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Guide to Defensive Googling

By Susan P. Joyce

According to a Microsoft reputation study, 70% of recruiters in the USA have rejected an applicant because of what they found online. The names were the same, and that was enough “proof.”

However, only 30% of job seekers worry about their online reputations.

Even though you may be leading a perfect blameless life, avoiding Facebook and other social media, and feel you have no reason to worry about what is online about you, you could well be wrong.

The actions of someone else – who has the same name you have – could be sabotaging your job search.

Recruiters who Google the name you put on their application or in your resume will be unaware that the “bad” person Google showed them is not you. Result: opportunity lost! Perhaps, many opportunities…

Mistaken Online Identity Is a Major Issue – Defensive Googling Is the Solution

Since the best defense is a good offense, find out what is available online related to your name. If you don’t know about it, you won’t be able to address it. When you do know about it, you can differentiate yourself from the individual(s) with the problem.

You need to use one version of your name consistently for your job search and career. I call that your computer "screen name," and it is one of the most important keywords for your job search.

[MORE: Your Most Important Keywords.]


1. Search Google (and Bing) on the name(s) you have been using in your resumes, job applications, and other job search documents.

You need to know if someone who has the same name you have is causing you a problem in your job search to avoid using that version of your name.

To search -

Type the name you usually use on your resume into a Google (or Bing) search bar with quotation marks around it, like this:

"First name Last name"

Enclosing your name within quotation marks tells Google and Bing that you want those words in a phrase, side-by-side. Otherwise, the search engines will show you results where those two words appear anywhere on the same web page, regardless of how far apart or unrelated in context.

If you typically include your middle initial, middle name, or some other configuration, search for that version of your name.

[MORE: Case Study: How One Guy Named Bob Almost Ruined Another Bob's Job Search.]

2. Carefully study the first five to ten pages of search results.

Look for anything negative that an employer would see associated with your name (even if it is NOT about you).

This could include photos and videos as well as standard web pages, blog posts, comments on blog posts, news items, public records (like court dockets), and other information readily available online.

If you find something inappropriate associated with your name – something that would make an employer put your resume in the “reject” pile rather than the “possible” pile – you have a potential problem.

The problem could be someone with your name who has been arrested for drunk driving, posted inappropriate photos of themselves in social media, been accused of being a tax cheat, contributed racist, sexist, or other nasty “*ist” comments on blogs, or hundreds of other things.

If that entry is on the 8th page, and moving down toward the 9th, it may not be a big issue. But if it is on the first page or the second page, pay close attention. Monitor that entry. You need to find a version of your name without something bad associated with it.

3. Continue to search using different variations of your name until you find a “undamaged” version.

A clean version of your name doesn’t have anything negative – from anyone – associated with it, but it is still your real name. Check all the versions of your name you can think of – with your middle name or middle initial, etc.

My favorite example of smart name usage is the famous actor, James Earl Jones. There are probably very many people named “Jim Jones” in the world, and one is definitely infamous. But James Earl Jones is distinctive! He could have called himself “JJ,” “Jim Jones,” “Jimmy Jones,” “James Jones,” or even ”James E. Jones.” But there is no confusing him with anyone else now. He claimed a clean version of his name, and made it famous.

4. Claim that version of your name with LinkedIn.

The best place to take ownership of your name is LinkedIn. Recruiters use LinkedIn relentlessly and consistently, making it the perfect place to grab your professional name.

5. Consistently use that version of your name for your job search, work, and career.

Use that professional version of your name, and use it consistently for your job search. This will enable recruiters and others to connect your job search, career, and business documents to your LinkedIn Profile.

  • Resume
  • Cover Letters
  • Email address
  • Email signature
  • Business/networking cards
  • Job applications
  • Anything else related to job search

Keep everything “in sync” particularly in relation to your LinkedIn Profile.

6. Set up a Google Alert on all versions of your name, including the “clean” version.

Keep track of what is happening to your clean name in case someone else using that name does something that makes it unusable.

Google Alerts are free and will notify you when something new associated with the name appears in Google search results.

[MORE: Setting Up Google Alerts and 5 Ways to Use Google Alerts for Your Job Search.]

7. Use a different name or identity for other online activities.

If you like to vociferously share your views about politics, religion, sports, or some other controversial topic publicly on the Internet (Facebook, etc.), do not use this version of your name. Use a different version, and use a different email address as well.

Separate your professional identity from your private life to keep your professional reputation as clean as possible.

Online Reputation Management Is the New Reality

This is NOT "vanity Googling." This is "defensive Googling" – enlightened 21st century self-defense!

Defensive Googling is just the beginning of an online reputation management program, and it shouldn’t be suspended when the job seeker has found a new job. Mistaken online identity is a permanent risk for all of us,unless we have particularly unique names.

Bottom Line

Mistaken online identity can cause serious problems for the innocent person who has the same name as someone who has publicly misbehaved. But, it can be managed, as long as you are aware of the situation and address it.

More about Online Reputation Management:

More About Using Google for Your Job Search:

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 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 Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.


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