In the market for a job? New services can make your online profile look squeaky clean!

Once upon a time, a resume was a piece of paper, a single sheet that listed the applicant's qualifications, contact information, and references. It was short, it was controllable, and it was discreet.

Nowadays, however, the resume is only the beginning: Any employer worth his salt will conduct an extensive search of the online profile of every job applicant. Unless the applicant is careful, those pictures from Spring Break will inevitably surface, leading the prospective employer to ask whether he or she really wants to hire Cancun's Beer Bong Champion of 2007.

Of course, it's not all that hard to clear up most of your online profile. You start by simply pulling out all of the fun and incriminating pictures, movies, and testimonials from your Facebook and MySpace pages. Once you're done with that, go to all of your non-anonymous web pages and take down anything that would make your mother cringe. Finally, Google your name and make sure there's nothing else out there that you need to worry about. Clear out all the sites that you can access and see what you can do about the others.

And therein lies the rub. After all, while it's easy enough to clear off your own sites, how can you get your friends (not to mention your enemies) to remove the great group shot of your entire sorority guzzling tequila from provocatively-shaped glasses? For that matter, what can you do about the rant that your former best buddy put up when you started dating his sister? While you may argue that this sort of information is personal and doesn't reflect your work ethic, you probably don't want your future employer factoring it into the hiring decision (unless, of course, you're trying to get a job in party planning).

If your friends and enemies won't drop the reputation-killing media, you may try hiring a professional. Recently, several "online reputation management" firms have popped up. These companies are designed to help you get rid of the potentially damaging press that's out there. One firm, ReputationDefender, promises to search out and destroy negative web material, after which they help their customers tweak their online profiles to help them emerge in the best light. ReputationHawk, SEO, and several other sites seem to offer similar services to both individuals and corporate clients. One, NetSmartz, goes so far as to threaten legal action if offensive material isn't removed.

These services can be pretty expensive, ranging up to several thousand dollars, depending on the level of protection and the work involved. However, nobody ever said a good reputation was cheap!

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. His online profile consists of a lot of teaching evaluations and an unfortunate Tijuana travelogue.
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