Have you Googled yourself recently? If you don't do it regularly, you should!
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. BIG MISTAKE
NOTE: Being completely invisible online is NOT a good option! Being "missing in action" online is often a red flag for recruiters and employers who view such invisibility as a sign that you don't know how the online world works today OR you have something to hide. Both impressions are bad for you.
You must know who and what is found when your name is Googled (or Binged, etc.)
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…
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.]
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you must, add (or remove) a middle name or middle initial. A woman can add her maiden or married name. You can also add other identifiers to make your name unique, like a college degree or professional certification. You are not changing your "legal name" -- you are only changing the professional identity you make visible online.
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.
Keep everything “in sync” particularly in relation to your LinkedIn Profile.
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.
Separate your professional identity from your private life to keep your professional reputation as clean as possible. Use a different version of your name, and use a different email address as well.
If you like to argue online about politics, religion, sports, or some other controversial topic publicly on the Internet (Facebook, etc.), separate the professional you from the you who gets into unprofessional online disagreements by using another name.
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.
Being appropriately visible today is a requirement for most careers. Invisibility kills opportunities. So, be appropriately visible and be sure that when someone looks for you, they find the real you. Don't be a victim of mistaken online identity when someone who shares your name misbehaves publicly. Know what is going on for you!
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+.