We are probably all vulnerable to mistaken online identity, unless we have a really unusual name. And it is a serious online reputation management issue, probably a larger problem than most people know.
In January, 2011, it would have been terrible to be named Jared Loughner and be looking for a job right now. Jared Lee Loughner’s name and image dominating the media spread across the media as the shooter of (now former) Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. And the name Loughner is going to be in Google associated with this horrible event forever.
A good portion of personal branding is personal marketing, and that’s good. However, if your name is Jared Loughner, but you are not THAT Jared Loughner, how do you handle this situation?
This is an online reputation management crisis for everyone named Loughner, even if you aren’t related to him.
Don’t Relax – You’re Not “Safe” Either
The media does a good job, usually, of making sure that they use the complete name of the accused in most situations. Stories about the Arizona shooter immediately referred to him as “Jared Lee Laughner” just like you always see President Kennedy’s assassin’s name as “Lee Harvery Oswald” – not just “Lee Oswald.” Bet he was known as “Lee Oswald” and very few people knew his middle name.
Media usage of middle names provides us all with a lesson these days. Have you Googled yourself recently?
Unfortunately, being negatively impacted by name confusion is NOT limited to people named Jared Loughner or Lee Oswald.
I’ve seen situations where a job seeker was impacted by the bad online reputation of someone else with the same name! A recruiter or employer Googles the applicant’s name, finds “digital dirt” associated with the name (without knowing for sure the dirt belongs to this applicant), and moves on to the next applicant.
Without doing more, time-consuming research, the employer or recruiter won’t know that the bad stuff they found is not your stuff!
So, “guilt” by associated name, not by actual association!
Everyone – because we’ll all probably be job seekers at some point – needs to:
1. Develop a unique version of your name.
Research to develop a unique version of their “name” that is used “in public.” I recommend adding a middle initial, perhaps even a middle name.
- “James Earl Jones” – wouldn’t be very distinctive (or memorable) as “Jim Jones” – and there is certainly some “digital dirt” associated with the name “Jim Jones. But “James Earl Jones” is completely different.
- “Sarah Jessica Parker” is a distinctive name – much more unique than either “Sarah Parker” or “Jessica Parker.”
2. Stay aware of what is happening in association with that public name.
And with very similar names. Google (and “Bing”) your name periodically. It’s not vanity – it’s important for self-defense and for managing your personal reputation!
I recommend Google Alerts as a quick and easy solution for long-term monitoring – as long as you understand its limitations (see More Information below).
- If something bad surfaces about someone else with the same name, find a way to address it in your existing online profiles and other visibility (resumes posted on various job sites, etc.), possibly even in a cover letter or blog post.
- Emphasize your location or your profession or your age or something else that clearly differentiates you from the bad guy or gal.
- Include a good head shot of yourself in your profiles - not one so “smooth” and perfect that it looks like you bought it from iStockPhoto, but a good one that is definitely of you.
- 5 Ways to Use Google Alerts for Your Job Search
- Unlocking a Successful Job Search with Online Reputation Management
- 2009 Microsoft Privacy Study
So, if your name isn’t Jared Loughman, be very happy that you don’t have that image to fight right now. Unfortunately, no one is guaranteed a “clean” name for life, so start to build your distinctive name now. Then monitor it, and keep it clean in the future.
About the author…
Online job search expert Susan P. Joycehas been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 1998, her company, NETability, Inc. purchased Job-Hunt.org, and Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt since then. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg.