Oh don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen the statistics. Nearly half of employers googled a candidate in the last year and a third made a decision based on that. It is awful to think of those poor people who were disregarded because of some drunken photos on MySpace.
As a disclaimer, I have googled the name of almost everyone who has come to work for us. And no, none of them lost consideration because of it (though a few stuffy companies might have done so with what I found). At best, most of the information I found had little to nothing to do with the ability for these people to perform their job.
The point I make is that assuming your online persona isn’t incredibly unemployable (and I would guess that about 98% of them fall in that category), you aren’t going to be denied a good opportunity at a good company. Most decent companies are going to have some kind of policy about using outside information to come to a job decision. Most decent companies are going to exercise good judgement on this matter too.
But if you are a company that can’t stand if one of your interns has a picture of him and his buddies at a bar and you are the type of person that doesn’t mind making that information public, maybe you aren’t being denied a good opportunity after all. Job fit and company culture play a major role in your future as an employee and along with your future boss, this sort of clash of cultures might kill your job chances anyway.
It isn’t going to become less common for employers to do an internet search for you. If you are concerned about what your chances are with a company based on what you find about yourself, you should try to sanitize it.
Or then again, maybe not. You might just be doing yourself a favor.
Disclaimer 2: My boss at work has seen my MySpace profile. It has several unprofessional pictures on it (including drinking pictures). She thought it was great. Of course, I don’t think it is bad for HR to show any sort of personality. We have to beat accounting!