If your current boss or the hiring manager at your target employer were to do an internet search on your name right now what would he find? Facebook photos of you donning a controversial Halloween costume or chugging a beer? A slew of information about dozens of other people with the same name as you? Or maybe he wouldn't find anything at all because there's little to no evidence online that you even exist.
Every one of these scenarios can be problematic in your career. In today's highly competitive job market and tech-savvy economy, you need a positive online identity that diversifies you from the crowd. Career experts Diane Crompton and Ellen Sautter further explain this importance in their book "Find a Job Through Social Networking," saying, "Having an online identity that reflects positively on your personal brand is becoming increasingly important for all sorts of professionals. In the past, a business card or a résumé and interview suit were all you needed to establish yourself as 'real' in the minds of others. These days, your presence online is just as important as these offline image-makers."
To overcome problems associated with your online identity and boost your ability to stand out in cyberspace, consider the following tips.
Dilemma 1: There's no online evidence that I exist.
How can you expect to compete with other candidates who have LinkedIn profiles packed with professional recommendations, thousands of Twitter followers or blogs that showcase their industry expertise? Candidates who use these tools are able to give potential employers a sneak peek at what they have to offer. "If you have no online presence, you need to develop your online identity to stay competitive in the job market," say Crompton and Sautter.
To get your name to start showing up in search engines, they suggest
- Starting with LinkedIn, and making sure you are fully leveraging that site.
- Adding additional social networking sites such as Plaxo, XING or Viadeo.
- Leveraging Facebook for professional networking.
- Using social media tools like Twitter.
- Creating a blog using a platform that will sync to your LinkedIn profile.
- Joining discussion groups, delivering webinars, creating a video or recording a podcast.
Dilemma 2: Too many people online have the same name as I do.
"If your name is fairly common, you might find that lots of other people who share your name have left a digital trail that is not yours. And sometimes it's a trail you'd rather not be associated with," explain Crompton and Sautter.
To troubleshoot this dilemma, they suggest, "Create a unique name for yourself by including an initial rather than only a first and last name when you do anything in public offline or online. You can also more aggressively build up your digital presence so that the first matches for Mary Jones or John Smith point to you and not someone else."
Dilemma 3: I have digital dirt I don't want my boss or potential employers to see.
Digital dirt includes any information or photos about you that can damage your reputation or prompt others to question how well you'd do your job or fit in with co-workers. Here are a few examples of digital dirt, according to Crompton and Sautter.
- Personal information you'd rather not share in the workplace.
- Controversial associations, opinions or memberships.
- Embarrassing evidence of unprofessional behavior.
- Public records or references to lawsuits or felonies.
- Information about your credentials that contradicts data on your résumé or business marketing materials.
- Evidence of a moonlighting business that could be a conflict of interest with, or distraction from, your primary work.
To eliminate your digital dirt, or do your best to smother it with more positive, professional content online, Crompton and Sautter offer the following advice:
- Wash over it. Create so much new content about yourself that the negative or irrelevant information is buried under fresher, more relevant and more positive content.
- Wash it out. Get rid of it entirely. Having online content deleted is not easy. Unless you or someone you know well created or posted the content in the first place, you might have a difficult time getting the owners of sites to remove the offending content.
- Wait it out. Take no active measures to hide or delete the content, but just let nature take its course. Nature, in this case, is the natural sequence of events in most reasonably active, visible professionals' lives. This approach is recommended only if you write, speak or blog fairly often.
Crompton and Sautter add, "Whichever method you choose to bury or eradicate your digital dirt, be patient because it might take time to achieve your desired results."
Selena Dehne is a career writer for JIST Publishing who shares the latest occupational, career and job search information available with job seekers and career changers. She is also the author of JIST's Job Search and Career Blog (http://jistjobsearchandcareer.blogspot.com/). Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SelenaDehne.
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