6 things you need to know about your digital footprint

Did you know that everything you do online leaves a trail of data behind that employers can access? As we spend more and more of our lives online, if you’re on the hunt for a new job, you need to be considering what conclusions your digital footprint is leading potential employers to make about you.

Here’s what you need to be aware of to ensure you only leave the right impression.

1. There are two main types of traceable activities that you can conduct online. An active digital footprint is a record of data that you submit intentionally. This can range from emails and social media updates to publishing blogs and even signing online petitions or filling out surveys. Every Tweet you post, photo you publish or ‘Like’ you give, are all stored online.

2. The other type of digital footprint is the ‘passive’ footprint. This is made up of data you leave online unintentionally. This can be when you visit a website and cookies are stored which record what you’ve been looking at, or when a search engine like Google stores information about what you’ve been searching for.

3. Where is it stored? Your digital footprint is stored in different ways according to the type of data. There isn’t one big ‘online warehouse’ that you can open and see inside. Passive digital footprints can be stored in several ways, such as online databases called ‘hits’ or offline files. Social media sites record the activities of their users over time. This is called your ‘life stream.’

4. So, who is looking at your digital footprint anyway? Your digital footprint can reveal a lot about you to marketers, who want to know about the products you may be interested in. They can use data from your search history, cookies from the websites you have been visiting, or your likes on Facebook to determine what you may want to buy. Facebook Ads work in this way – if a marketer creates a Facebook Ad for their product, they can target you based on things like your gender, age, interests, online behaviour, location, and ads you have clicked on before.

5. Digital footprints are also used regularly by job recruiters. This is called ‘cyber vetting,’ a process whereby the recruiter researches the online activity of applicants to determine their suitability. This can extend far further than just looking at your Instagram photos. Recruiters can now use special companies that can investigate everything from what petitions you’ve signed, to what you’ve been shopping for.

6. The good news is there are some easy steps you can take to protect your digital footprint:

Google yourself. This is where recruiters will start. Use speech marks around your name to narrow the search, and don’t forget to check images.
Check your privacy settings on social media accounts. Make sure you know exactly what the public sees when they view your profile.
Update your profile pictures.These are the images most likely to appear to the public.
Do a Social Media audit.Think of your online persona as an extension of your CV.
“Build a simple website for yourself with the URL firstnamelastname.com (or similar), so that your site shows up high in search engines for queries of your name. Likewise, set up your Twitter and LinkedIn accounts to be twitter.com/firstnamelastname (instead of, say, .com/partyguy44) for the same reason,” recommend the Harvard Business Review.
Keep your software up-to-date to prevent viruses and malware from mining your digital footprint.
Pay attention to the privacy settings on the apps on your phone and consider what they might be sharing about you.
Consider what you do and don’t want companies and marketers to know about you, and behave online accordingly. The internet is not as private as it seems – if it doesn’t exist, they can’t see it.