BUFFALO, N.Y. — More universities are providing help for graduating students looking to clean up their online image before stepping into the competitive U.S. job market.
Syracuse University, Rochester University and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore are among schools now offering image makeover tools to their students free of charge.
"It's becoming more and more important for students to be aware of and able to manage their online presence, to be able to have strong, positive things come up on the Internet when someone seeks them out," said Mike Cahill, Syracuse's career services director.
"These students have been comfortable with the intimate details of their lives on display since birth," said Lisa Severy, president-elect of the National Career Development Association and director of career services at the University of Colorado-Boulder, which does not offer the service.
"The first item on our 'five things to do before you graduate' list is 'clean up your online profile,"' she said. "We call it the Grandma test — if you don't want her to see it, you probably don't want an employer to, either."
At Syracuse, about 25,000 people have taken advantage of free accounts offered the school by BrandYourself, an online reputation protection company created by a trio of alumni.
"It's becoming more and more important for students to be aware of and able to manage their online presence, to be able to have strong, positive things come up on the Internet when someone seeks them out," Mr. Cahill said.
BrandYourself, which normally charges $10 a month for an account, launched two years ago as a less expensive, do-it-yourself alternative after co-founder Pete Kistler ran into a problem with his own name.
"He couldn't get an internship because he was getting mistaken for a drug dealer with the same name," co-founder Patrick Ambron said. "He couldn't even get calls back and found out that was the problem."
"We want our students and alumni actively involved in shaping their online presence," said Johns Hopkins Career Center director Mark Presnell. Students are encouraged to promote positive, professional content that's easily found by employers, he said.
BrandYourself works by analyzing search terms in a user's online profile to determine, for example, that a LinkedIn account might rank 25th on Google searches of the user's name. The program then suggests ways to boost that ranking. The software also provides alerts when an unidentified result appears on a user's first page or if any links rise or fall significantly in rank.
Nati Katz, a public relations strategist, views his presence online as a kind of virtual storefront that he began carefully tending while in graduate school at Syracuse.
Google his name and up pops his LinkedIn page with a listing of the jobs he has held in digital media and the "500+ connections" badge of honor. His Facebook account is adorned with Mr. Katz smiling over an elegant Thanksgiving dinner table. There are a couple of professional profiles and his Tumblr link, one after another on the first page of results and all highlighting his professional experience.
Before his 2011 graduation, he took the university up on its offer of the BrandYourself account and said it gave him a leg up with potential employers and internship supervisors.
"Fortunately, I didn't have to deal with anything negative under my profile," said Mr. Katz, who used the reputation website BrandYourself.com while pursuing dual degrees in public relations and international affairs. "What I was trying to form was really a nice, clean, neat page, very professional."