HELEN COSTER, FORBES.COM
When applying for jobs it’s worth checking your online search results. Photo: Michael O’Sullivan
When Megan Maloney lost her job at a US auto supplier last April, she made sure her online reputation was as strong as the image she would present in person to prospective employers. She Googled herself to check for unflattering links. Then she changed her Facebook privacy setting so no one could see beyond her profile picture. She updated her profile on LinkedIn.
Your web identity could make or break you.
Maloney’s instinct was right: When she landed a job in September, her new bosses admitted they had researched her online. They told me that they had checked Facebook,” says Maloney, 32, now a business development manager in Milwaukee. “I had posted a photo of me wearing a T-shirt that said ‘Unemployed,’ and they thought that I showed the right kind of personality for a sales job. They liked that I was on LinkedIn, because it’s helpful for leads and networking.”
Managing your online reputation is a critical step in landing a new job. According to a recent survey by business networking organisation ExecuNet, 90 per cent of recruiters used a search engine to learn more about candidates and 46 per cent of recruiters had eliminated a candidate based on information they found online. Self-Googling isn’t an act of narcissism; it’s a smart way to determine whether your online personality jives with how you want the world to view you.
// Google ranks content according to relevance – how closely it resembles the search term – and popularity – how many other sites are linking to it. If your name is mentioned in a police blotter or jilted lover’s blog post, let alone a negative article in The Wall Street Journal, you have very little chance of getting that content removed from the web. Google won’t remove content just because you ask it to. Your best option is to overwhelm the bad content with the good, so that the embarrassing links are less likely to rank high. “Focus on publishing content about yourself that you can control, and that portrays you in a positive light,” says Andy Beal, the chief executive of Trackur, a social media monitoring tool.
To ramp up your positive web mentions, start with blogs and social networking sites. Create a profile on LinkedIn, and write about yourself in the third person so that the site will have more relevance in the eyes of a search engine. Don’t overdo it on Twitter, since too many Tweets may make prospective employer question your focus at work. Use free software like WordPress or TypePad to create a blog, where you can write about your area of expertise, post your resume and keep track of your professional accomplishments. Show off your expertise by writing guest articles on blogs that are relevant to your industry. “If no one else has your name, your LinkedIn profile and blog will jump to the top of the search engine without much effort by you,” says Beal.
Web doppelgangers may muddle your online reputation. If there are a dozen people with your name, you can step up your search engine optimisation efforts by adding more pages to your web site (to increase relevance), or asking friends to link to your web site (to increase popularity). If you’re convinced that a future employer may confuse you with someone else, mention that person on your blog with a reference such as, “I’m not this Tom Jones, but it seems like he has a cool job.”
Once you’ve settled into a new job, continue monitoring your web reputation by setting up a Google Alert with your name. Take the time to build up a positive web ID. “Go ahead and build that content now, before you need it,” says Beal. “Give that content time to percolate and move its way around the web.”