A recent Harris Interactive poll showed that 23 percent of people search the names of business associates or colleagues on the Internet before meeting them -- which probably means many employers are doing the same with job applicants, said Andrea Kay, a career consultant and author of "Interview Strategies That Will Get You the Job You Want."
"It's a wake-up call: You better be careful what you say and do, because it is your reputation. You're developing it early on," Kay said.
Many employers hire companies to conduct background checks, but googling serves as an additional tool. It makes sense, especially when young applicants have few references and a job involves responsibility for people's health or finances, said Charles Fleischer, an employment lawyer and author of "The Complete Hiring and Firing Handbook."
What should a young job seeker do? To start, google yourself to see what pops up, and set up a Google Alert on your full name so you can stay updated, Kay said. Your name may be so common that it brings up thousands of hits that no one would want to sift through anyway.
But if it's not, and you find an item you'd be uncomfortable with an employer seeing -- a disparaging entry about you on an ex-girlfriend's blog, a crass chat room comment you made years ago, or a mortifying photo -- contact the site's creator and ask to have your name or photo removed. The creator may not be legally obligated to do so, but it's worth a shot, so be persistent.
References to illegal drug and even tobacco and alcohol consumption may put you at a disadvantage. While some states prohibit employers from making hiring and firing decisions based on lawful at-home practices, others don't, Fleischer said. He points to medical benefits company Weyco Inc. in Michigan, which recently fired four employees who couldn't or wouldn't quit smoking.
But don't stress too much -- it's unlikely that personal Web sites will make or break your chances.
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