There you are. Standing at the elevator waiting for it to transport you to what will surely be another step toward the brilliant career you imagine for yourself. Nothing stands in your way.
Except, possibly, for you. Not the physical you standing in front of the elevator doors with new clothes, a glossy CV, and a winning personality, but the virtual you which has been shaped, with or without intent, through your daily online activity.
What about the pixelated you that exists in HTML? The one associated with social profiles, blog posts, and comment sections? Is this person that you have created in the digital world someone you would bring to an interview as a character witness?
Or what if there is someone leaving his or her mark on the digital landscape by writing bad checks and they just happen to have the same name as you? Are you missing out on opportunities because of a simple case of mistaken identity?
You may dress and act flawlessly in the presence of your potential employer and the part of you that is shared on a resume might seriously intimidate your peers.
However, once you leave that interview, the person you spoke with is going to set that fine linen piece of paper aside and he or she is going to investigate your online resume by typing your name into a search engine, most likely Google. What will they find? The time has come to manage your online reputation and the key to doing this like a pro is consistency.
Consistent Online Name
As ridiculous as it may seem, the name you choose for your online professional profile is a crucial first step in ensuring positive visibility for potential employers. Think it’ll be ok to just slap any name on top of a resume or CV? Type that name into a Google search first and see what the first five results are.
If it’s your LinkedIn profile, you’re on the right track. If it’s a “vertically-focused” platform (specialized LinkedIn-style networks geared toward a particular field), that could be even better. If it’s a picture of you doing a keg stand at a party or a blog post you wrote ranting about your least favorite presidential candidate, you have some work to do. We will get to the kegger and the political rant later, but first, let’s investigate your online name associations further.
Is there a convicted felon or notoriously indiscreet celebrity with whom you share a name? Do you simply have a common name shared by lots of people? Choosing a unique online name will, at the very least, push your indiscrete online associations further back in SERPs until you can get the issue cleaned up.
At best, the right name attached to your online professional persona can prevent identity mistakes. Distinguishing your name could be as simple as adding a first or middle initial, a maiden name, a suffix such as Jr. or IV, or a nickname (a professional one, not Iron Man).
You can also add professional credentials or degrees such as CNP, CPA, or Esq if applicable. Anything that distinguishes your name and professional title from a crowd should fit the bill.
Most importantly, use that name on all professional online profiles as well as on documents like resumes, business cards, convention nametags, professional association memberships, and job applications.
Related Article: Who Are You Hiring? The Shocking Cost of Résumé Fraud
Consistent Use of Keywords
This is important. Whether you are using LinkedIn, another professional networking platform, or publishing professional documents, effective use of keywords can cut your work in half by bringing potential employers and recruiters to you.
Knowing how to market yourself with appropriate keywords like “project management”, “account executive”, or “media strategist”, will improve your online presence by creating a deep association between your name and the career-related keywords you choose for yourself. It’s SEO for your online image; reputation management for your career prospects. Indeed.com/jobtrends is one tool you can use to identify your strongest career related keywords.
Now it’s time to clean up your reputation. You'll probably want to start with your non-professional social media profiles, as these are highly visible and often the first place an employer will look for information about you online. Now, cleaning up your social media presence can be done in one of several ways.
Delete posts that feature you in unprofessional situations or which reveal aspects of your personality that might narrow the pool of interested employers. Besides the unflattering picture of your keg stand, you will want to carefully consider the appropriateness of political rants, religious pronouncements, sports commentary, or other posts that might be found offensive or unprofessional to people searching you online.
For social media platforms that allow you to manage your privacy and security settings, take advantage of that. Be aware, though, that too much security (or a complete lack of online visibility) might be seen as a red flag for individuals using Google as a quick, free background check of sorts. If there’s not enough of you online, it can be a signal that you are either living in the last millennium or you have something to hide.
Checking your online reputation once and then forgetting about it is a recipe for disaster. The amount of data on the internet grows faster than Kudzu in the Mississippi Delta. Every moment there is a new possibility for someone with a similar name (and the online acumen of a 6-year-old) to destroy your carefully-crafted online reputation.
You also never know when a friend, follower, or another member of your online network might post something and tag you in it, associating you with something potentially damaging. Googling yourself regularly is no longer a sign of conceit, it’s evidence of astute self-marketing and concern for your professional image online.
Related Article: Quick Tips to Improve Your Résumé in Just 5 Minutes
You are the primary public relations rep managing your individual brand. That brand will influence people’s opinions of you both professionally and personally, making it as valuable as your resume in building a reputation across the professional landscape. If tended to properly, it could prove to be your most valuable form of professional currency.
In general, remember that presenting yourself one way online and another way in person or on paper is an insult to your professional and personal integrity. Establishing a robust and professional online presence demonstrates to employers that you are savvy enough to manage your own brand and will likely do the same for theirs.