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On this page: One set of keywords is critical to the success of your job search, but you probably aren't paying much attention to them. Time to change that!

Your Most Important Keywords

Your most important keywords might surprise you. These keywords should uniquely identify you in every search of every search engine, or, at a minimum, have you appear on the first page of search results when this set of keywords is used in a search.

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job title, keywords
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If a recruiter, hiring manager, or networking contact can't find you online when they are looking for you, you have a serious problem - one that could cost you a job opportunity!

Those Critical Keywords? Your "Professional Screen Name"

This is the professional version of the screen names people have used for many years in online forums and chat rooms. Unless being a movie or TV star is your career goal, we're talking computer screens (tablet and smart phone screens, too), not movie or TV screens.

Why Your "Professional Screen Name" Is SO Important

Because, when you apply for a job or are under consideration for an opportunity, recruiters and employers will conduct an Internet search on the name used in the application or resume more than 80% of the time!

When they conduct that search, they need to find your professional presence quickly and easily, preferably on the first page of search results on a search for your name (because few people go to page two).

Five ways your professional screen name helps you:

  1. It shows employers and recruiters "social proof" of the qualifications your resume or application claims you have.
  2. It connects employers and recruiters to credibility-building content that validates what your resumes and profiles claim.
  3. It separates your online identity from others who have the same name but are not you and may, in fact, have done things publicly that could damage opportunities for you.
  4. It enables members of your network to find you easily.
  5. It keeps your public informal identity separate from your public professional identity.

Employers, recruiters, and networking contacts can help your job search - if they can find YOU.

What Is a "Professional Screen Name"

Your "professional screen name" is the version of your name you use whenever and where ever you have a professional presence. 

Your professional screen name is the version of your name that you use consistently for:

It is the name you always use to reach out to employers and your professional network. It establishes and supports your online professional persona.

Finding and Claiming Your Professional Screen Name

The name you use professionally is just as important to you in many ways as a "screen name" is to an actor or actress. Your screen name uniquely identifies you to employers, recruiters, members of your network, and anyone else involved in your professional life, including clients, customers, and suppliers.

Your screen name needs to be:

If you aren't using the same name for all of your online professional activity, you are blurring your online reputation and weakening your online visibility.

First, Research Versions of Your Name Online

Research your name on Google, Bing, Yahoo, LinkedIn, and Facebook. 

Don't find anyone else using your name? Lucky you! Claim your name on your LinkedIn Profile, including the customized URL for your Profile. You're done. Congratulations!

Most of us find other people who have the same or very similar names and are currently using those same/similar names online. If that's what you find, too, evaluate what you find to determine which version of your name is the best professional screen name for you.

  1. What do you find on Google, Bing, and Yahoo searches?

    Do you find anyone who has done something an employer would consider inappropriate, from posting racy photos of themselves or writing racist blog posts to tax evasion, drunk driving, or murder? If you do, make note of the name(s) used by that person/people, so you can avoid using those names.

    Do you find anyone with the same name who is so well-known that they knock you down in the Google search results 5 pages? If you do, make a note of the name used by that person, so you can also avoid it.

  2. What do you find on LinkedIn and Facebook searches?

    Again, you are looking for the versions of your name used by people who could be confused with you by anyone who doesn't know what you look like or where you are located. 

    Be particularly careful of someone who is very active on Facebook in a way that would not reflect well on someone in your profession or working for your target employers, posting photos of drinking parties or activities that break the law (using illegal drugs, for example). Make a note of the versions of your name used by those people so you can add them to the list of names to avoid.

Now you have a starting point for choosing your name.

Next, Choose the Best Version of Your Name

This won't change the name your family and close friends call you. It won't change the name on your birth or marriage certificate or other legal documents. But it will change the name used for your professional presence online.

Some options:

You need to differentiate yourself from others with similar names as much as possible, but your family and friends don't need to change.

Finally, Claim that Name for Your LinkedIn Profile

A Google search on almost anyone's name will turn up many results, but at the top of the first page of results is usually that name on LinkedIn. So, claim your name on your professional screen name for your LinkedIn Profile by simply editing the name in your existing Profile.

If you can, grab the customized LinkedIn URL that contains that professional screen name.  Click on the pencil icon below your photo when you are on the Edit Profile screen to make that change.

Bottom Line - Jim Jones!

My favorite example is famous actor Jim Jones. Never heard of him? Yes, you have! Jim Jones has won so many awards for his acting (28!) that they take up 2 screens in his Wikipedia page, from Academy Awards to Tony Awards, including many Emmy Awards and Golden Globe Awards. You probably know him much better - and recognize him much more quickly - by his professional screen name: "James Earl Jones."

If "Jim Jones" can differentiate himself from all the other people with the same name, so can you.

For More Information About Names Online

More about Keywords:

About the author...

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.