would show for him, he couldn’t do anything about it (but at least he was prepared!).

What had shown up when we Googled his name was that, as part of MAFS, he had connected well with one of the participants and they had quickly become popular with viewers. However, his gaze had wandered and, for the world to see, he had an affair soon after becoming a husband that would stand in stark contrast to his clean-cut Resume.

You can imagine our faces when the search results page fully loaded. My colleague walked over to the room in which our Director had just begun the interview, and quietly mentioned what had popped up…

The good news for you – likely with a limited search result – is that in the age of data security we’re entering, you often have the right to ask for certain information to be removed from search engine results.

Search yourself across a number of different sites, and request removal for anything that might be negative for your future. You can also set up Google alerts so that you’re across changes to what your name pops up with.

2. Check your privacy

Seems obvious too, I know.

But with constant changes to social media platforms’ Ts & Cs, as well as pure oversight on our behalf, it might surprise you to know how accessible your ‘private’ profiles are across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the rest.

Go through and do a full security walkthrough, making sure that the only parts future employers can see of your social accounts reflect positively on the personal brand you’re trying to convey.

3. Create strong passwords and always log out

Many of us get tired of all the different passwords we need to remember, and end up getting slack with password security. But it really is one of the most important aspects of protecting yourself online – and that includes how it impacts your digital footprint.

Any way in which you minimize third-party access to your movements online is a good thing, so don’t stop at strong passwords: log out of any site or app you’re finished with, and if you don’t plan on going back: deactivate the account!

4. Read terms and conditions, and opt out where appropriate

This is more one for the future, rather than actions to take today, but if you are ever signing up for a new account, read those terms and conditions to have an understanding of how that company plans to use your information.

On top of this, you will often have an option to opt out of them sharing your data, or you receiving anything from third-parties. It’s a pretty good idea to minimize your digital footprint by taking that option when offered.

5. Be cautious, use available tools and clear history

This one is more along the lines of ensuring your safety online and limiting the ability of others to track your movement, and customise their targeting. But as with Step 4, it will also contribute to your overall efforts at keeping your footprint small and private.

There’s a lot of spam out there, so be careful what you click on – even if it’s from a friend who may have been hacked.

Have a look at the many tools available that can help you create fake profiles, and maximize ‘digital noise’ around your activity.

And always, always clear that history. Removing your Cookies after a browsing session may be annoying, but it creates a gap in the chain of your online movements.

6. Think twice before posting anything, and check your past

And here we come to the most important part of influencing your digital footprint: think about what you’re putting out there.

Social media, and any sort of information sharing online, can be a positive. But if we’re not careful it can also be an anchor to our ambitions.

Before you post, share or tweet anything, consider how you would feel having it read out to you in an interview. If you would rather a future employer not see it, then perhaps it’s better not to go ahead with it.

Have a look through your social history and if something fits this criteria, try to remove it wherever possible.

The importance of a positive digital footprint for graduates

So after all that scaremongering, let’s finish on a nicer note!

Regardless of what your digital footprint looks like, you can always improve it, and make it positive.

If you’re a recent graduate looking to land your dream job, think about how you can convey your best self across the online sphere.

What articles can you share on platforms like LinkedIn that reflect your interests and relate to your future roles?

What articles can you get published that show your knowledge on a subject, your moral compass, or one of the traits you espouse in your resume?

How can you have your work as a volunteer or fundraising for a charity recognised online?

There are many ways to build a picture for future employers that work outside of hiding your social life.

So, what happened to the candidate from Married At First Sight?

We worked in a conservative industry where trust between account manager and client was paramount; if a client Googled him, we’d have to be able to justify why he worked for us.

Our Director walked back into the interview and confronted the guy: “Tell us about the TV show and the affair…”

Being aware of his digital footprint meant that, even though he couldn’t avoid his past, he was prepared to explain it. And this reflected well on him in the interview.

That said, he didn’t get the job. And after having a look at what roles are available at our dedicated digital marketing jobs board , you should head to Google and check what those employers might find out about you…

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