The Basics of Online Personal Reputation Management

How to create an unassailable online presence to find jobs and build your career

By Susan P. Joyce Jan 27, 2017
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​In a time when so many of our actions, interactions and thoughts are captured and recorded online, how can we best present our professional selves to recruiters? What precautions can you take to protect your privacy, while still creating a public presence that satisfies hiring managers' need to know more about you? In this article, I'll lay out tips to help you build your online presence, create social proof of your professional competence, and persuade recruiters and hiring managers to reach out to you for an interview.

Make Your Mark Online

To land a job, you need to show you have the accomplishments and skills required. The first place a recruiter will look to corroborate the facts on your application or resume is the Internet. But if a recruiter conducts a Google search on a job seeker and can find nothing related to the individual's professional accomplishments somewhere in the first three pages of search results—at a minimum—the job seeker's application is in jeopardy. Being invisible online brands you as being out of date or worse.

Invisibility also makes the job seeker vulnerable to mistaken identity. What about that person who has your same name and stole money from his or her last job? An employer doing a quick Google search wouldn't know it's not you and, most likely, won't take the time to find out.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Screening and Evaluating Candidates]

People without a strong online presence often say they are protecting their privacy, which may be a priority. But they are hurting themselves more than they are protecting themselves because they have no visible, credible online professional record.

Since we know employers use search engines to research job applicants, aim to provide online proof that:

  • You are who you say you are.
  • You've done what you say you've done.
  • You would fit into the organization well.
  • You understand the importance of using the Internet effectively.

If recruiters don't find that corroboration, they will likely move on to the next candidate.

Reputation Repair and Recovery

On the other hand is the problem of having too much information online—the kind of information that may not best show your professional side. Typical problems that hopeful job candidates may need to fix before embarking on a job search include:

  • Negative mistaken online identity. Someone else with your same name has done something that a potential employer would view as reason to disqualify you. When an employer finds this result, expect to be rejected.
  • Positive mistaken online identity (that may have a negative impact). Someone else with your name is famous and, therefore, very visible. This visibility is positive—for him or her. However, the famous person dominates the search results, pushing you off the front page. Unless the searcher is skilled and/or determined, she may give up, thinking that the application is a fake or in error.
  • Self-inflicted wounds. You have created your own "digital dirt" that is discoverable when someone does a search of your name—in particular, this may be something that required an appearance in court. Court records can be posted publicly. In addition, we are sometimes careless about what we post on social media, including embarrassing photos or thoughtless comments that could disqualify us for consideration.

Here's how you can repair your personal online reputation, especially if you are the miscreant who perhaps posted an incriminating photo on Facebook or a nasty comment on a national blog.

If you own or manage the profile where the photo is, such as on your Facebook page, take it down and request that your friends do the same if they have posted the image to their pages.

Then increase the amount and quality of positive, professional online posts to push the negative content off the first page of search engine results, since few people (including hiring managers and recruiters) look further than that. Google loves Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, so visibility in those venues will usually be at the top of the search results.

Think about changing the version of your name that you use for professional visibility online. This can sometimes be the simplest and fastest fix. If "Brenda Smith" has done something an employer would not want an employee to do, change the name you use for LinkedIn, your resume, your business cards, etc., to "Brendy Smith" (after Googling that version of the name to make sure there are no bad connotations). Other options include adding a middle initial, middle name or maiden name to the professional name used online, such as "Brenda Ellen Smith" or "Brenda Jones Smith," for example. Changing your name through a legal process is not usually required.

Be consistent in the use of your professional name. Consistency will build credibility and enable employers and recruiters to connect the dots between different platforms. If someone is "Brenda Smith" on LinkedIn, "Brendy Smith" on Facebook and "Brenda E. Smith" on her business cards, she is creating enormous confusion. Choose one version of your name for professional use, and use that version everywhere.

To help people make the connection among your various profiles, and remember you from past networking events or professional meetings, make sure you have a photo on your LinkedIn profile. Many people do not, in an attempt to avoid discrimination, but many career counselors agree that's a mistake. If someone is going to discriminate against you, the discrimination will happen regardless of the photo on LinkedIn. Plus, LinkedIn ranks profiles with pictures higher in its own search results. Make sure the photo you use is appropriate according to the site's guidelines. Using the same name and photo across social networks increases your credibility, helps former colleagues find you more easily and presents a consistent brand to recruiters.

Create Online Proof of Your Capabilities

More online activity adds to the social proof of who you are and what you can do, improving your personal online reputation. So consider these steps to support your job search goals and to gain professional recognition:

  • Increase your social media activity, particularly on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, which are very visible on Google.
  • Create a personal blog on professional topics, preferably using a domain name owned by you that includes your name, such as [name].com.
  • Write articles and comment on what others have posted about your industry on platforms such as LinkedIn Pulse, the Huffington Post, Mashable, SHRM Connect, the website for your local weekly newspaper, etc.
  • Post presentations, articles and a resume on SlideShare.com (which is owned by LinkedIn).  
  • Create and post videos for YouTube and/or Vimeo (YouTube is the world's second largest search engine and is owned by Google).
  • Post photos, recipes, PowerPoint slides and other graphical information on Pinterest.
  • Record podcasts and share them on iTunes and other platforms.
  • Post on Instagram (for those who are photographers or whose work has a visual component.
  • Write relevant product reviews on Amazon.com.
  • Answer questions posted on Quora.com.

Staying visible isn't difficult, but it does take time. LinkedIn is an essential starting point for most professionals, though it shouldn't be the only place that you have a presence. But if you only have time to be active in one venue, LinkedIn is the one that usually matters the most. Keep your LinkedIn profile active and up to date by adding new accomplishments periodically.

If you don't have a personal blog or other web-publishing platform, add your LinkedIn profile's URL to your Twitter bio for a professional Twitter account. And add a link to your LinkedIn profile and to other relevant social media sites to your e-mail signature.

Once online visibility is established, it must be maintained, even when you're employed and not officially looking for work. On a weekly basis, practice "defensive Googling": Use search engines to check up on different versions of your name. If you find anything concerning, take steps to make a change or to otherwise separate yourself from that posting.

Play Nice!

I've seen some very nasty and whiny activity in LinkedIn groups, and I wonder what those people are thinking when they post such comments. Most recruiters belong to LinkedIn groups so they see that activity. Trash-talking former employers and colleagues is not impressive.

On Twitter, job seekers who claim to be desperately job hunting might describe themselves in their Twitter bio as a "lifelong [insert professional sports team here] fan," missing an opportunity to instead list their professional accomplishments or ambitions. Then, they may tweet about the weather or take shots at their former employers and co-workers. Recently, a job seeker posted a tweet about how he had been "fired on trumped-up charges." Not smart or useful.

A CareerBuilder study found that recruiters researching job candidates online didn't offer the job to the candidate if he or she had:

  • Posted provocative or inappropriate photographs or information—46 percent.            
  • Posted information about drinking or using drugs—41 percent.
  • Bad-mouthed a previous employer or co-worker—36 percent.
  • Demonstrated poor communication skills—32 percent.
  • Shared discriminatory comments related to race, gender, religion, etc.—28 percent.

Job seekers can limit who can see their posts on Facebook and LinkedIn, such as by restricting visibility to only friends or connections. Remember that you need to change these settings yourself if you want to limit visibility to your posts. Otherwise, what you post and "like" on LinkedIn becomes an update that is visible to your connections (including second- and third-level connections), their LinkedIn followers, other LinkedIn Group members, and recruiters who pay for extra visibility.

Make sure your online presence helps recruiters find the right kind of information about you. Here's what recruiters told CareerBuilder that they are looking for when they search online for information about job candidates:

  • Information to verify claims made on the job seeker's resume or application about his or her professional qualifica tions, education, employers, job titles, etc.
  • Indications that the candidate would be a good "fit" for the organization and the job.

And remember, it holds true online just as it does in the "real world": You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Susan P. Joyce is president of NETability Inc., a Web consulting and site development company she founded in 1995. She is also founder of Job-Hunt.org, which has been described by Readers' Digest as "vacuum-packed with solid advice" for job seekers.

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