As we all know, the Internet has made information instantly accessible. You can find a customer, business partner, investor or employer quicker than ever before. The flipside is that they are only a few clicks away from finding your entire social life online, for better or worse.

A recent survey conducted by the good folks at CareerBuilder UK has revealed that more than half (53%) of employers use social networking sites to research job candidates. Another 12% plan to start using social networking sites for screening. Their preferred methods for looking up candidates are search engines, Facebook, Linkedin, blogs and Twitter.

OK, perhaps not much of a shock there. This is more interesting: 43% of employers reported they have found content on social networking sites that caused them not to hire the candidate. The top reasons were that candidates lied about qualifications, showed poor communication skills, made discriminatory comments and posted content about them drinking and using drugs.

So there you have it; in addition to working on your actual application you now have to sweep the Internet for digital dust bunnies as well. If employers are doing it, we can assume that current and potential customers will be at it as well. You can see why they do this as a quick and easy way to find out who you really are. After all, they will only want to be associated with people that have ‘clean’ online lives as anything else might damage their business.

Here are 10 steps you can take today to check up and clean up your digital dirt:

1. Check your stats

What does a simple Google search reveal about you? And more importantly, are you happy with a prospective customer seeing the result? There are a few ways of checking your online personal brand, or reputation if you will. Google is the obvious one, at the very minimum you should check Bing and Yahoo as well. Use variations of your name, search pictures, videos, news as well to really turn every stone. You can also use Personas which is an application that MIT developed, it scours the Internet to get the gist of your online reputation.

2. General clean up

Doing a spring cleaning up before any tender process may seem obvious but can actually require quite a bit of effort. Delete any embarrassing photos, comments, links from your online profiles and blog. You can even disable your wall/comments so that no new information can be added by others during your critical job search period. Sever all ties (remove/unfollow/block) to questionable or unreliable people as well as groups and associations that are not congruent with your professional reputation. All the security settings in the world won’t help you if one person decides to share your content with the rest of the world.

3. Facebook

The bad news is that Facebook is one of the first ports of call when someone is checking you out. The good news is that you simply change your security settings and they will only be able to see your mug shot or nothing at all. First off you can specify who can find you in a Search, then change who can see what on the Privacy settings page. This should make things secure and you can carry on tagging yourself in pictures and videos with little risk of being seen by an employer.

4. Twitter

The bad news is that everyone can follow and see what you do on Twitter. The good news is that you can set up more accounts, there is nothing stopping you from adding as many as you like. So if you do under your own name, make sure your content is clean. If you still want to retweet those risqué links, you had better make use of a nom de plume account.

5. Linkedin

I will assume that your Linkedin profile is business friendly as it is a professional network after all. What you could consider is the Groups and Associations you are a member of, whether you want them to be visible on your profile or not. Furthermore, your personal interest field is the only one where you can actually show off some personality so make sure it’s consistent with your personal brand and other communications.

6. Cyber Twins

An evil twin on the Internet is not what you need in any situation. What if there is someone out there with your name that is preaching hatred on their blog? If that person is the first to come up when searching Google for your name, you had better be prepared to explain what the score is. So make sure you know this before you get the question, however unlikely it may seem.

7. Blogging activities

What have you posted on your own blog and other blogs out there? Think back to when you first started blogging, perhaps you tried out a few topics that aren’t perhaps conducive to your new job? Or maybe you left a comment or two in haste that you really shouldn’t have. Use Google Blog Search to find your blogging footprint, it scours the entire blogosphere on a daily basis.

8. Create positive content

The best way to let the good outweigh the bad is to create lots of new content that will eclipse whatever dirt is still left out there. The Internet handles so much new information every day that the old stuff tends to be pushed down the search results and slowly forgotten. This will take a great deal of time and effort but will be worth it.

9. Send in the marines

If all else fails and you still have your own digital landfill out there, you might want to call up the professionals. There are a few online services that will seek out your dirt and can annihilate it on the spot. Sites like Reputation Defender and DefendMyName all offer to stay on top of your online reputation for a fee. They will typically identify non-flattering information about you, alert you about it and you can then decide whether to keep or destroy. I believe this option is useful when running for a public office or when you have a few too many skeletons in the closet, however most people will not have this need.

10. Keep it going

Google Alerts is a very handy tool for real time alerts about anything, in this case yourself. Punch in your name in inverted commas, set it to send you updates as soon as you are mentioned online. This way you will be able to monitor yours whenever your name is mentioned anywhere on an ongoing basis.

What’s your best tip to keep a clean online brand? Please share your experience!

The original Undercover Recruiter, after 7 years in tech recruiting Jorgen now runs Link Humans, a social media agency in London.