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Case Study: How Name Confusion Can Make Your Job Search More Difficult

By Susan P. Joyce

"What you don’t know can hurt you!" It’s an old saying, but still very true today.

You may lead a blameless life, but a bank robber, sex offender, drunk driver, or someone else with a bad reputation and with your name could be sabotaging your job search.

No, I’m not referring to "identity theft" - I’m referring to "mistaken online identity."

Defensive Googling - Minimize Mistaken Online Identity

It probably seems unlikely to happen to you, and, hopefully, it never will happen to you.  But, unless your name is very unique, it could happen to you.  Best to understand how it works and what you can do about it.

The Sad Story of Two Guys Named Robert

A professional resume writer shared this true story of what happened to one of her clients.

Robert #1: He is an accomplished guy.  He was looking for a job, and he hired the resume writer to help him with his resume. His resume was impressive, accurately reflecting the person, experience, accomplishments, skills, and knowledge.

Robert #2: He is a disbarred attorney living in the same state as Robert # 1, and also is named in a very visible Supreme Court obscenity case.  He uses the same name Robert # 1 used in his resume, LinkedIn Profile, and other job search documents because it is his name, too.

The story:

Being an old hand at job hunting, Robert #1 was sending his resume in a very rational, targeted way to people he connected with by networking.

He sent out his resume, carefully, for four months, with absolutely no result at all. Not even a thanks-but-no-thanks letter or message from these people he had met through his networking and thought he had developed some rapport with.

Robert # 1 couldn't figure out what was wrong. Bad breath? His age? His appearance? His LinkedIn Profile? WHAT was going on?


Finally, after four months of nothing, Robert #1 Googled his name. YIKES! Then, he found Robert #2.

The people who received Robert #1's resume thought he might be Robert #2, and they were not interested in hiring Robert #2 for the job Robert #1 was seeking.

How Did Robert #1 Recover?

Being a smart man, determined not to make the same mistake twice, Robert # 1 Googled several versions of his real name (with his middle initial, with his whole middle name, with “Sr.” on the end) and discovered that no one has (yet) sullied the version of his name which uses his middle initial, Robert W.

So, Robert # 1 added his middle initial to his name in:

  • his resume,
  • his LinkedIn Profile,
  • his cover letters
  • his email address,
  • his email signature
  • his business / networking cards, and
  • everything else related to his identity in the world.

Then, he set up a Google Alert on his name, both the old and the new versions, so he can keep track of Robert #2 as well as monitor the current name (maybe there’s another Robert W #2 out there somewhere).

Robert #1 Recovers!

Within 2 weeks of changing the name he used for his job search, Robert W. was invited in for an interview after sending a resume (with the new version of his name) to an employer. More success followed, and he reportedly is happily working in a new job.

So, What Should You Do?

Right now – Google yourself!

Type your name into Google’s search bar and enclose it in quotation marks, like this -

"First name Last name" (or whatever name you use in your job search documents)

The quotation marks around your name tell Google that you want it to find the pages where those 2 words are side-by-side, in a phrase.

Yes, I know some people call it "vanity Googling" – ignore them! "Defensive Googling" is a much more accurate name. It’s a smart thing to do all the time, but particularly during a job search.

You could be a victim of Mistaken Online Identity, but you won’t know unless you look.

But, you say, I haven’t done anything stupid on Facebook!  Excellent!   However, someone else with the same name may not have been as smart or as careful.  And their misdeeds could be impacting your job search.

Employers Google/Bing job seekers more than 80% of the time, according to recent research. Someone out there who looks like you may be hurting your chances, even if it is not really you.

Employers these days don’t have the time - or the need - to determine if the bad stuff they have found is about the applicant they are considering. 

They just move on to the next applicant.

Bottom Line

We can no longer successfully operate in the world with our cyber-head stuck in the sand (to mangle an old cliche a bit). We must pay attention to our online reputations, or risk some very negative results to our reputations and, consequently, to our job searches.

More about Online Reputation Management:

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.

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