Finding a new job is a whole new ball game in the internet age, especially as HR professionals and potential employers will often treat a potential applicant’s online presence and reputation as an extension of their resume. For those re-entering the job market – whether it be following a long stint at one job or following a break from the workforce as a whole – the stakes are higher than ever to ensure that you’re putting your best self forward in order to find your next dream job.

Younger generations who have grown up online are typically more proactive about their online presence, cultivating and continuously editing their social media profiles for onlookers and followers. Those who aren’t as involved in editing or paying attention to their online reputation should focus on cultivating a digital presence that is relatively clean and appealing to others, including potential employers. Here’s how to diligently screen and manage your online reputation so that you look more appealing to others:

Finding What “Dirt” May Exist

Your first step is simple: search your own name. Scope out what pops up on those first few pages of results on various search engines, and see how you look in the eyes of others.

You should also do the same searches on the top social media sites, even if you don’t maintain your own pages. If do you have your own social sites, do a scan of the information you allow to be publicly available. If you don’t have your own accounts, check if friends or people you may know have mentioned you by your full name on social sites like Facebook. Chances are, more often than not, that someone has done so at some point, and you likely have a social footprint without even realizing it!

Upon completing these searches, if you find that the results are outdated, unprofessional or unflattering, it may be time to establish a more appropriate online reputation.

Out with the Old

If you happen to dig up some negative, unsavory or untrue pieces of information about yourself online, it’s time to actively work to either remove the offending information or limit its exposure. First things first, for those who run their own social media pages: be sure to stay up to date on privacy settings and use tools that the platforms offer to limit viruses which can lead to unintended negative posts or photos online. However, don’t rely on these setting to keep your information out of the public eye – remember that anything you post online could one day be public and easily searchable.

If you need to request to remove something, be prepared to present your case for removal in a calm, even-keeled manner. You don’t want your removal request to come off as derogatory or unflattering, as this too can be posted online to further tarnish your reputation.

Many people think that all problems will go away by simply deleting your social media accounts, but this is far from the truth. This could make you invisible to those searching for you online, which can be a major red flag to someone looking to hire you – with nothing to find on you at all, some employers could determine that it may be too risky to even give you a shot.

In With the New

If through your searches you find that you were lacking a strong professional presence online, make your own! If you don’t have one already, create a LinkedIn page. Be sure to fill this page out with an updated photo, your accomplishments and relevant skills. You want your profile to be as well-rounded as you are.

If you want to populate the searches with more positive content about yourself, consider creating some additional pages with professional content. You can set up your own website or create your own blog posts on websites like Medium.com – these can show off your achievements and skills, and also showcase additional, positive activities that you are involved in or passionate about that may be attractive to potential employers.

For those looking to distinguish themselves from others who may have the same name as them, it is extremely helpful to build out your own profiles in a unique way. Make sure you stand out from others with the same name as you in order to not confuse those who will be searching for you. You can do this by adding a middle initial to both your resume and social pages, adding a link to your LinkedIn profile or other social profiles to your resume, or by making your current location clear on both your resume and social pages.

Bring in the Professionals

If all else fails and the damage is too difficult to get rid of on your own, work with a reputation expert who can assist in helping reposition you in a more appealing way online to others. Professionals will be able to actively and reactively assess your reputation, work to positively enhance your online presence and showcase your strengths and skillsets to others.

It is imperative, now so more than ever, to control your online presence and maintain an accurate and flattering online reputation. If you don’t like the way that you are presented online, chances are that others may not like the way that you are presented either. Invest in yourself and your online reputation to ensure that you don’t miss out on opportunities like landing your next big dream job.

Cleaning up your reputation as best as possible is an important step when entering the job market, but what’s really important when it comes to protecting your reputation is never letting it get soiled in the first place. Make good judgement calls when considering what to post online, and remember that nothing on the internet stays hidden forever. If you wouldn’t want someone – potential employers included – to see something, don’t post it, and keep your reputation as clean as possible.