Your avatars aren’t blue and sparkly and on another planet, like the ones in the movie of the same name.
But, they are in another world: Cyberspace (or maybe we should call it "Google-Bing-Yahoo-DuckDuckGo-space").
In a sense, we’ve been using avatars in our job search for years. We called them "resumes," and they are still important today, particularly when you are reaching out to potential employers.
Used correctly, your avatars can protect your online reputation, an increasingly important aspect of a successful job search.
Used inappropriately, they can damage your reputation and scare employers away, limiting your options and making your job search more challenging.
Unlike resumes, which are similar in function to a product sales brochure, the new, 21st century avatars are more like a smart marketing campaign.
They attract employers, recruiters, and jobs to you!
You aren’t trying to find employers, employers are finding you because they are finding your avatars everywhere.
Seen Avatar, the movie? (No? Watch it sometime!) Picture your avatars in cyberspace, showing you at your best (hopefully!) -- demonstrating your skills and knowledge, cataloging your accomplishments and education, collecting and displaying recommendations, helping you pull the jobs in to you rather than you reaching out for them.
You don’t have a 21st century avatar? You could! You should! And you probably do, whether or not you know it. Here’s how…
Now, in the 21st century, we have many more avatars than just our resumes, and they are much more active and visible than in the past. We have our LinkedIn profiles, our Google Profiles, our Amazon Profiles, our Twitter Bios, and our Facebook pages, even our VisualCVs and (millions of) blogs.
A privacy study funded by Microsoft, shows exactly how important those new avatars are to our careers and, particularly, our job searches:
The newest aspect of 21st century avatars is that we haven’t created all of them, and don’t own all of them, but we need to monitor them, and, as best we can, manage them.
Watch for negative avatars (e.g. report of a DUI conviction) - even if the person involved is not you but someone else with the same or a very similar name. An employer may not be able to discern the difference, and could assume that the negative avatar belongs to you. You will drop off the list of "possible hires" as a potential problem or just someone to avoid hiring.
While being "invisible" is a goal for some, viewed as a means of protection against indentity theft and other hazards, having few or no positive avatars (e.g. a LinkedIn Profile) is both a credibility issue as well as a personal marketing issue. Without them, your job search will take much longer. You will drop off the list of "possible hires" because nothing about you can be confirmed by another source online.
Technology has changed the rules of the game, particularly in the last 18 months, and smart job seekers manage their avatars. For example, in addition to your résumé, you may – or should- have several of these avatars, too:
Once you have created your avatars, they need care and feeding.
The longer you work with them, the stronger they become. Just like waiting until you are unemployed to start networking, waiting until you are unemployed to create your avatars is not the best plan. Nurture your avatars when you are employed, and you may never need to job hunt again.
Keep feeding your avatars – new information, new posts, new tweets, new Friends, new Followers, etc. Keep them looking up-to-date, cared-for, and current to present you at your best.
As part of your reputation management, Google yourself regularly to see what’s online. I call it Defensive Googling for a reason: someone else’s avatar or bad image may hurt your chances for a new job.
Perhaps someone with the same name has done something that could damage your chances at a job -- posted images drinking too much or taking drugs, or convicted of murder or child abuse, perhaps a porn star, etc. The wrong image of you -- even if it is someone else -- may scare a potential employer away.
If you find bad stuff, pick a different version of your name (with or without your middle name or middle initial, etc.). Then, consistently use that new version of your name online to separate yourself.
Set up Google Alerts on your name and topics. It’s simple to do and free (thank you, Google!). Using Google Alerts for your job search will help track new or high-ranking references, comments, or posts about you and your favorite topics. Google Alerts will even help you with your personal branding.
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 and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, 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 Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.